Alan Shearer celebrating the Premier League triumph with Blackburn Rovers
Alan Shearer celebrating the Premier League triumph with Blackburn Rovers
Premier League.com

In the end, even a global pandemic couldn’t stop the inevitable. The project that began with Fenway Sports in 2011, finally ended with Liverpool’s first title in 30 years.

The long drought ended for Liverpool as Chelsea beat Manchester City which made Liverpool unassailable at the top.

Ironically, it was Chelsea that stopped Liverpool’s last title push in the 2013-14 season when they were on top with three games remaining.

Much like Karna’s chariot and later John Terry in the 2007-08 Champions League final, Gerrard slipped allowing Man City to be crowned champions.

Liverpool’s victory is the most dominant triumph of any era. The Merseysiders sauntered home seven games to spare. To put this in context, the second-best is with five games to spare, include Manchester United (1907-08 and 2000-01), Manchester City (2017-18) and Everton (1984-85).

It came amid fears – and hopes of rivals – that the pandemic would get the Premier League cancelled.

A lot has gone into making Liverpool the formidable side that they are this year. John W Henry and Fenway Sports brought Moneyball data into the picture and then picked Klopp based on their estimates in 2015.

When John Henry of Fenway Sports announced in October 2010 that "we are here to win", he faced some mockery given Liverpool still had GBP 351 million in debt obligations. Liverpool was then managed by Roy 'Woy' Hodgson and had on their books Jon Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey, Christian Poulsen and David N'Gog. Fernando Torres departed for Chelsea to be replaced by battering ram Andy Carroll in one of the Premier League's most remarkable downgrades. They were even in the bottom three.

But Hodgson would be replaced by fan favourite Kenny Dalglish in January 2011. Since Klopp arrived in 2015, Liverpool regaining the Premier League title looked inevitable, even though Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City looked like a formidable, unbeatable machine.

It took Liverpool 30 years and 58 days to be exact, including a three-month hiatus thanks to a global pandemic, to be crowned the champions.

The last time Liverpool lifted the league title was in 1990 before the Premier League era began with an ageing team led by player-manager Kenny Dalglish. It was the last triumph before the perch shifted in English football.

But are Liverpool the only ones who took so long to triumph again? The answer is No. We look at other Premier League champions and their long journey to get their hands on the trophy. Note that Leicester City is the only Premier League team with the unique distinction of being champions without ever winning the league in the past.

Arsenal – 7 years (1990-91 and then 1997-98)

The Gunners had the shortest wait for the glory when they welcomed an unorthodox Frenchman from Japan into their ranks in 1996. "Arsene Who?" read the headlines post the appointment, but the Professor, as he was mocked behind his back, soon got the Gunners back to their prime.

The last time Arsenal had won the league was in 1990-91 with George Graham, who had a reputation for being overly defensive. 1-0 to Arsenal used to be the chant from rivals and Graham used to love saying it was an indication that the Gunners had done their jobs.

But it wasn’t enough that the football was changing, the Frenchman had changed how Arsenal played as a club, bringing on a whole host of talented youngsters who would dominate the Premier League for years to come.

Arsene Who?
Arsene Who?

The unknown manager turned around an Arsenal team which emerged victorious in 1997-98, spurring on a United side which would clinch the treble the next year.

It became the Premier League’s most enduring rivalry. Ferguson vs Wenger. Keane vs Viera. The Tunnel Bust-up. Pizza Gate.

Between 97 and 2003, either Arsenal or Manchester United picked up the title, before the Special One arrived to ruin the party in 2004. Unlike Ferguson, Wegner didn’t get to go out on a high note as Arsenal descended into mid-table mediocrity.

Manchester United – 26 years (1966-67 and then 1992-93)

The most successful team of the Premier League era has not won the title since 2013 in Ferguson’s last year. While modern United fans, gluttonous after perennial triumphs, might feel seven years is a long time, older Manchester United fans will point out it took 26 years for Ferguson to emulate Busby.

United won the first of its 13 Premier League titles in an exciting fashion.

The 1992-93 season was the first one re-branded the Premier League with United challenging Aston Villa and Norwich for the title. While nothing will top Agueroooo, Steve Bruce won the title for United in a pretty dramatic fashion as well.

United were 1-0 down to Sheffield on a Wednesday with four minutes to go as Bruce scored twice, once deep into injury time, giving birth to the concept of ‘Fergie Time’.

Gary Pallister, Bruce’s centre-back partner remembers: “Everyone forgets that the referee pulled a calf and it took an age to get a replacement from the stands – that’s where your seven minutes of injury time comes from. That was our season’s defining moment. A year earlier, we’d dominated Forest at home but lost. We thought that history was repeating itself because we couldn’t score before Brucey finally popped up. To win that match seven minutes into stoppage time was a sign.”

The last time they managed it was in 1966-67 when United had thrown off the shackles of the Munich air disaster and had rebuilt with talented players like George Best, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law.

Between 1992-93 and 2012-13, United won the title 13 times.

Manchester United’s first Premier League title in 1992-93 coincided with the rise of internet and cable television meaning that United gained a worldwide support base (including this author) which is unlikely to be matched.

Manchester United has an estimated 659 million fan base including Kim Jong-Un, meaning that at least one out of every ten persons alive is a United fan! United remains a Mammon-inspired capitalist organisation with as many as 26 main sponsors, the noodle and mattress partners may put Manchester United in a better place in a post-COVID world.

But to quote Paul Wilson of The Guardian ‘which football fan would prefer to see the results on a balance sheet rather than on the pitch or an accumulation of sponsors rather than league points’?

Manchester City – 44 years (1967-68 and then 2011-12)

Manchester City won the Premier League in a most dramatically feasible way in 2011-12 when Sergio Aguero scored deep in injury time against QPR.

Agueeroooo is a recurring nightmare for all Manchester United fans who can still hear it in their sleep as the title slipped away on goal difference.

It took a billion dollars of oil money for the centre to shift in Manchester. The last time the Citizens had won the title was in 1967-68, ironically the same year that the new Busby Babes – Charlton, Best and Law – won the European Cup by beating Eusebio’s Benefica at Wembley.

In 1967-68, Man City triumphed after beating Newcastle United FC.

The Guardian had written: “Tell it not in Trafford Park, publish it not in the streets of Stretford. Manchester City, winners 4-3 in a magnificent match against Newcastle United on Saturday at St James's Park, replaced Manchester United as titleholders in the First Division. In doing so, they fulfilled the ancient prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth with which nowadays must be incorporated the Football League championship as well as local councils.”

Chelsea – 49 years (1954-55 and then 2004-2005)

It took Chelsea almost half a century to end their drought and it happened when a cocksure Portuguese walked into the room and christened himself the Special One.

Mourinho had won the Champions League with FC Porto the previous season and the translator, after being cast out of the tiki-taka heaven, immediately began remoulding the Premier League in his image.

It was the year after Arsenal’s Invincible triumph.

Till Mourinho arrived, with some notable exceptions, the Premier League was a two-horse race between Arsenal and Manchester United, but the Abramovich-backed Londoners immediately made their mark winning the title in quick succession 2004-05 and 2005-06. It took all of Ferguson’s best efforts, along with the coming of age party of Ronaldo and Rooney to wrest it back. By then Mourinho had begun what is now known in football as the customary third-season meltdown.

While rival fans have often mocked Chelsea saying: “You’ve no history”, the last time the Pensioners won the league was in 1954-55 in the post-World War II era.

Chelsea was transformed by Ted Drake, who dropped the Pensioner’s crest. Joining in 1952, he morphed Chelsea into a fighting unit and while his goal was just to keep them in the first division, they ended up winning the league, though the nickname stuck.

The triumph was so unexpected that there was no champagne to swig.

Robert Hadgraft writes: “The chairman, manager and skipper said a few polite words from the directors' box, and that was about it. Tens of thousands of long-suffering supporters were left with a feeling of anti-climax. Typical Chelsea! After 50 years without winning anything, when it happened they hadn't a clue how to celebrate. Some of the players drifted over the road for a cup of tea and a chip butty at the local greasy spoon, then had an early night. Others caught their usual train home and went dog racing. The skipper took his wife to the boardroom, where they sipped a drink and nibbled a few nuts.“

Blackburn Rovers – 81 years (1913-14 and then 1994-95)

Before there was Roman Abramovich, there was Jack Walker.

A steel magnate, local businessman Jack Walker promised to make Blackburn Rovers the most ‘prosperous English club’ and make Manchester United look ‘cheap’.

He pumped in GBP 25 million in three years – a huge amount those days – and lured Alan Shearer and Chris Hutton to the club. Yet, they managed it just once, but it was without a doubt a swashbuckling triumph and it involved among other things, an Eric Cantona-ish kung-fu kick earlier in the season, which robbed United of its talisman.

It happened dramatically. United was in 2nd place and two points behind. Blackburn’s manager was Kenny Dalglish and even though they lost to Liverpool on the final day at Anfield, Manchester United failed to beat West Ham at Upton Park handing Blackburn the title.

When Dalglish celebrated like a mad man after Jamie Redknapp scored and put Liverpool ahead, many wondered if the Blackburn manager had lost his head. He had however got a note that the Cantona-less United had held to a draw by West Ham at Upton Park. Shorn of their talisman, United stumbled in the last few days losing to Everton, Liverpool and drawing against Tottenham, Leeds and Chelsea.

Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler notes: “It was a massive day for Blackburn and for Dalglish, who had only left Liverpool in 1991. When Redknapp scored I hadn’t heard about the United result, but the Blackburn supporters’ reaction told us something. I had a moment to ponder the consequences and Andy Gray took the lead. He was always spot-on in those situations.”

It was the only Premier League title ceremony at Anfield, at least till the one that’s hosted when Klopp’s men are crowned champions. That Blackburn bought the league was perhaps the party line but one without true merit.

Blackburn had spent less than Manchester United, and Kenny Dalglish had managed to transform a club lying in the bottom half of the second division. They got a promotion within a year, finished fourth runners up and then Champions of England.

Blackburn comfortably won by a seven-point margin (you got two points for a win in those days).

The Title: The Story of the First Division noted that Blackburn reclaimed the title in 1913-14 in an unremarkable fashion, only being momentarily troubled by Manchester United who was feeling ‘the bite of building’ Old Trafford and had to sell club captain Charlie Adams to Oldham Athletic.

The Rovers had won in 1911-12 as well but failed to become a legacy club thanks to the outbreak of World War I.

Things sadly would unravel in the coming years and Blackburn hit a low point when it was bought out by Venky’s in 2010, which inarguably destroyed one of the Premier League’s iconic sides.

However, when Klopp’s boys are presented the trophy, they will hope that the next one doesn’t take 30 years.

(To view our epaper please click here. For all the latest News, Mumbai, Entertainment, Cricket, Business and Featured News updates, visit Free Press Journal. Also, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and do like our Facebook page for continuous updates on the go)

Free Press Journal

www.freepressjournal.in