The Best League in the World, as called by fans worldwide. The English Premier League has never failed to impress football lovers with the prominent level displayed on matches, pure passion for the game and incredible atmosphere. The world’s best managers, players, and legendary stadiums have been part of the great history of English Football.
Nobody can blame the fans for their point of view. Even if English football has always been among the best, during the last decade there’s been a massive growth of competitiveness amongst the clubs, which has increased the level of the Premier League. Adding the fact that every season there are 6 or 7 clubs who are consistently fighting for the top 4, is easy to see that this league is incomparable. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal are always on a fierce fight for glory, showing that there is no telling which team is more favorite to take the title. Of course, we can’t forget some important exceptions such as Leicester who shook the world by winning the league against all odds in 2016 and proved once again what football is all about.
However, there is much more to work on after winning the Premier League. As the saying goes, “getting to the top is easy, but staying there is the hard part”. In recent years, there has been a concerning issue for the defending champions; lack of stability and motivation some may say. The last club to have successfully defended the title in England was Manchester United, who won it three times in a row between 2007 and 2009. Since then, no other team has been able to win it two times in a row. In fact, many teams have suffered a decline on their performance after winning the Premier, such as Chelsea, Man United and even the major surprise of Leicester, who many believed would push for a place in Europe the following season and suffered a big disappointment. We want to remember three memorable cases that happened on the recent years so we can ask ourselves: is winning the Premier League a blessing or a curse?
Manchester United 13-14
After 26 years of enormous success and plenty of trophies, everyone knew that Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at the club will eventually come to an end. Even before announcing his resignation, there was much talk on who could be brave enough to replace this legend. It proved to be a tough decision to replace not only the best manager in the club’s history, but also one of the greatest manager’s in modern football.
Fergie ended his United career in 2013 in the best possible way: he won the title for the 20th time in the club’s history (in which 13 were won with him as manager). Sir Alex left a legacy that would remain in the history of the club as their greatest era, and it was left up to him to decide the “The Chosen One”, as the fans called it.
Ferguson’s farewell on 2013. It was his last game coaching Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The pressure that his fellow Scotsman David Moyes had on his shoulders was perhaps too much to bear with. He was chosen by the man himself and had to carry on with a team that expects trophies every year. The team was going through a transition as some of its most important players were heading to their late years. Club legends such as; Rooney, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra were past their prime and could not keep the same game intensity as before.
After finishing in the top two positions since 2006, Manchester United were hoping to maintain their constant level even under Moyes. The expectations were high since Moyes was Fergie’s choice and even had his help prior to beginning his reign. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong went wrong for Moyes and United. The signings in Summer and January were not enough, and by mid-season a top four spot was becoming a real issue for the champions. There seemed to be no concrete plan for the matches, no philosophy at all. The Moyes who had succeeded at Everton was only a shadow at Old Trafford. The fans were furious with the “boring play” and soon began calling for a sack.
Numerous negative records (including 7 home defeats) and two consecutive defeats from Man City and Liverpool seemed to be enough for the board to sack Moyes in April and finished the season 7th with Ryan Giggs as interim manager. The blame for a miserable season was aimed mostly at the board for failing in the transfer market, and in Moyes for lacking the courage and mentality to lead such a successful club. It was the first time Man United failed to qualify in the Champions league for more than 2 decades.
Regarded as one of the worst defending champions in English history, Chelsea won the league by a significant margin and attractive football in 2014-2015 after spending a record of 274 days on top of the table. They seemed to be on its way on creating a dynasty that would rule England for the next 4-5 years, only to disappoint their fans by a complete disastrous performance in the following 2015-2016 season. Chelsea finished 10th, and even risked a lower position in the first stages of the season with players going against Jose Mourinho and eventually forcing his way out reportedly. It was the worst start of a league campaign for Chelsea since 1979 and desperate measures were to be taken. Chelsea managed to climb up the table by the turn of the year after appointing Guus Hiddink as their interim coach on a hope of another potential 2009 repeat, but the misery was there to be seen, and there was much regret amongst the club as they missed out on a Champions league spot for the first time since 2002-2003.
It all started wrong for the Blues in the first match in August against Swansea where they were stopped at a draw at home, but the match was remembered for another reason which the Chelsea fans still recall. Eva Carneiro, then Chelsea Physiotherapist, was reportedly treated horribly by Jose Mourinho after being late on the treatment of an injured Eden Hazard. That led to her sacking the following days and this was the beginning of the end for Jose Mourinho. Things got worse after losing to Man City 3:0 in late August.
Eva Carneiro, former physiotherapist of Chelsea.
Players such as Hazard, Fabregas and Costa who played a decisive role in title-winning side just a few months ago were going through their worst form of their careers. In an interview back in 2016 Cesc said he had “simply forgot how to play football”. Furthermore, Hazard, who was crowned the best player in the 2014-2015 season, did not score a goal in the Premier League until April 2016, a clear signal that it was going to be a nightmare season for the club. According to sources inside the Blues, the main reason for this situation was the lack of belief in Mourinho and his management among the players.
Things only got worse. In the last few months, there was nothing to play for; nothing to aim for. Only the hope that the next manager that’d come in would bring something to unite the team once more, make them believe that they could fight for titles again and make sure that the last season would never be repeated. Few days after leaving, Mourinho had stated that the players were over confident on themselves and some of them “do not feel the club” which is believed to be referred to the three/four players that the Portuguese had fallen out with. One thing is clear: the situation that occurred in Chelsea in the 2015-2016 season proves to be not only a managements issue, but also a psychological one.
What Claudio Ranieri accomplished with Leicester in 15-16 went beyond any dream Leicester City fans had. Making the impossible possible was the highlight of the year, and perhaps the greatest achievement in the last 20 years of modern football. Starting the season with the aim of avoiding relegation, and finishing it as champions ahead of Man City, Arsenal and others was something that will forever be remembered in the history of the game.
Leicester had odds of winning the PL of 4000 to 1.
There were expectations that Leicester would keep its momentum and enjoy another wonderful year, or at least, to fight for a place in Europe. Unfortunately, things changed in an uncommon way. There was no desire in the team; perhaps the motivation was lost after achieving what nobody would ever expect. Ranieri’s task to keep the team on track seemed to be harder than keeping them focused in mid-season on their title winning season. The perks of being in the Champions League took their attention away from the League, and even though they managed a historical Quarter final, the disappointment in the League was notable.
Important players such as Vardy and Mahrez could not cope with the absence of a vital player like Ngolo Kante who left for Chelsea in summer. The balance of the team was not the same, and their football was far from the one the world saw in 15-16. Leicester City finished the season 12th and Ranieri’s departure in February only showed the insecurity in the club after a phenomenal season.
Will Pep Guardiola’s Man City be able to break the curse of Champions in England? Having won the title with 4 games in hand and in spectacular fashion, many have regarded Man City as one of the greatest teams in English History. However, as we have seen with other clubs that were unstoppable at their prime, a lot can change in one season. We shall see how Pep will cope with the pressure of defending the title. Having won the league 3 times in a row in both Spain and Germany, one must say that he has all it takes. As we close in to another brilliant Premier League season, all we can do is wait and see if Manchester City can break the curse.