The men who run English football insist that the Premier League is the biggest, best, most exciting league in the world. No single event has done more to reinforce that opinion than the final weekend of last season, when, down 2-1 with only three minutes to go, Manchester City scored two late goals and secured its first league championship. The match was thrilling for all the usual reasons: the crowd went wild, the goal-scorer removed his shirt, and Sky broadcast footage of the despondent second-place team looking despondent.
In contrast, this year’s Premier League finale was a bit of a disappointment. I watched ESPN’s coverage – for the last time, apparently, since NBC has seized ESPN’s US rights package. Ian Darke tried his best to make the Arsenal-Newcastle match interesting, but to no avail: despite Darke’s natural bubbliness, his friendly banter with Steve McManaman and McManaman’s comic attempts to reconcile the laws of the English language with whatever it is that goes on inside his head, Newcastle refused to create chances and Arsenal won 1-0. At one point, the commentary team promised an Update From White Hart Lane, which usually means a Goal From White Hart Lane. Alas, the subsequent split screen yielded only a goalmouth scramble. When Darke interrupted the increasingly tedious Arsenal match to announce that Andres Villas-Boas had substituted (AMERICAN SUPERSTAR) Clint Dempsey, I was ready to call it a season.
Manchester United won the title in April, Wigan was relegated last Wednesday, and the race for fourth gradually lost steam. Ten years from now, we’ll remember this season not because it has featured exciting football from the most exciting league in the world, but because it’s beginning to resemble some sort of grand turning point. Because Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, David Beckham, Michael Owen and, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson are retiring. Because Jose Mourinho is about to return to Chelsea. Because, in March, the London Times falsely reported that a cohort of Qatari businessmen was organizing a revolutionary European “dream league.” Because although The Times later admitted that renowned football journalist Oliver Kay had been thoroughly duped, terms like “dream league” and “European super league” are now as much a part of the football lexicon as Peter Drury’s tired old clichés
I honestly don’t know whether these things are good or bad. Maybe our Beckham-less, Ferguson-free football world would benefit from a Middle Eastern shakeup. Or maybe those two retirements are the harbingers of a footballing apocalypse. Cue the shots of Arab billionaires sorting through the rubble of what was once Old Trafford.
The summer transfer window opened yesterday.