Manchester City Have Not Bought the Title

As West Bromwich Albion’s shocking 1-0 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United confirmed that Manchester City will win their third Premier League title in seven seasons, there seemed to be an air of inevitability about everything. It was as if the side from the Red half of Manchester was resigned to endure everything that was transpiring. While it wasn’t meant to be that way- losing to a side that is rock-bottom in the division–but it was a case of when rather than if.

And when it was confirmed, there was a lingering mutual feeling among everyone that it was a deserved achievement. The football that Pep Guardiola’s men have played this season has left many dazzled, hence the never ending suggestions that this is the best
team that English football has ever had. While it is certainly a contentious thing to say, but City have won the title by an absolute country mile.

What though, took the shine off their achievement and might as well continue to do so some years on is the argument that the side from the Blue side of Manchester have not won the title, they have ‘bought’ it. It comes after Pep Guardiola ended up shelling out over 300 million on signing players throughout this campaign, which saw half of it get spent on defenders. And while that has played a role in handing City the title so impressively, it is a pattern that has been observed almost since the Premier League began.

Just because City have outspent the other sides in the division doesn’t mean they have bought the title.

Absolutely not.

It is an argument that has been overused because City have won the Premier League and it roots from the very argument that they have won the title and haven’t won it fairly.

And I find it a very skewed one.

Spending big money is one of the reasons for why City have won the title, but it isn’t as if they essentially ‘bought’ it this season. They have done what has already been done over the last many seasons and they have carried it forward to this season. The money they have spent is an expression of how much money has come into football and the fact that they have Arab owners. Twenty years ago, there was hardly this much money in football, but the pattern was largely the same- the team that spent the most amount of money won the Premier League.

For evidencing all of it, you can go back to when the Premier League began in 1992 and how Blackburn Rovers outspent clubs ever since the new owner- Jack Walker, a prominent Lancashire-based businessman, took over the club in 1992. The club earned
promotion and signed Alan Shearer for what was a record 3.6 million pounds, outbidding Manchester United to sign the former Saint.

Because of Walker’s wealth, Blackburn added more expensive signings to their side and broke the record that they had set for Shearer’s signings when they signed Chris Sutton for 5 million pounds. Blackburn boasted of the most expensively assembled set of forwards and the transfer record had been broken twice in just two years and it wasn’t done there. Tim Flowers was signed from Southampton for a fee in the region of 2.4 million pounds, making him the most expensive goalkeeper of that time in Britain.

Kenny Dalglish went onto sign Henning Berg, Tim Sherwood, Ian Pearce and Graeme Le Saux in what were expensive acquisitions and all of these players played a role in helping the Ewood Park based club win the League in 1995.

When Manchester United won the Premier League in 1999, grasping the title back from Arsenal, they spent a roundabout fee of 27.75 million pounds, while the Gunners shelled out 4.3 million pounds. United spent about 6 times more than how much the runners-up spend to effectively ‘buy’ the title.

Before that season, Arsenal won the Premier League title for the very first time. Arsène Wenger was in his second full season in charge that season and to break the dominance of United, they had to spend 17 million pounds to ‘buy’ the title, while United spent only about 7 million.

To win the Invincibles crown in the 2003–04 season, Arsenal had to outspend United in three consecutive seasons and in fact, United didn’t sign a single player heading in the 2001–02 campaign, meaning they already had a squad that was capable of winning the title. And they did. That was because of tactical cohesion and because they had more of a tactical identity than Arsenal.

Following this period, the Roman Abramovich era came in. As soon as the Russian came in, appointing Jose Mourinho to win the title for the very first time, Chelsea spent a whopping 84 million pounds on signing players. Arsenal and United, mind you, spent way less. United signed Wayne Rooney for a 27 million fee, but what they spent was around 30 million pounds.

Chelsea’s monopoly broke off because of United’s stability and their own lack of it. And United’s period of dominance came once again because of that stability and because they had spent on potential, primarily Rooney, Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both were brilliant pieces of business, when Chelsea were making short-term, immediate impact signings. Tactical stability, managerial stability and the shrewd business done was a hallmark of United’s success.

What it took to break United’s streak was Chelsea’s stability. Not managerial stability, mind you. A host of world-class players, including John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba were examples of shrewd business that the club had done and it played a role in handing Chelsea the title in the 2009–10 season. That season too though, Chelsea had outspent United. Man City had spent over a 100 million pounds, but they were undergoing a rebuilding job and had finished tenth during the previous season.

From then on, City have spent consistently high. And that is one reason for why they have won the title on a consistent basis. This season, they spent over 300 million pounds and that is a part of the pattern that has worked ever since the Premier League began.

What Pep Guardiola has brought in is a tactical identity which can come to be similar what Man United had under Sir Alex. That tactical identity and certainty has helped them win the title this season. The money they’ve spent is massive but the value of
money in football has increased considerably since United spent 27 million pounds to win the treble in 1999.

One exception can be Leicester City but that happens once a century. There’s a reason why they defied the odds. The example of Tottenham too is crucial. They haven’t spent too much, but it is the tactical stability under Mauricio Pochettino that is taking them places and is made them one of the most consistent teams in the Premier League. And it isn’t as if Chelsea and Manchester United haven’t spent at all. The Red Devils spent around 150 million pounds, while Chelsea spent about 250 million pounds on
signing players. What has separated both of them from Manchester City is a tactical identity and a style of play that they can associate themselves with.

If City have bought the title, many sides of the past have too. But the very idea of buying titles hardly exists. Teams that spend high, usually win the title. And that goes hand in hand with well-oiled and well functioning their side is. With City, it is a pattern that has continued. A pattern that will continue till quite some years.

By: Kaustubh Pandey

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images