What euphoria, what might even call hysteria, what clamorous sycophancy in the media both in print and on television, as Manchester City edged their way so laboriously and belatedly to the victory which gave them their first top League title since 1968.
It remains tempting to say that they bought the title rather than won it. The colossal outpouring of money from Sheik Mansour and co. not only on vast transfer fees but on wages – £200,000 a week to Yaya Toure, another £190,000 a week to Carlos Tevez, now forgiven by Mancini – and every indication that spending at this vertiginous level can continue. Since although the Platini plan is supposed to constrain clubs to spend only within their earnings it has recently transpired that City’s Middle East investors have paid them another £400 million.
It might be argued that in the lamentably restricted two horse race went on merit to City. Had they not thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford then beaten an inert and unambitious United team 1-0 at home? Yet the $64,000 question surely remains; could City have done it at all, succeeded in their breathless overtime victory against Queens Park Rangers, had that irredeemable recidivist Joey Barton yet again displayed the cloven hoof, or, if you like, elbow, and condemned QPR to half an hour without him? A period in which they showed enormous resilience and defiance, actually daring to go into the lead which they lost only in those final minutes.
Barton has tried and oh so hard to re-invent himself, helped by handy books of quotations, as one of the game’s thinkers rather than one or its worst violent offenders. Why he recently even went on BBC Newsnight, confronted by that supreme interlocutor Jeremy Paxman, and when asked for his views on the appointment as new England manager of Roy Hodgson. Why ask Barton of all people you may have wondered. It looked very like a cheap stunt by Paxo and his programme knowing that Barton had been trying despite his appalling past to re-invent himself as some kind of an intellectual, and might say controversial even somewhat outrageous things. In fact Barton behaved impeccably despite Paxman having generously recited his previous of aggression when introducing him.
True Barton was provoked last Sunday but his reaction, significantly delayed so that it couldn’t be described as being in the heat of the moment, was all too typically brutal. As were his further offences when sent off the field. So perhaps City his former club should even raise a glass to him, for having made their victory possible.
Did City deserve it? Again one asked oneself the question. Buying all the costly players they did not only formidably strengthen their own ranks but denied such players to other clubs. Not least to Arsenal, from whom they whisked away last summer both Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri, thus gravely weakening an Arsenal team which lost a still more essential player in Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona.
For Alex Ferguson it could have been a remarkable thirteenth Championship, yet you do wonder whether he has come to the end of his remarkable career. This was a United team which despite the excellence of Wayne Rooney, the ebullience when fit of Antonio Valencia, the durability of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, flopped out of two European competitions, as did City. The Champions League surely being the true criterion of excellence.
How ironic that Chelsea, who finished so far behind both teams in the Premier League, should march all the way through to the European final. All credit to Roberto Di Matteo.