Jim White

The best (and worst) XI of a topsy-turvy season

Jim White

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On Merseyside, they are dreaming of Sam Allardyce.

It does not make for a comfortable night’s sleep. But the only way Liverpool can now win the Premier League title is in the unlikely event of Big Sam’s West Ham doing them an enormous favour and winning at the Etihad.

Which, we can all comfortably predict, isn’t going to happen.

The title is City’s. Which means, when Vincent Kompany lifts the trophy, they deserve it, they are the best team in the land.

Never mind that they have been at the top of the table for 100 fewer days than Arsenal were, they are there when it counts, at the end. They have persevered and persisted, stuck to the task like a particularly-adhesive leech. And at times in doing so they have played breathtaking football.

At the Etihad in particular, their attacking flair has been astonishing. Nobody was safe upon arrival at east Manchester. Huge wins against Manchester United and Arsenal were matched by gluts against Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich.

And who was it they hammered 9-0 on aggregate in the semi-final of the League Cup?

Oh yes, West Ham, the only minor obstacle in their way to picking up the title for the second time in three years.

They had wobbles. March was an uncomfortable month, losing against Barcelona and Chelsea at home. But Manuel Pelligrini always kept them close in the league, always in touch, before perfectly timing the late sprint for the top from the slipstream.

For sure, the argument is hard to counter that they bought the league.

Revealed as the highest payers in world sport this season, they have attracted leading talent to the club by the cheerful expedient of chucking vast quantities of money at it. They have resources available to them on a scale never before experienced in English football.

But then Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are not exactly representatives of the impoverished underclass.

Any club that wins the title these days will have done so with the assistance of the chequebook.

For UEFA, City’s losses are intolerable and they have been hit with sizeable fines. Yet surveying the magnificent, new sporting complex of the Etihad campus blooming out of the derelict brown fields of east Manchester, you would have to wonder if UEFA have the right target in their sights.

Richer than God they might be, but City’s Abu Dhabi overlords present the most benevolent of proprietorial models; the financial bargain so far has been entirely one-directional, out of their pockets into the club.

Their involvement in City has not so much threatened the club’s stability as reinforced its foundations with concrete.

While the game is crying out for robust, enforceable new rules of club ownership, the urgency surely is that they are directed at preventing criminals like Carsen Yeung taking over at Birmingham City, or stopping a succession of asset strippers picking at the decaying corpse of Leeds United, or thwarting the faceless crew who have recklessly undermined Portsmouth.

City’s spending has done nothing but benefit football as a whole. Particularly in the blue quarter of Manchester, where the celebration will be enormous on Sunday. And what a pleasure it will be for the City fans not to be put through the emotional wringer like they were two seasons ago. This City simply don’t have the look of a team who will blow it.

So, at the end of a season enlivened as much by who was not in contention at its conclusion as who was, we are left with the memories. Of head-butting managers, flung gilets and Newcastle’s newly appointed director of football calling his most significant player Yohan Kebab on national radio.

Of Vincent Tan replacing Cardiff’s head of recruitment with a 23 year old painter and decorator from Kazakhstan. And of Manchester United recruiting its most important executive without staging any interviews or looking at any other candidates.

Oddly, too, after this most unpredictable, exciting, topsy-turvy race we have a somewhat underwhelming conclusion.

Somehow we all thought it would got to the last second. But it is all over with only the smallest of blue fanfares.

And in the urge always to categorise that goes to the heart of being a football fan, here is my team of the year:

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And the worst team, playing a wildly attacking 4-2-4 formation with forward players drafted into the defence (but it won’t make any difference - this lot won’t score):

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