After a first season of failure, winning nothing at all, Pep Guardiola is about to emphatically put that right this term. Already in the League Cup final, drawn at Wigan in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday, miles clear in the Premier League, the first ever domestic treble in England looks Manchester City bound, while Basel are already accounted for after the first leg of their last 16 Champions League encounter.
By Dave Bowler
City are an undeniably breathtaking side when the mood takes them, as it has virtually all season. They have pace, vision, technique, steel – let’s not pretend they can’t mix it when they want – a ruthless winning streak and a level of athleticism beyond anything we’ve seen before, moving the game on in the same way Arsenal did in the early years of the century.
There is, however a danger that lurks there, a danger that could destroy the very Premier League they are currently illuminating, a danger that is growing across all the leagues of Europe it seems, where one behemoth club simply swats all comers and dominates the game by virtue of, above all, their financial clout. Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris St Germain, they may have the odd fallow year but essentially, each year it is their title to lose, while in Spain, it is, for the most part, duopoly, Barcelona and Real Madrid ruling the roost.
In England though, we may be witnessing a new phenomenon for even in the years of Manchester United domination, they rarely ran away with the league in this fashion and even when they did, they remained always vulnerable to the odd unforeseen defeat in a way in which City simply do not. And for the Premier League, that is a big issue.
Of course, others might come to catch them, or City’s standards might drop, though their willingness to spend £70million on Mahrez just to fill the two month gap left by injury to Sane would argue otherwise. The early signs, in a Premier League not short of football clubs willing to pay monumental transfer fees, is that City will happily outspend them, particularly while they have Guardiola there to spend the riches rather more wisely than most of his closest competitors.
If next season others catch them, that’s great. The quality of the league goes up and we can have a good competition. But just imagine City repeating this next year and the year after. Where does that leave the Premier League then? First of all, it might leave a few wealthy owners of other big clubs, people used to getting what they want when they want it, asking themselves why they are running in a race they can’t win. Profitability might cushion that blow but if they are getting pushed to spend more and more just to fight for second place, even that sop disappears. And what then? Will they look to offload?
Beyond that, will the Premier League remain the world’s competition of choice in the face of such dominance? Sport only matters if, when you start watching the game, the race, there’s some element of jeopardy to it, if you really feel you can’t be certain of who is going to win. Manchester City, are at present, ripping that idea to shreds. Does anybody really feel that anybody beyond the other top three or four, can even give them a game, never mind beat them?
The Premier League has built its preeminence on the fact that on any given day, anybody can beat anybody, a truism for its 25 years of existence. And if you take City out if the equation, you’ve actually got a really good league going this year. But that they are operating in a league of their own means that the one they are running away with is losing its attraction. Three more years of this and let’s see just where the TV money goes then.