Yet another campaign in English football draws to an end, with the closing of the 25th episode of the Premier League now upon us. In a season where the blue half of Manchester eased their way to a title under the guise of the tactically astute Pep Guardiola, English football followers and indeed supporters further afield have been thoroughly entertained, with just one weekend of the beloved competition remaining, leaving the small matter of the 2018 World Cup as this summer’s footballing action.
The English Premier League has experienced another remarkable season of football, both on and off the pitch, yet it is one that is alien to the 1992/93 campaign all those years ago, when a new era dawned on English football as the inaugural Premier League crusade kicked off, a fiercely contested and drawn out affair that ended in glory for the red half of Manchester and Sir Alex Ferguson.
After requiring emergency surgery for a brain haemorrhage, the revered Scot has received endless support from colleagues, former players and fans alike, all of whom wishing the speedy recovery of one of the greatest managers to ever grace the sport. Fittingly then, as one of the most respected bosses to ply his trade in the English Premier League, it was of course Sir Alex that lifted the trophy at the end of a gruelling campaign that witnessed his Manchester United side rise to the top of a 22-club league, thus ending a 26-year-wait for a top-flight title to collect their eighth title in English football.
Back to today though and it is their city rivals who have taken home the crown with two games still to play, with the deserved winners on course to complete the feat with more goals scored, fewer goals conceded and more points gained. One vivid difference was, however, the nature of the managerial celebrations on display, with City’s Spanish maestro Pep Guardiola much more reserved in comparison to his now-retired counterpart, with Ferguson’s unforgettable jubilation as Steve Bruce netted twice in the last five minutes to sink Sheffield Wednesday and hand his side the title, with Brian Kidd outdoing his superior by tumbling onto the hallowed Old Trafford turf in both disbelief and utter euphoria.
Celebrations aside, another major difference between the Premier League’s debut and the modern-day equivalent undoubtedly involves money, and lots of it. Clubs began to utilise the huge influx of finances connected with the deal that saw this new league sign the broadcasting rights with the BBC and Sky valued at £304m, the largest such agreement in the history of British sport, chiefly to fund a series of high-profile transfers.
The summer of 1992 witnessed switches unheard of, yet unlike the transfers of Alan Shearer from Southampton to Blackburn Rovers for a British record of £3.6m and Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham Hotspur for a fee just under that of his English striking partner, the contemporary market oversees player movement for ludicrous amounts of money, with £20m transfers common occurrences in the current climate.
Another Tottenham and England forward in Harry Kane has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor for club and country, Teddy Sheringham, who managed 22 league goals that season, one with Nottingham Forest before making the switch to White Hart Lane to bag the other 21. The trickery and ingenuity of a certain Eric Cantona helped him to a league-best of 16 assists, with Kevin De Bruyne acting as his modern-day equivalent, currently sitting on one better with two games yet to play. Many similarities may also be found through the league’s best performers, with the inventiveness and sheer brilliance of Mohamed Salah driving the Egyptian to the top award this season, with a youthful and highly comparable Ryan Giggs earning him a position among the league’s best all those years ago.
Another important feature of that wonderful beginning of Premier League football that is seemingly unheard of in this day and age comprises the fact all 22 managers and all 22 captains were born in the British Isles, with the likes of managers Trevor Francis and Brian Clough from England and Scotland nationals Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish, with captains such as Andy Townsend and Gordon Strachan among several others representing England and Scotland respectively with the armband. Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear was flying the flag for Irish managers, with the Welsh-born Mike Walker at Norwich, while QPR captain Alan McDonald was the sole representative from Northern Ireland.
25 years on and that concept of an all-British cast of characters has long since faded, with all the class of Pep Guardiola, the enthusiasm of Jurgen Klopp, the dynamism of Antonio Conte and the craft of Jose Mourinho dominating the television screens, with the leadership of the likes of Vincent Kompany and Hugo Lloris imperative to the success of their respective sides. The current political climate may well be one focused on the future of our European involvement, yet without this trophy-laden, star-studded line-up of performers, the Premier League simply wouldn’t be the success it is today.
The north/south divide is yet another hotly-debated topic of the modern day English game, with several followers feeling uneasy that the majority of the talented teams are emerging from the south of the nation, yet many will be comforted by the idea that six London-based teams competed in the initial Premier League campaign, and six London-based teams it remains, with Watford and West Ham essentially taking place of QPR and Wimbledon in 2018, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Chelsea surviving from 1992. The arrival of Bournemouth and Southampton will, however, only serve to strengthen those fears of southside overhaul.
Moreover, not only has the contemporary league format changed, with 20 teams now competing for huge financial rewards, but the names of those filling the table has changed dramatically. Premier League superpowers Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool all squeezed their way into the top ten way back when, yet the modern-day giants of football were outclassed by those that have long been forgotten about, mainly in the form of Norwich, Aston Villa, Blackburn, QPR and Sheffield Wednesday.
The beautiful game continues to change year after year, and there is now 25 years of evidence to prove just how different the English game was back then. With the current climate surrounding the almost incredible financial gains at stake, combined with the capricious nature of countless owners at clubs both ends of the table, the Premier League will simply never stop changing. Perhaps this is what the fans want, especially considering the entertainment value associated with what is fundamentally a fully-blown business venture, yet there may come a time in the near future that the costs towards enjoying the sport we love so much become unsustainable. Hopefully this isn’t the case.