By Tony Attwood
In 1936/7 Man City won the first division. They were one of only three teams other than Arsenal to win the League in the 1930s (the other two were Everton and Sunderland).
Man City had been jogging along as a mid-table team for several years, and had finished ninth the year before their title win. But what made that title win really notable was that the following year Manchester City were relegated to the second division .
This wasn’t the only switchback in the 1930s. Tottenham were third in 1933/4 (one of the seasons Arsenal won the league). Just one year on Tottenham came bottom of the league and returned to their spiritual home, the second division.
These days such movements seem rather unlikely, and yet they do happen, although perhaps not always with such extreme levels of change. But we did see one giant collapse last year (Chelsea) and I suspect we are seeing a second one this year with Leicester.
And let us not forget Manchester United. By 2013/14 Manchester United had just had 22 years of ending up in the top three, but then ended up in the following three seasons 7th, 4th and 5th. OK these are not the same as relegation, but given the years at the top, they still represent an extraordinary drop.
Or Liverpool. By 1991 they had had 18 out of 19 years coming either first or second. In the next 25 years they came second four times, never won the league and were much of the time around 6th or 7th.
In fact rapid rises and falls are much more common that many assume today. Consider this: Portsmouth won division 1 in 2003, the very last year of the 1st division in fact. In 2008 they won the FA Cup. In 2010 they were relegated, and then again in 2012 and in 2013 leaving them in League Two.
Or Blackburn who came sixth in division 2 in 1991/2, were Premier League runners’ up in 1993/4 and champions the following year. And four years after that championship were in the second division.
In the past we used to accept this. Man U were relegated in 1973/4, Chelsea in 1974/5, Tottenham (again) 1976/7, Chelsea (again) 1978/9. But these were the old days. It’s different now. We expect the champions of one season to be there the next. So how come Chelsea imploded last season; how come Leicester are imploding this?
For Chelsea the answer was clearly Mourinho. In 2013 the BBC quoted him as saying, “I am loved by the fans and the media [in England] who treat me in a fair way,”
(Really, he honestly did say that, and the quote is still on the BBC site).
When that turned out not to be true he was sunk, and he was sunk because he had thought he was above reproach. He forgot that in England, as with other countries we have a list of people who you can’t criticise in the media and then get away with it. One such group in England is doctors. Another is women who are not outspoken in public, and who are clearly able to do a job without boasting about it. Take a woman who is like that, and who is a doctor, and start criticising her, and you are done for. His vision of reality didn’t work and he had no idea how to fix the model.
But if the Chelsea collapse was totally down to Mourinho, what of Leicester who are now two points above Hull who are in the relegation zone. And what of the club formally known as WHU who were talked up last season as Champions League material. (Stop laughing at the back – they really were: for example “West Ham can still claim Champions League spot, claims Slaven Bilic” in the Daily Mail, 20 April 2016.
The State Aid collapse is easy to explain and we’ve done it before. Clubs generally have a hard time in a new stadium and it seems this is true even if they haven’t paid for it. And people really don’t like boastful directors who claim they can walk on water. And that is what State Aid has. A stadium all of us mugs who pay our taxes in England paid for, and a group of directors who can blame wild attacks on the visiting team’s bus on the visiting team. Hoisted by their own petard I think is the phrase.
And Leicester? Last season Untold predicted that things might get a bit sticky for Leicester because of questions about the validity of their marketing operation (no allegations of course, just a reflection that it all seemed a bit weird), and the fact that their modest finances were put under pressure once they had to push up the salaries of their top players when others came sniffing. It restricted the money available for new players – and as we suggested there was only limited new money because the marketing operation was not quite able to produce the goods…
The favourite explanation of the media just now is that PL clubs have realised that if you stop Mahrez playing you stop Leicester. Which is probably true, but that raises the question of a) how did their defence work so well last season, and b) why didn’t clubs work this out at least six months earlier.
Leaving aside the opening three games of the season, Leicester first hit the top spot in 2015/16 after 13 games with an away win over Newcastle, and from then on remained top apart from three weeks in second place. Given that success you might have thought that everyone would have worked out how to stop them.
But last season they had a prime defensive tactic: shirt pulling. Now it is penalised, and it seems they don’t have any other way forward.
There is of course the issue that clubs are more able to stop Mahrez, by putting two or three players on him, but this only works because of the shirt pulling has been stopped. All clubs seek to take playmakers out of the game. Whether they can or not depends on what else is happening on the pitch. Teams can now put three players on Mahrez if they feel like it, because there is not so much danger elsewhere.
Leicester’s prime approach meant they had no trouble defending. Indeed in the first 12 games this season Leicester made just under 100 fewer interceptions than last season. That seems an amazing number, but it is true because they intercepted a ball meant for another opposition forward, who was illegally impeded by having his shirt pulled. Last season it was not a foul that refs bothered about. This season it is.
From the Arsenal History Society
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