So the race is run and we football enthusiasts are left to pick the bones out of a season that had many twists and turns but concluded with a very familiar outcome. Yes, once again, for the the third time in a row Manchester United have won the Premier League title, and deservedly so. Liverpool pushed them all the way but their poor run after Christmas left them with too much to do.
One thing that we can say for certain is that after a number of seasons of cordiality between Rafa Benitez and Alex Ferguson, any rapport has been firmly cast aside. Both managers have been quick to fire broadsides during the season in a new dynamic, that has been at times childish but also entertaining.
Since Benitez’s infamous list of ‘facts’ in January, this managerial rivalry has been the one that has captured the attention and filled the headlines. Benitez was accused of ‘cracking up’ after that particular rant, but taking the comments with an aside of salt, there were grains of truth in what the Liverpool manager had to say.
This Saturday, Benitez was once again drawn on his Mancunian rivals and his summary of the gulf between Liverpool and Manchester United seemed to fly in the face of logic. In comments that appeared in The Guardian, before United’s match against Arsenal, Benitez gave a begrudging assessment of Alex Ferguson’s team and opined that the main difference between the two sides was the financial advantage that Ferguson enjoys at the Old Trafford club.
It is certainly true that Manchester United possess a financial edge and pulling power that few other clubs can muster in the Premier League. Their squad has been assembled over a number of years, at some cost, that is not in dispute. But financial muscle is not the reason Manchester United have remained ahead of their rivals for a third season in succession. The strength and depth of Manchester United’s squad has been the main difference between them and Liverpool, but this strength is not gleaned purely through their bank balance.
When you consider the elements of Alex Ferguson’s squad that have stepped into the breach, and made particularly telling contributions, they are not players that have been procured through large transfer fees and wages. Players like John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans have been integral to United’s title charge and have cost the club not a jot in transfer fees. Manchester United’s academy may not be as prolific as it was in the period during the mid 1990s but these are the kind of players that are invaluable to a squad over a season.
Benitez has been at the club long enough to adapt and develop his own method of producing players but Liverpool have not produced a player of note for their first team in years. If Benitez were more inclined to inspect the figures he would also find that the numbers do not stack up in favour of his argument. United do spend big but the Spanish manager has not exactly been frugal in the transfer market during his time at Anfield.
The turnover of players during his tenure has been staggering and he has consistently failed to identify full backs and wide players of true quality. Benitez has had sufficient time and resources to assemble a squad at Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title. Liverpool fans may suggest that Rick Parry’s influence over transfer matters has hindered Benitez’s cause but the manager must take some responsibility.
When it comes down to it finance has not been the ultimate difference between the sides and it is churlish of Benitez to suggest otherwise. Liverpool derserve great credit for the manner in which they chased Manchester United this season but Benitez has shown a distinct lack of grace in defeat.