In trying to narrow down the way this title race is progressing, I think it’s important to explain something about how the British sports fan thinks.
International readers of this site often have a perception of the British, which maybe conforms to a stereotype based on some element of truth. Whether it's the bowler hat, cricket phrases, and stiff upper lip, or the flat cap and Cockney accent declaring, "Gawd bless 'er Majesty," everyone has an image of what it means to be British.
But the British perception of Britishness is often based on the notion that we, as a people, are best summed up by the words "grit", "guile" and "hard-work." Rightly or wrongly, this has become almost the British version of the French hendiatris, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
At this point, I’ll have to digress, and make a confession. Don’t worry; it’ll all make sense later on.
You see, I’m a Liverpudlian, and unlike many of my ilk, I lost faith. Every year, I watched the Reds fail in “their season”, and every year I saw someone else lift the Premier League trophy.
Eventually it got to the point that I ended up supporting two teams: Liverpool, and whoever was closest to pipping Manchester United to the title.
I’ve cheered Newcastle, Arsenal and Blackburn heartily in my time supporting Liverpool, when it became obvious that we were out of the running. “Anyone but United” became my mantra. If I’d died you could have put it on my headstone.
But I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that. You see, “partisan” should probably be another of those British words. Everyone in Britain, other than United fans, were probably doing the same thing, with Manchester United repeatedly being voted the Most Disliked Team in England.
Then, in 2003, they finally had a consistent title challenger. A team that filled the void left by the fading Arsenal Empire and threatened to steal United’s crown as the dominant force in English football.
The only problem was they also turned out to be a challenger for United’s Most Disliked crown, too.
You see, Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea don’t conform to the “grit, guile and hard-work” perception. To the regular football fan in England, they instantly took the back door to success, replacing the traditional British way with “cash, cash, and more cash.”
Their manager, Jose Mourinho, came extremely close to stealing Alex Ferguson’s place as the least-liked manager in the league, especially whenever his astronomical salary was brought up.
So, who was the partisan English fan going to root for? “Monopoly United” or “Chelski” were the only options: the two most hated teams in English football.
And then it became clear that Arsenal’s dramatic recent demise left only these two wealthiest clubs in England to contest the title. Teams with solid financial bases, ready to dominate indefinitely, forever.
This was all leading to what I call “Glasgow Syndrome,” the phenomenon whereby two extremely disliked clubs dominate a league so clearly that no one else cares which of them wins it.
Named for the Scottish Premier League, a confusing and entertainment-bereft national league in which the only winners are one of the two Glasgow teams, Glasgow Syndrome is the natural end-point of an unbalanced league, based primarily on private funding.
Celtic or Rangers, The Red Devils or the Deep Blue Chelsea: Either way, the title race is dull.
But then my faith was restored, and it was done so by a man from Madrid.
Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool, despite what Mr Ferguson may insist, aren’t money-bags. Yet, with grit, guile and plain hard-work, they’ve fought their way back in the Champions League, FA Cup and now the Premier League, often against the odds.
Like Valencia, breaking the dull Real-Barcelona monopoly in La Liga, Liverpool have barged in on the United/Chelsea battle, and injected new life in to a title race threatening to stagnate long-term.
For the first time in a number of years, fans of other clubs are interested. Forums are heaving. Phone-ins are full of Portsmouth fans, Spurs fans and Villa fans trying to figure out if Liverpool have what it takes to break the Glasgow Syndrome before it takes hold.
Like they did with the Champions League, it’s Liverpool who have turned another competition interesting, and, just maybe, the Premier League can finally live up to its boast of being the most entertaining league on Earth.
And if you ask me, it’s not before time. But then, I always was a bit partisan.
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