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A sole Premier League is no longer the near-universally accepted measure of success as it once was.
Manchester City's most recent title successes are framed around the astounding achievement of back-to-back 100 point seasons, an accomplishment and record that has dwarfed the actual accomplishment of winning the Premier League trophy itself, by all accounts an incredibly hard and incredibly impressive thing to do.
Narratives are now written around these records. Ignoring the coronavirus complications for a second, Liverpool were and still are on the verge of a first title in 30 years, yet despite their unnerving dominance this season there are doubts in some circles over whether this would truly represent a successful season.
‘They can’t do it unbeaten’, ‘they can’t win the quadruple’, ‘with the team they have it should’ve been more’.
They were well on course for 100 points, but City have just done that twice. 'Boring'.
Mahrez has a French admirer - Euro Papers
It's the nature of the sport that some fans want to diminish the success of their rivals. But this movement feels like more than just sour grapes.
Because in recent years true ‘success’ has been redefined. Leicester’s title season was a marvel, but we needed the narrative of 5000/1. Zinedine Zidane won three Champions League titles in a row and some still question whether he’s a top level manager. Manchester United’s Europa League and League Cup double in 2016 flew under the radar because no records were broken. Chelsea won the title just three years ago with 93 points and who on earth remembers anything that happened that season.
Quadruple talk in early January is now, more or less, a necessity for a club to generate excitement outside of its own fanbase, and sometimes even within it.
We have been spoilt by the record breakers and now we can't go back.
Vincent Kompany of Manchester City lifts the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at American Express Community Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Brighton, United Kingdom.
Image credit: Getty Images
What’s more, is that the fall is even harder, the critics even harsher, when these empires falter.
City fans appear to have no right to celebrate the past two season because this one has been such a disappointment – favourites for the Champions League though they are.
‘Success’ as we know it in football has changed and it is becoming more and more unattainable.
This is a symptom of the gap between the super-rich and the rest. The ability to monopolise the best players in the world and assemble a team with a greater value than many small countries.
And so fans and press alike create impossible narratives to keep things exciting in an era of elite-level football that is ever more predictable. We know, roughly, who will win, so to keep things interesting they have to win in new ways: 38 wins? No goals conceded? Back-to-back quadruples?
This path we’re on is, cognitively, unsustainable. These will be the new bars and sadly, one day, they may not be unrealistic. But as the super clubs win more and more, football loses.