Neil Humphreys: Man City, Liverpool win hearts, Man United lose minds
After an English Premier League season for the ages, NEIL HUMPHREYS picks out his major talking points.
1) HAIL THE DEATH OF QUICK-FIX CULTURE
Take the world's most popular football team. Spend fortunes on brand names in the hope of drawing attention away from a lack of long-term planning.Sack a manager based on popular opinion. Panic. Hire another manager based on popular opinion.
Repeat all of the above. Manchester United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's antics ticked every wrong box. His lost club served only one function, to provide a cautionary tale.
United's two-man structure, established by Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill, sank in the age of holistic planning.
When Manchester City sacked Roberto Mancini in 2013, they called for a holistic approach from top to bottom.
At the time, the ambition sounded like the kind of pretentious drivel churned out at motivational seminars.
On Sunday, that holistic approach stepped out into the sunshine, more than 50 of them, in City jerseys, celebrating a fourth title in eight years.
None of them were City players, but they all serve Pep Guardiola's football cause, the only cause that matters.
His director of football, Txiki Begiristain, has no interest in last-minute shopping sprees, only City's long-term project.
Aymeric Laporte was signed for £57 million (S$101.9m) last January, when he wasn't needed. Now he's irreplaceable.
Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were bought for their potential. Now they are indispensable.
On Sunday, United supporters abused one of the world's most expensive footballers. Paul Pogba, an unfortunate symbol of United's panic-stricken culture, has perhaps played his last game. He deserves better.
His club do not. United's lack of direction ensured they were the architects of their own downfall, representing the antithesis of what elite English football has become.
City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur had an obvious philosophy throughout.
United are nowhere, still dependant upon an outdated coaching and business model that relied on two indomitable men and their discerning eye for both talent and a decent price.
This was the season when City -with Liverpool's help - tore away the Band-Aid to kill off the quick-fix culture.
2) CITY'S TRIUMPH A CAUSE FOR CONCERN
City deserve every accolade, but there's still something about the clinical nature of their latest triumph to leave every football soul a little queasy.
Much has been made of City's single signing this season (spending less than Brighton & Hove Albion, Everton, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham), but that signing was Riyad Mahrez, a £60m squad player, and City's embarrassment of riches was there for all to see at Brighton. Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Danilo, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus were on the bench.
Their squad is either great or grotesque, depending on your view on where the resources came from.
City's holistic approach might sound like the soothing words of a yoga instructor, but they spent £500m in Guardiola's first two seasons - and the payments might not have been a beacon of "holistic-ness" either.
Uefa have already sanctioned City once for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.
Now the champions face multiple investigations from Fifa, Uefa and the English Football Association.
The Abu Dhabi vanity project can feel less like a sporting achievement than a relentless public relations exercise to improve the global reputation of a foreign power.
And this "sportswashing" endeavour shows no sign of slowing any time soon.
Liverpool's heroics might prove to be as close as anyone gets to City for the foreseeable future. Is that really a cause for celebration?
3) KLOPP IS THE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Liverpool took the title race to the final hour of the season with Xherdan Shaqiri, Dejan Lovren, James Milner, Daniel Sturridge and a half-fit Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench.
The Reds reached 97 points with that kind of squad depth.
Across three clubs, Guardiola has never worked with such a paucity of options. Without casting aspersions on Liverpool's remarkable over-achievers, their quality doesn't match Guardiola's serial winners.
And yet Juergen Klopp has inspired his men, driven them to exceed their potential, to form something special and miraculous, something far greater than the sum of their parts.
Liverpool's ridiculous comeback against Barcelona wasn't coaching. It was sorcery. Klopp bewitches his players.
True, his magic failed him twice against City this season, but compare the squad sizes of both clubs. Guardiola made a great squad play consistently great. But Klopp made lesser squad players believe that they were consistently great.
4) DON'T LISTEN TO PUNDITS
It's the meme that keeps on giving. There's Rio Ferdinand on TV, screaming that immortal phrase. Ole's at the wheel.
And we fell for it. All of us. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the right man for the United job because Ferdinand had told us so, along with Gary Neville and the rest of Solskjaer's pals.
Logic suggested otherwise. A failed stint at Cardiff City, and then spells at Molde didn't suggest the kind of resume needed to succeed Jose Mourinho.
But we succumbed to the pundits' groupthink, myself included. A personal regret of the season was a column written after Solskjaer's appointment.
The head said the appointment was too soon, too rushed, typical Woodward. Typical United.
But the heart said Solskjaer. He had the Boys of '99 in his corner.
And they couldn't be wrong, could they? We believed the hype. What's worse, so did Woodward.
And United's mess is destined to become a whole lot messier.
5) WHEN LOSERS WEREN'T LOSERS
Two hours after Liverpool's failed attempt to end their title drought, Trent Alexander-Arnold was filmed on the Anfield pitch, sending in crosses to friends and relatives in the box, entertaining the kids.
He's a born Scouser, in a literal sense, raised within a mile of his beloved club's training ground and one of Liverpool's standout performers.
But his fairy tale was a common one at a club that churned them out like Disney. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane's impeccable handling of racist abuse, Divock Origi's rise, Virgil van Dijk's flawless treatment of forwards and Klopp's child-like giddiness, Liverpool formed a league of gentlemen this season.
Their greatest strength was arguably their likeability, a trait also present and correct among City's squad, but the Reds had the edge of being underdogs.
They fell short by a point, but never walked alone.
Let justice be done in the Champions League Final.
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