What do we cherish the Premier League for?
The 11th of August saw the start of the 26th season in the English Premier League, the world most spectacular football championship. Enjoy the 15 most illustrious episodes in the history of the tournament from CNN.
Fifteen years ago, Wayne Rooney was an unknown teenager playing for his boyhood club earning £80 a week. Reigning champions Arsenal, seven points ahead at the top of the table, unbeaten in 30 league games, were visitors at the Goodison Park.
But in four glorious touches Rooney would ruin Arsenal’s unbeaten streak. With his first touch, 40 yards from the goal, he knocked the ball out of the sky and then spun 360 degrees, evading the backtracking Lauren. His second touch was a kick ahead to himself. And after his third touch, Rooney glanced up, raised his left arm, took aim and the ball gloriously hit the underside of the crossbar before dropping into the net. A star was born.
In his final season in charge of one of the world’s most famous clubs, Sir Alex Ferguson — the most successful football manager in British history — bowed out with a Premier League title. Ferguson ended his reign with 49 trophies: 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League titles, to name but a few.
His last league title — United’s 20th — was perhaps his easiest; the title was secured with still a month of the season to go — only once (2001) had a Ferguson side won the league any earlier. The Premier League trophy was carried out by two of his former captains, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson, and it was the manager who received the honor of lifting the Premier League trophy into the Manchester night sky.
Liverpool were in swashbuckling form and seemed on course to secure a first league title for 24 years. They had won 11 consecutive matches and were also unbeaten in 16, when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came to Anfield. But Steven Gerrard’s error would cost them dearly that season.
Inside his own half, the captain slipped, lost possession and Chelsea’s Demba Ba capitalized, putting the Londoners on their way to a 2-0 victory. Liverpool’s title charge came to a halt after that loss. A disastrous draw at Crystal Palace followed and Manchester City clinched the title. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about what if that didn’t happen,” Gerrard said.
This was a season which captured the imagination of the world. Leicester City had started the campaign as 5 000-1 outsiders for the title after almost being relegated the season before, and Claudio Ranieri was seen as an uninspired choice to replace Nigel Pearson, who was sacked prior to the start of the campaign.
But Ranieri and his team of bargain buys and journeymen started the season brilliantly and, incredibly, sustained their challenge. At the end of March they became odds-on favorites for the first time and, in May, won the first top-flight title in the club’s history. The next season, Ranieri was sacked as Leicester struggled, but for one glorious period the Foxes had made people think anything was possible.
When is a goal not a goal? A Liverpool-branded beach ball, thrown from the visiting section of the Stadium of Light, glided onto the pitch during the opening few minutes of Sunderland’s encounter with Liverpool. So far, so uninspiring. But when Darren Bent’s strike beat Liverpool’s Jose Reina with the help of a sizable deflection of said beach ball, debate raged, especially as it had secured the Black Cats a 1-0 victory.
Liverpool’s players protested, and other referees criticized the decision. For those who have any doubt, FIFA’s laws of the game state that ‘the referee should stop, suspend or abandon the match when outside interference of any kind is received’, which meant the goal should have been ruled out and the match restarted with a drop ball.
Roy Keane’s challenge on Manchester City’s Alf Inge Haaland has been described by the City player himself as the “worst tackle ever.” The feud between the pair began in September 1997 at Elland Road. Keane, then United’s midfielder, had swung at Haaland, then playing for Leeds, and subsequently injured his own knee ligaments. The Norwegian stood over Keane, apparently telling him to stop feigning injury.
In his first autobiography, Keane wrote: “I’d waited almost 180 minutes for Alfie, three years if you look at it another way. Now he had the ball on the far touchline. I’d waited long enough. I hit him hard. The ball was there (I think).”
The midfielder was given a five-game ban and a record £150 000 fine from the Football Association. Three operations and two unsuccessful years of rehabilitation later, Haaland’s contract with City was terminated. In his most recent autobiography, Keane said he had no regrets over the tackle and denied he deliberately tried to injure Haaland.
Arsene Wenger’s team of the 2003-04 vintage is the first to win the Premier League title having not lost a game. They played 38 league games, won 26 and drew 12, scored 73 goals and conceded just 26, for a total of 90 points.
Captained by Frenchman Patrick Vieira, the team consisted of some of the greats of the Premier League era: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell.
Winning the title by 11 points, they were the first team since Preston North End in 1889 to achieve the feat in the top flight, having played 16 matches more.
Three goals down, and down to 10 men with eight minutes to go, things got worse for Newcastle United at St James’ Park against Aston Villa.
Teammates Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer took their frustrations out on each other; the pair locked horns and had to be dragged apart by teammates and Villa’s Gareth Barry. Referee Barry Knight sent off both players, leaving the Magpies with just eight players on the pitch. Both players had to later make a public apology in a press conference and were suspended.
Jose Mourinho was the man to herald a new era at Stamford Bridge. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich had purchased Chelsea in 2003 and spent GBP 100 million on players but ended the first season without a trophy under the then-manager Claudio Ranieri. Enter Mourinho, a Portuguese who had won the Champions League with Porto.
Mourinho’s press conference is the most mesmerizing managerial unveiling of the Premier League era. “We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have the top manager,” said the young Mourinho. “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m a European champion and I think I’m a special one.”
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez made his mark on the Premier League in a myriad of ways. The striker will be remembered as one of the greatest goalscorers to have played in the league, but also as one of its most controversial.
The Uruguayan bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a match at Anfield, which led to a 10-match ban for the Liverpool player. Even Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had an opinion on the matter, calling on the Football Association to make an example of the player, which it did.
A few weeks after leaving Arsenal for Manchester City, Emmanuel Adebayor went up against his former club and scored MC’s third goal in a 4-2 home victory. But it wasn’t for the goal itself that this match will be remembered, but the striker’s celebration — running the length of the field towards the Arsenal fans and sliding across the turf in front of them. The away fans were furious.
Adebayor issued a public apology and, in defending their player to the Football Association, Manchester City said Adebayor was provoked.
One of the strangest sights seen in the Premier League was when the then Hull City manager Phil Brown gave a halftime team talk on the pitch, wagging his finger in front of fans.
Brown was furious with his team’s first-half performance against Manchester City — they were 4-0 down — but his ploy had little impact as Hull went on to lose 5-1. “Our 4 000 traveling fans deserved some kind of explanation for the first-half performance and it was difficult for me to do that from the confines of a changing room,” said Brown at the time.
Ah, Louis van Gaal. The then Manchester United boss, disagreeing with a refereeing decision late in the second half against Arsenal, decided to reenact what he thought was a dive by Alexis Sanchez.
He threw himself on the floor, much to the amusement of the thousands inside Old Trafford. The United manager later said he apologized to referee Craig Pawson for his theatrical behavior. “I was emotional,” he explained.
Wayne Rooney features twice on this list, but both goals will live on forever in memory. The England striker scored a stunning overhead kick to earn Manchester United a late winner against Manchester City, a victory which put United’s title challenge back on track. His celebration too — arms aloft, back to the away fans — is also one of English football’s most iconic moments.
There have been many incredible Premier League signings and Thierry Henry was undoubtedly one of them. The Frenchman had it all — pace, balance, touch, strength and swagger — and, for a period, not only was he the best player in the league, but arguably the best in the world too.
He spent eight years at Arsenal, scoring incredible goals and winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process.