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James Lawton: Exciting? No doubt. But the best ever? No chance


There are two things to say about the Premier League season which is being so widely hailed as the best ever, if only to placate some of the more overwrought Manchester City fans who now seem to believe that what happened at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon was right up there with the relief of Mafeking and the storming of the Winter Palace.

The first is that City undoubtedly deserved their first title in 44 years. They were the better of only two serious title contenders by a margin that their goal-difference advantage over the defending champions, Manchester United, could never begin to indicate adequately.

They won two of the three games between the clubs with much authority and in the one they lost, following the absurd dismissal of their brilliant captain, Vincent Kompany, they showed, at least to some of us, that they indeed had the mettle of potential champions.

The second thing to say is that if the Premier League of 2011-12 produced an extraordinary degree of intrigue – right up to added time in its last decisive game – it could not be said to be the best.

There are two reasons for this. One of them is the meaning of football achievement and the other is the meaning of words.

Best is the superlative of good, which means that if you detach the effects of mere excitement the last question of the season concerns where you find the sustained body of work which quite fits into this exalted category.

You don't. You have to concede that despite the magnificent contribution of such key players as Joe Hart, Kompany, Yaya Touré, Sergio Aguero and David Silva, City were still extremely close to throwing away the crown with just five minutes left in their last game. This provided plenty of tension but not an overpowering urge to reach out for any kind of superlative, except in relation to the nerveless salvage work provided by Aguero.

Not, certainly, if you do not mistake movement for superior action, not if you are unprepared to substitute the vagaries of happenchance for the glow of satisfaction that accompanies the most masterful performance.

Events at the Etihad were surreal and absorbing to an extraordinary degree; they had the compulsion of an unfolding road smash and the uplift of a miraculous escape and indeed they reminded you of all the possibilities of the world's most popular game.

In this respect the game was in the company of such emotional tours de force as Liverpool's Champions League final triumph in Istanbul, United's unlikely and in some ways larcenous triumph over Bayern Munich in 1999 and Chelsea's recent defiance of Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

But can we really say the win over QPR was the last piece of a season so vigorously and near universally larded with the title of the best? Only if we are prepared to put aside all that went before and only if we want to swallow whole the hype of a football corporation that makes no connection between thrill-a-minute action of often dubious technical distinction and the fact that the two teams who dominated the domestic season were so brusquely dismissed from the first and second tiers of European competition.

By yesterday the acclamation of so many pundits had become thunderous, to the point where the decibel level likely to greet a Chelsea triumph in Munich at the weekend could only be anticipated with some trepidation.

However, if it should happen let us be sure of the scale of this particular achievement.

It might defy a considerable amount of football logic, but it would have an epic quality – in terms of sheer bloody-minded consistency of resolve since the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo – which would invest some of the wilder claims about this past English season with several degrees of enhanced credibility.

The most basic truth is that, at the heart of a "best season" of a league which likes to claim it is the greatest in the world, we have to have a level of achievement which separates it from the rest.

After granting that City plainly have the strength and the resources to build on their achievement this season, it is still necessary to say that if the Premier League has ever had cause to claim superiority over all its rivals, it is not at this time.

There have been such moments, of course. When United and Chelsea slugged it out in Moscow four years ago an awed Spanish observer – of all people – whispered that only English football could have produced such a show of power.

For the moment at least that has passed, and whatever the promise of the future – and maybe of the empire of Manchester City – there is not enough bluster in the world to hide the fact.