From boom to bust in a season which bewildered pundits

Manchester United's march to title reaffirmed game's order of power but Portsmouth's promotion proved Premiership party is still open to all
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On the eve of this season the 10 "experts" acquainted with this newspaper were cajoled into making their forecasts for the season. Eight of us (this "expert" included) predicted Leeds would qualify for a place in the Champions' League. I should hasten to add it was not just The Independent's tipsters who felt this way; the bookies agreed.

On the eve of this season the 10 "experts" acquainted with this newspaper were cajoled into making their forecasts for the season. Eight of us (this "expert" included) predicted Leeds would qualify for a place in the Champions' League. I should hasten to add it was not just The Independent's tipsters who felt this way; the bookies agreed.

While the presence of Manchester United at the Premiership peak may suggest otherwise, it underlined the truism that very little in this game can be guaranteed. West Ham's replacement in the top flight by Portsmouth further illustrates the point.

On the credit side The Independent did forecast the rise of Wayne Rooney before he had kicked a ball but even we did not imagine what an impact the teenager would have. Not content with injecting Everton and England with much-needed vim, he influenced the destiny of the championship. After his Goodison winner Arsenal never recaptured the hitherto boundless confidence of autumn.

This is not to belittle Manchester United's achievement in overhauling the holders. Their remorseless spring march was stoked in the foundry which glows within Sir Alex Ferguson. He had cause to question his players' desire this season but ultimately received the response he demanded. The question he will ponder this summer is whether he must rebuild the squad to conquer Europe again.

One man whose Old Trafford place is safe is Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose goal-poaching epitomised United's surge. But this observer is not about to join those recanting their selection of Thierry Henry as Footballer of the Year. Henry may appear, unlike Van Nistelrooy, to be as interested in style as substance but that is no bad thing in a spectator sport. More pertinently, for those curmudgeons who care only for the result, his tally of 24 League goals was only one adrift of the Dutchman and included far fewer penalties. Henry also made 23 goals and, especially in the latter period of the season, received much less support from his team-mates.

While Newcastle, a team full of adventure and promise, can be pleased with third place, especially given their European adventures, Chelsea and Liverpool were disappointing. Chelsea are harder to beat under Claudio Ranieri but a squad which cost £90m, and has 19 internationals, should have been closer.

They at least progressed, Liverpool regressed. Their squad cost £80m to construct, runs what is thought to be the Premiership's highest wage-bill, and included 20 internationals. The Worthington Cup was scant reward for this investment. One wonders what Roy Evans thinks. Between 1995 and 1998 Evans, in his four full seasons as sole manager of Liverpool, steered the club to finishes of 4th, 3rd, 4th and 3rd. The expansion of the Champions' League came too late for Evans.

Across Merseyside Everton, buoyed by the Rooney-factor, were the season's unexpected success. It was not just about The Kid. David Moyes' shrewd judgement brought the best from a team in which Joseph Yobo and Tomasz Radzinski excelled before fatigue and injury caught up. Credit also to Gordon Strachan's Southampton, another much-improved team.

In the First Division honourable mentions, besides the promoted clubs and those in the play-offs, are due to Ronnie Moore, Andy Hessenthaler, Tony Pulis, Nicky Law and Stuart Murdoch, who performed miracles at Rotherham, Gillingham, Stoke, Bradford City and Wimbledon on limited budgets. The latter deserves credit even if the club's imminent desertion to Milton Keynes is despicable.

For many of these clubs, mere survival is success. The unforeseen event which brought most relief to the game is that we still have 92 clubs. Several entered administration but none went to the wall. The growing suspicion that clubs are using administration to evade their responsibilities may lead to a change in League rules penalising such behaviour. The League should also bar failing directors from continued involvement. There is something obscene about the likes of Martin George at Leicester, and David Sheepshanks at Ipswich, leaving hundreds of small creditors out of pocket then returning (or hoping to in the latter case) to the same boardroom.

At least these men suffered fiscal myopia while seeking to improve their clubs. Elsewhere were far less savoury chairmen and directors, especially in the lower leagues. Exeter City fans wish Uri Geller had headed for the Australian outback earlier rather than contributing to their malaise. The hate figure of the year is Douglas Craig, together with his cohorts on the former board of York City. Having transferred the ownership of the ground into their holding company, they agreed to sell it for a fortune to a property developer. The only benefit here, as at many other places, is that the fans have united to preserve their footballing heritage.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than at AFC Wimbledon. Aldershot Town's climb to the Conference shows that although the road back is a long one, it is negotiable.


TEAM (4-4-2): Friedel (Blackburn); O'Shea (Manchester Utd), Campbell (Arsenal), Gallas (Chelsea), Cole (Arsenal); Solano (Newcastle), Vieira (Arsenal), Scholes (Manchester Utd), Duff (Blackburn); Van Nistelrooy (Manchester Utd), Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes: Niemi (Southampton), Yobo (Everton), Hyypia (Liverpool), Le Saux (Chelsea), Okocha (Bolton), Shearer, Bellamy (both Newcastle).

PLAYER: Henry.

MANAGER: David Moyes (Everton).

MATCH: Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 Newcastle United 2 (FA Cup third round).

FANS: West Bromwich Albion and York City.


Earnings from Premier League, Uefa and FA competitions in 2002-03, not including gate money or Worthington Cup. The Premier League allocates £503,000 for each place in the table, while BSkyB gives the teams £9.4m plus £597,000 for every live game on Sky Sports or £150,000 if it is on pay-per-view. As League winners in 2001-02, Arsenal's share of the television money from the Champions' League was larger than their Premiership rivals.

Prem BSkyB Champ Overseas Uefa FA Total
Lge Lge TV Cup Cup
Man Utd (P champ, CL) 10.06m 19.85m 16m 3.7m - 1m £50.61m
Arsenal (CL) 9.55m 18.11m 17.7m 3.7m - *2m £51.06m
Newcastle (CL) 9.05m 15.72m 13.13m 3.7m - 0.3m £41.90m
Chelsea (CL) 8.55m 14.63m - 3.7m 1m 1.5m £29.38m
Liverpool (Uefa Cup) 8.05m 18.11m 12.59m 3.7m 2m 0.7m £45.15m
Blackburn (Uefa Cup) 7.55m 12.69m - 3.7m 1m 0.1m £25.05m
Everton 7.05m 13.14m - 3.7m - - £23.89m
Southampton 6.54m 11.64m - 3.7m - *2m £23.88m
Manchester City 6.04m 13.00m - 3.7m - 0.3m £23.04m
Tottenham 5.53m 14.48m - 3.7m - 0.3m £24.01m
Middlesbrough 5.03m 13.10m - 3.7m - 0.3m £22.13m
Charlton 4.53m 11.94m - 3.7m - 0.1m £20.27m
Birmingham 4.02m 13.28m - 3.7m - - £21.00m
Fulham 3.52m 12.09m - 3.7m 1m 0.4m £20.71m
Leeds 3.02m 13.29m - 3.7m 1.5m 0.9m £22.41m
Aston Villa 2.52m 12.84m - 3.7m - - £19.06m
Bolton 2.01m 12.69m - 3.7m - - £18.40m
West Ham (Rel) 1.51m 13.88m - 3.7m - 0.4m £19.49m
West Brom (Rel) 1.01m 11.79m - 3.7m - 0.1m £16.60m
Sunderland (Rel) £0.50m £12.99m - £3.7m - £0.2m £17.39m
* Stand to earn £1m more if win FA Cup final. Sources: Premier League, Uefa, FA