Friday night marks the return of Premier League action, but Tuesday is just as significant. August 15th sees its 25th anniversary. And while some football purists resent the attention given to the post-Premier League era, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that the sport has changed beyond recognition in the last quarter of a century. Here, Hoops look back to five pivotal moments in Premier League history.
Manchester United set out stall in first season
Back in 1992, the landscape of English football was very different to what it is now.
Leeds United were the champions in the final season of Division 1, and Sir Alex Ferguson had failed to win a title in his first six years at Manchester United.
But there something about Fergie, United and the Premier League that proved irresistible.
The signing of flamboyant French striker Eric Cantona proved pivotal, but it was two goals from captain and centre-back Steve Bruce in a crucial end-of-season match against Sheffield Wednesday that all but secured the silverware.
United see three shades of heaven
That first title set off a period of dominance that has rarely been matched in English football history, spanning two decades, in which Sir Alex’s side finished first in 13 out of 20 seasons.
Perhaps the brightest jewel in that multi-studded crown was the 1998-99 season, when United won an unprecedented treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
Pushed hard by defending champions Arsenal all season, the Red Devils went into the final fixture of the season at Tottenham needing three points to guarantee the trophy.
Spurs took the lead early on through Les Ferdinand, before David Beckham equalised.
Then, step forward Andy Cole.
Arsenal turn invincible
Sir Alex’s were triumphant in eight of the first 11 editions of the Premier League, and apart from one surprise title tilt by Blackburn in 1994/95, Arsenal were the only team to provide them sustained competition.
By the start of the 2003/04 season that had won French manager Arsene Wenger two titles, but his team were ready to produce something that would make some of United’s accomplishments pale into insignificance.
Led by one of the league’s true great players, Thierry Henry, indomitable captain Patrick Vieira and Dutch genius Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal didn’t just win the league, they avoided defeat all season long.
To put that into context, no team had achieved it since Preston North End in the 1880s…
Noisy neighbours no more
As the league entered its third decade, United and Arsenal’s dominance had been challenged by a new collection of Premier League powerhouses.
Chelsea had equaled Arsenal’s tally of three trophies, thanks in main to the brilliance of Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho.
But it was United’s Manchester neighbours City who were making the headlines.
Bought by a United Arab Emirates Sheikh in 2008, the blue half of Manchester spent huge amounts of money to establish themselves as a big player in English football.
Going into the final game of the 2011/12 season, that looked to be coming to fruition. City needed to win at home against relegation-threatened QPR to secure the title.
However, with United having beaten Sunderland, City trailed 2-1 going into injury time, the trophy slipping through their fingers.
Cue one of the most dramatic moments in football history. “Aguerooooooooo.”
Leicester restore the faith
As money increasingly became the main factor behind Premier League success, the chances of the dominance of the top six clubs in the country being shaken decreased to the point where it was unthinkable.
So, when Leicester City – relegation threatened the season before, promoted from the Championship before that – made a tilt at the title in 2015/16, nobody believed it could be sustained.
But a team of outcasts and misfits, led by much-loved yet trophy-less Italian manager Claudio Ranieri, achieved what has been dubbed the greatest miracle in football.
Playing an exhilarating brand of direct, pacy, attacking football, Leicester swept all before them to become just the sixth different team to win the league in 25 seasons.
And their reaction to victory was priceless…
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