This has been the most exciting Premier League season for quite some time. Perhaps it’s the greatest Premier League ever. The title will be won by Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City. What is most fascinating is that each of these teams symbolise a deeper social dynamic. Bear with me. Who wins matters for this reason.
Yesterday, I outlined three powers that will interplay to steer our future: hierarchy-systems, passion-populism, and civic-creativity. Each of the three teams in contention represents different forces. Manchester City combine systems-hierarchy and creativity. Chelsea are a systems-hierarchy pure play. Liverpool combine passion and creativity. These are some of the precise choices we face as societies. The triangle can be represented as follows:
Of the three sides, Manchester City is closer to the sweet spot: a balance of all three forces. They are organised but quite brilliantly creative too. Liverpool have been a wonderfully creative side, approaching 100 goals with some mesmerising displays. Like any civic-creative organisation though, there can be fragility. That is why their defence has been porous.
Now let’s discuss Chelsea. Jose Mourinho has taken a side with the likes of Hazard, Oscar, Salah and Willian and turned it into, as the fans are calling it, ‘posh Stoke’. They play more like a side in fear of relegation than prospective champions.
Representative features of the systems-hierarchy dominated approach is concentration of power, industrial organisation, the suppression of individual creativity, stifling of difference, grotesque inequality, and the drudgery of functional activity. It is little wonder that their star creative midfielder, Eden Hazard, this week declared that Chelsea aren’t ‘set up to play football’. They represent a world of oligarchy (and their ownership structure can’t be ignored in this regard) and defensive institutions. Quite simply, Jose Mourinho is an enemy of the power to create.
They beat Liverpool last Sunday in a result that may well hand the title to Manchester City. Quite simply, they played with eleven men behind the ball and got a lucky break. They tried the same tactic against Atlético Madrid mid-week, playing six defenders in a game they had to win. This time, Atlético got the lucky break and with the away goal advantage counting against them, Chelsea had to attack. Then the gaps emerged and they were demolished. Such is the playing by probabilities approach.
Surely anyone with any hope for a better future, has to wish to see a Liverpool or Manchester City triumph this season? Manchester City are probably the closest to the sweet spot of the three sides. They are more organised than Liverpool but just as creative. Liverpool have been riding a tide of passion and creativity towards an unlikely title challenge given their inferior resources to Manchester City and Chelsea. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Hillsborough, the passion of their captain, and an instinct that better times are coming has created a wonderful season for the club, whatever the conclusion.
The club that has been closest to the sweet spot for the last two decades has been Manchester United. They have fallen into a similar point on the triangle to Chelsea this season but with lower quality overall. Bayern Munich are also proximate to the sweet spot as are Real Madrid. Barcelona sits more in the Liverpool territory but closer to the sweet spot on the systems-hierarchy axis. They have benefited from some of the best players in the world over the last few years and have certainly been the cohesive side.
So a team’s position on the triangle doesn’t determine success (though it may impact goals scored and conceded). However, the closer a team is to the sweet spot, the more balanced the side between excitement, organisation, and creativity. That is what fans want to see. Good football is about the power to create. That is why most football fans will be hoping that one of Liverpool and Manchester City win the league this year. Jose Mourinho is an enemy of the power to create.
(declaration of interest: yes, I am a Liverpool fan.)
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