Manchester was confirmed as the soccer capital of England this year, while the long-dormant specter of racism re-emerged to cast a shadow over the sport.
A quirk of fixture scheduling meant that in the space of a few memorable hours in May, Manchester City ended their 35-year wait for a trophy by winning the FA Cup, shortly after Manchester United had clinched their 12th Premier League title — and record 19th top-flight title.
The unique double triumph for the Manchester clubs underscored the new paradigm of English soccer, with the recently enriched City joining long-time aristocrats United at the summit of the domestic game.
The pre-eminence of the Manchester duo was further emphasized by the opening months of the 2011-2012 Premier League campaign, where both teams got off to flying starts to annex first and second place.
Yet United’s free-scoring start to the campaign unraveled spectacularly at Old Trafford in late October, when City came to visit in one of the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derbies in years.
A brutal 6-1 drubbing — United’s heaviest home defeat since 1955 — gave City a five-point lead at the top of the table and left Sir Alex Ferguson reflecting on what he described as his “worst ever day.”
While the full implications of City’s extraordinary victory remain to be seen — and United have been prematurely written off many times before — it left many wondering whether the blue half of Manchester was now poised to dethrone their more successful cross-town rivals.
Certainly few clubs, including United, can match City’s crushing dominance in the transfer market.
Abu Dhabi-based billionaire Sheikh Mansour has spent an estimated ￡800 million (US$1.2 billion) in the three years since he acquired City, a largesse that has allowed manager Roberto Mancini to construct a lavishly talented squad that looks capable of dominating English soccer for years to come.
A demonstration of City’s sheer financial might can be seen in the way the club handled the saga over Carlos Tevez, who was accused of failing to appear as a substitute during a Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September.
Tevez, a darling of the fans who played a key role in the successes of the previous season, has been effectively cast into the wilderness since the episode. The received wisdom of the post-Bosman ruling era dictates that all the power resides with players, not clubs.
City have bucked that trend by adopting a hardline stance over Tevez, happy to let the player rot in the reserves — or, more accurately, on the golf courses of his homeland — unless a suitor weighs in with an acceptable transfer offer.
No other club in England has the wherewithal to allow a player paid an estimated ￡200,000 per week to sit idle, all in the name of making a point.
However, the question for City is whether they can curb their spending enough to satisfy UEFA’s looming financial fair play regulations, which will dictate that clubs must balance their books in order to play in European competitions.
A net loss of nearly ￡200 million in the last financial year suggests that City have plenty to do if they are to keep European soccer’s rulers happy.
While United and City remain in a league of their own in England, this year saw the European ambitions of both clubs suffer twin setbacks.
United had looked stylish as they romped into a dream Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley in May.
However, 90 chastening minutes later and a glum Ferguson was left to ponder a 3-1 defeat that exposed the gulf between the English champions and the Spanish giants, who celebrated their second win in the competition in three seasons.
United’s hopes of returning to avenge their defeat in the 2011-2012 competition were dashed in the group stage, with the club bundled out after a defeat by FC Basel in December which left them in third place.
City, too, fell at the first hurdle in the Champions League, eliminated after finishing behind Bayern Munich and Napoli.
Meanwhile, the closing months of this year were dominated by the twin racism controversies embroiling Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, and Chelsea and England captain John Terry.
Suarez was hit with an eight-match ban by the FA for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, allegations that the Uruguayan international and his club, Liverpool, strongly deny.
Terry, meanwhile, faces a court battle to clear his name next year, after the bombshell announcement on Dec. 21 that he had been formally charged with hurling racist abuse at Queen Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand during a match at Loftus Road.