Don’t worry, Spurs: 10 teams who did a lot after spending very little
Manchester United (2000)
Alex Ferguson’s United had won the league by a record 18 points in 1999/2000, despite the Scot having decided that Mark Bosnich wasn’t the successor to Peter Schmeichel he’d been hoping for. Massimo Taibi, too, had tried and failed – comically so – which led to Fergie’s move for Monaco shot-stopper Fabien Barthez.
Although Barthez’s Premier League career eventually unravelled thanks to a string of mishaps, the Frenchman’s first season between the sticks was a success – he kept 15 clean sheets as United cantered to a third straight title, by 10 points.
Barthez certainly played his part, but United’s continued superiority owed much to the fact that Ferguson managed to retain possibly the strongest collection of outfield players the league has ever seen.
It couldn’t last forever, of course. Jaap Stam left for Lazio the following summer and United’s defence collapsed, a move that loosened their grip on the trophy as Arsenal replaced them at the summit.
Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment at Chelsea didn’t bring with it the kind of wholesale changes that accompanied Jose Mourinho’s arrival in 2004. Instead, the unflappable Italian went about improving Chelsea’s style of play ahead of assaulting the transfer market.
The club signed Yuri Zhirkov (£18m), Daniel Sturridge (£6.5m), Nemanja Matic (£1.5m) and Ross Turnbull (free), but it was Ancelotti’s tactical flexibility which led to the most successful domestic season in Blues history. The 4-4-2 diamond fashioned by his predecessors had been sussed by Chelsea’s opponents, so Ancelotti taught the Blues how to operate in a 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
The results spoke for themselves. Ancelotti allowed his players to express themselves on the pitch; Didier Drogba scored 29 league goals, while Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda produced their finest form yet.
Chelsea went on to pip United to the title, scoring 103 goals in the process, before clinching the FA Cup for a tremendous double. A mix of injuries, Champions League failure and a resurgent United led to Ancelotti’s downfall just a year later, but it doesn’t discredit the Italian’s venerable accomplishment in his first season in England.
While it’s true that Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn were aided by Jack Walker’s wealth in the mid-‘90s, to focus solely on their riches would be to ignore the fact that their remarkable triumph was borne of organisation and the winning mentality instilled in them.
Yes, Rovers spent handsomely to assemble the original SAS partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, but the latter was one of only two purchases in the summer of ’94 – albeit for a British record £5 million. The other was Jeff Kenna from Southampton (Tony Gale and Shay Given both arrived for free).
With Graeme Le Saux, Colin Hendry, Tim Sherwood, Henning Berg and Tim Flowers already at the club, Sutton’s prowess up top tipped the scales in Dalglish’s favour, as his side broke the United monopoly that defined the Premier League’s infancy.