When 9 months boiled down to 60 seconds

“A crazy finish for a crazy season,” Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini correctly summed up afterwards. City's first League title since 1968 also augurs well for its Qatari owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who has invested near about GBP1 billion since taking over in 2008. Ayon Sengupta takes stock.

One of the most expensive sporting competitions on the globe — the English Premier League is reported to have a brand value of $12 billion — has once again kept us hooked to our television screens (even thousands of miles away from the Manchester boroughs: the final battle ground of a befitting title race) as it delivered a grandstand finish. A nerve-wracking end to a whirlwind season that saw fortunes sway like a cobra's head as it delivered one of the tightest of finishes in the history of not just football but also that of competitive sport. Though the EPL runs for nine months a year, this season-ender hung in the balance till the final 60 seconds. Unbelievable!

As injury time approached at Manchester City's ritzy new Etihad Stadium, fans had given up hope, a 44-year wait was about to get longer, and no one believed in a five-minute miracle. City fans, hardened by their team's near misses over the years, were figuring out ways to digest another year of taunts and trauma from the more upward, snobbish neighbours supporting the more successful Manchester United (record winner with 19 English crowns). There were tears everywhere as television commentators kept rattling: “Where will they hide tonight? Where will they go? Where will they find the moral fibre to get up and go to work in the morning?” The mood, if anything, was gloomy.

No club has heaped so much grief on its fans longer than Manchester City. The club with two league titles and six Cup crowns has had a history of snatching defeat from victory, relegation from positions of relative comfort. (In 1937-38, City, the reigning champion, looked moderately healthy, only to suffer a late collapse and become the only team ever to be relegated with a positive goal difference.)

Ninety minutes into the last game of another gruelling season, City — trailing 10-man, relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers — looked almost certain to reward its “long suffering” fans with another incomprehensible failure.

But, thankfully, for City loyalists and millions of neutrals worldwide (who had grown accustomed to and disinterested in Sir Alex Ferguson's regular canter to English titles), this was a moment of miracle, ironically City's ‘Manchester United moment' (United had famously scored twice in injury-time to come from behind and beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final in Barcelona.) Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero were City's Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (United's two scorers that night), injury-time goal-scorers and new heroes of a brand new tale, sure to become folklore.

“A crazy finish for a crazy season,” manager Roberto Mancini correctly summed up afterwards.

City's first League title since 1968 augurs well for its Qatari owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who has invested near about GBP1 billion since taking over the club from embattled Thailand premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2008.

His money has recruited talents like Carlos Tevez (GBP47m), Sergio Aguero (GBP38m), Edin Dzeko (GBP27m), Yaya Toure (GBP24m), Mario Balotelli (GBP24m) and David Silva (GBP24m), a hugely gifted and varied assemble that has helped Mancini tinker his team at will. City's overall transfer spending of GBP500 million since the takeover is way more than any other club in Europe and goes completely against UEFA's Fair Play Regulations that are supposed to kick-in in a year's time. The game's governing body in Europe is trying to moderate club finances, essentially by forcing them to build revenues or to cut costs, thereby decreasing the chances of neo-riches with lavish spending capacities to virtually buy their way to title triumphs.

There have always been detractors of ‘Project Mansour' and his brand of extravagantly paid “football mercenaries” who, pundits complain, have no club loyalty or ethics. An allegation that club captain and City's defensive linchpin, Vincent Kompany, is quick to dismiss. “It's not us just coming here for the money. We've dreamed of this all our lives, when we were kids, when we were nothing and had no money,” he said immediately after the win. “And now we are champions and that's what it's about for us.”

Modern sports have essentially become money-centric and splurging cash for success has almost become a proud tradition. (Roman Abramovich has put in over GBP1 billion in the transfer market in buying three titles for Chelsea since 2003 and steel magnate Jack Walker's embezzled millions helped Blackburn Rovers (in 1995) to become one of the only five clubs to win the rechristened English Premier League crown. Real Madrid has assembled its current La Liga winning squad for over GBP200 million — the club has spent over Euro1000 million in transfer markets over the last decade. Closer home, teams in the Indian Premier League are investing astronomical sums to ensure success.)

So, to single City out would be to ignore the decades in which other sporting institutions have spent fortunes, systematically shredding lower clubs of their most gleaming talents.

This is not to pass judgement on the financial affairs of the European clubs that regularly end up with more red dots on their balance sheets with every passing year. City itself has disclosed a record loss of GBP197 million for the 2010-11 financial year. It's easier for us (football lovers and non-auditors or accountants), to forget about the calculators and Excel sheets and just enjoy the expansive array of football dished out by these teams. ‘The Galacticos of Madrid' from 2001-02 and now the ‘Invincibles from Manchester' have indeed played a heart-warming game of delectable fluidity combined with unwavering determination and nerves of steel.

City has presented in front of us a technically sound attacking brand of football, relatively unknown in the ‘long-ball' English game. The skills of Silva (six goals and 15 assists) and Aguero (23 goals) combined effortlessly with the tenacity and drive of Yaya Toure (six goals, six assists and a 90 percent pass completion record) and Kompany (78 percent tackle success rate), to create a perfect weapon that pierced through opposition hearts for the first 28 games of the season as injuries and illness to the likes of Nemja Vidic, Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverly thinned out City rival United's team.

But then, City's momentum drained away as it missed the services of Yaya Toure (to the African Cup of Nations) and Kompany (suspended for four games in January), and a second wind for United saw it gain an almost unassailable eight-point lead going into the last leg of this term. United then stuttered and City fired and for the first time the Premier League title was decided on goal differences, last day, last minute. (Both City and United ended the season with 89 points, but City had a better goal difference of eight.) It was pandemonium indeed and an emotionally exhausted Kompany said, “Please never again this way,” echoing the feelings of every Blue supporter.

But with the thrill of that last-minute adrenaline rush — felt sitting in front of a television screen about 5000 miles away (Google lists that as the approximate distance between India and Manchester) — won't we happily be ‘Back to Bedlam' again?