“Manchester City still alive here. Balotelli….Aguerrroooooo…I swear you will never see anything like this ever again. So watch it, drink it in…”
– Martin Tyler, 13 May, 2012
The “greatest goal ever” is an epithet that has been done to death. Everyone has a favourite – Maradona’s second goal against England in 1986, Carlos Alberto’s thundering drive against Italy in 1970, Lionel Messi’ stunning goal against Real Madrid in 2011, and so on. And while they were all undoubtedly special in terms of skill and effort, in terms of sheer impact, there is perhaps no goal that matches the one that was scored on this very day eight years ago at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. It did not involve any especially breathtaking piece of skill. But in terms of sheer impact and drama, it has perhaps no equal in football history.
We are talking of the goal that won Manchester City the English Premier League for the first time. With almost the last attack of the season.
The two clubs of Manchester!
On 13 May, 2012, Manchester City hosted Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad stadium. It was the last day of the Premier League. And right on top of the table were two of the most bitter rivals in English (or any) football, Manchester United and Manchester City. Manchester United, under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson were perhaps one of the greatest football teams in terms of sheer success – they had won the Premier League 12 times since 1992, and were defending champions, having won four of the last five league titles. City, on the other hand, had never won the Premier League. They had never even finished in the top three. Actually, the last time they had won the English league was when it was called the First Division, way back in 1967-68. Yes, they had received a major investment from a group in Abu Dhabi, allowing them to get better players and coaches, but in terms of pedigree, they were nowhere near their local rivals.
In fact, since 1995, the English Premier League title had become the preserve of three clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. No other club had won the title, although the likes of Newcastle had come close. English football was a three-horse race, and many believed that that was the way it would stay, notwithstanding the millions of “petro dollars” being poured into Manchester City.
That was about to change on this day. In fact someone would say, football was about to change.
The final day exam
Going into the final day of the 2011-12 Premier League, both Manchester United and Manchester City had exactly the same number of points – 86. Both had even got exactly the same results – 37 played, 27 won, 5 drawn and 5 lost. They were separated only by goal difference – City had scored 90 goals and conceded 27 for a difference of 63, while United had scored 88 and conceded 33 for a difference of 55. United were travelling to the Stadium of Light to play Sunderland, while City were hosting Queens Park Rangers. Both Sunderland and QPR were nowhere near the footballing elite – in fact, QPR were in danger of being relegated. As it was the last day of the season, all the matches would start at the same time, to prevent any chance of clubs “fixing” results to suit themselves or harm rivals.
Going into the match, the equation was simple: unless Manchester United set a new league record by beating Sunderland by close to ten goals, a win for Manchester City would get them their first title in more than forty years. B
There was however a firm belief in many people’s hearts that Manchester United would win the title. Ferguson had the knack of snatching wins in the dying minutes of seemingly lost causes – the best example of it being the 1999 Champions League final when the team scored twice in added on time to beat Bayern Munich. The fans even had a term for this ability to win at the last minute – they named it “winning in Fergie Time” after their manager, Alex Ferguson. And this belief in winning was bolstered by Manchester City’s own reputation of “choking” at important points (“Cityitis” some called it cynically). The club had struggled for most of the past two decades and had even suffered relegation. Yes, it had more money than ever before and a very high profile manager in Roberto Mancini, but unlike United, it had no “winning culture.” Yes, on paper it would take a miracle for the relegation threatened QPR to even draw with City, let alone beat them (the club had not a single match away from home all season), but then, Manchester United was a club that thrived on miracles.
A miracle in the making…
And it seemed, against all odds that a miracle was indeed on the cards. Manchester City, playing in front of a jam packed home crowd, seemed out of sorts and nervous. QPR on the other hand, hung in desperately, knowing that a point could keep them in the league and save them from relegation. Then, news came in from Sunderland – Manchester United had scored. Wayne Rooney had given them a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Technically, United were now on top of the league. The Etihad erupted sixteen minutes when City’s Pablo Zabaleta scored to give City the lead, and put them back on top of the table. The goal, however, was a scrappy one, with the QPR goalkeeper Paddy Kenny having misjudged the direction of the shot. Still, it was enough to send City into half time hoping for their first title win.
All that hope dissolved into misery within three minutes of the restart. A wrong pass from City’s Lescott gave QPR’s Djibril Cisse a clear shot at goal and he did not miss it. 1-1, and United were back on top. However, City’s chances got a boost when QPR’s Joey Barton (interestingly, a former City player himself in the past) was sent off after an altercation with Carlos Tevez (who equally interestingly had been a former United player). QPR were now down to ten men and City were attacking frantically, urged on by a sea of supporters in the stands!
Sure enough, twelve minutes later, there was a goal. But it was QPR who once again scored. As City attacked, they left their defences exposed, and Armand Traore broke down the left to send in a great cross which Jamie Mackie headed into the City goal. 2-1 to QPR and Manchester United were firmly on top of the table. As the Etihad plunged into silence, a roar erupted at the Stadium of Light where United were still leading.
With the title seemingly slipping out of their grasp, City now attacked with desperation. Mancini brought on Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli in search of goals. Shot after shot was directed at the QPR goal but Paddy Kenny was in no mood to concede. As the clock ticked past the 90 minute mark, QPR were still leading 2-1. The referee signalled five minutes of added time. Disconsolate City fans were in tears in the stadium and some even started leaving, heading for the car park, unable to bear the sight of their team losing a match that it should have won. Another Manchester United miracle was on the cards!
….and a miracle at the end!
And then with two minutes of added time gone, Edin Dzeko rose to head in a corner to level the scores at 2-2. He did not bother celebrating but instead ran back to the half way line. City needed another goal in three minutes to win the league. As the seconds ticked by, the match at the Stadium of Light ended with a Manchester United victory. United had finished their campaign at the top of the league with 89 points. City were at 87. United’s players and fans however remained on the pitch, waiting for news from the Etihad. Waiting for confirmation for another last gasp win in best Ferguson tradition.
And then with time running out, the impossible happened.
City’s Sergio Aguero received a pass from Nigel de Jong on the edge of the QPR penalty area, he touched it on to Mario Balotelli, who seemed to stumble as he turned. But even as Balotelli fell, he passed the ball on to Aguero who had sprinted past him. As Aguero received the ball, QPR’s Tase Taiwo there himself on a tackle at him. He did seem to make contact and perhaps on another day Aguero would have gone down and tried to get a penalty. But not on this thirteenth of May.
As the crowd watched in disbelief, Aguero steadied himself and unleashed a shot that beat Kenny in the goal. 3-2!
With hardly time left on the clock (there was barely a minute to go), Manchester City had ended a more than four decade drought and won the Premier League. As United players shook their heads in disbelief at Sunderland, City players and fans went berserk. Aguero whipped off his shirt and was mobbed by his teammates, Mancini and his coaching staff were dancing on the touchline in merry abandon, and in the stadium, tears of pain had become tears of joy as Manchester City fans suddenly realised that after more than forty years, and after a particularly torturous ninety four minutes, they were champions. In television studios, commentators went hoarse as they tried to make themselves heard above the frenzied screaming in the stadium. Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler, in particular, would always be remembered for the way in which he stretched the vowels out as he screamed “Agueroooooo” when the goal was scored!
The greatest goal ever? Perhaps!
There are many who believe that Aguero’s goal was the most important in modern football history. Quite simply because it totally altered the balance of power not just in English football but even heralded the arrival of a new football power. Had Manchester United won the trophy that day, perhaps the club’s domination of the league would have continued, and perhaps City’s investors would have held back from further investment, leading City to fade away like Blackburn Rovers, Leeds and Newcastle did.
Aguero’s goal changed all that. Although Manchester United did win the title the next year, the club were never able to get back the sort of dominance they once enjoyed and have since struggled to even stay in the top five. City on the other hand have gone from strength to strength , have set records for goals and points scored in a season and are currently considered one of the best teams in the world under the redoubtable Pep Guardiola. The big three of English football – United, Chelsea and Arsenal – have been very much knocked off their perch and many feel a new order led by Manchester City and a resurgent Liverpool and Spurs, and backed by young sides like Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers is taking its place. As for Sergio Aguero, the Argentine striker has been setting records ever since but THAT goal has made him part of football folklore in a manner that even his legendary father in law would have envied. The City striker is married to the daughter of a certain Diego Maradona! The time at which he scored the goal: 93 minutes, 20 seconds, is also part of City legend – they simply call it, “93:20”!
Perhaps the shift in power would have happened anyway. After all, things do change eventually. But there’s no doubting that this change was accelerated by that one moment at the very end of the 2011-12 campaign, when a little Argentine, swapped passes with a falling Italian to score perhaps the greatest goal – in terms of sheer impact – in modern football history. Such is its importance that even today, when many Man City fans receive a call on their phones, their ringtone is not a piece of music or even their club anthem, (“Blue Moon”), but a single word, screamed by an disbelieving commentator, on 13 May, 2002:
93:20 DOCUMENTARY | THE PLAYERS: https://youtu.be/oepskn9gjDI
MAN CITY 3-2 QPR | HD Extended Highlights | 93:20 Rewind: https://youtu.be/4XSo5Z0hEAs
93:20 DOCUMENTARY | THE MEDIA:https://youtu.be/B42f57mKq6U
Manchester City Title Win 2011 (Aguerooo Goal) with Interstellar’s Docking Music: https://youtu.be/8q2TrK-u-qY
Premier League: A History in Ten Matches by Jim White, Head of Zeus.
My Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Manchester City 2011-2012 by Andrew Waldon, Fonthill Media