The self-righteous insistence that the Premier League is the best league in the world – normally pedalled by people that exclusively watch top-flight football in England – can quickly become tiresome.
However, the highest tier of the footballing pyramid on these shores is unique among its continental peers for its enduring competitiveness. Of the 17 highest ranked national divisions across Europe, England is the only country that has never had the same team win the top flight four seasons in a row.
Since an organised round-robin league system was first sketched up in 1888, only an exclusive gaggle of clubs have ever won the English league as many as three times on the spin.
Here are the select few to have achieved what is admittedly far more common across the rest of the continent.
The first of Huddersfield Town’s triptych of triumph was undoubtedly the most dramatic. Ahead of the final game of the season, Town trailed Cardiff City by a point but their goal average – the tiebreaker of the age, defined as the number of goals scored divided by those conceded – was perilously similar.
Captain Sam Wadsworth admitted: “We got to work with a pencil and paper, working out the goal averages. I think most of us gave ourselves headaches. We were unable to agree on the figures.”
Luckily, Huddersfield’s legendary manager Herbert Chapman knew what was required, urging his team to a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest before nervously waiting to hear that Cardiff had slipped up against Birmingham City. Town claimed the first of their three successive titles by three-one-hundred-and-twenty-fifths of a goal, winning the next two by the comparatively yawning chasms of two and five whole points.
Upon his arrival in London, Chapman warned Arsenal’s monied directors that it would take five years for silverware to flow. Like clockwork, Arsenal claimed the FA Cup in 1930, Chapman’s fifth season. The Gunners peaked in the 1932/33 campaign, rattling in an outrageous 118 goals – 26 more than second-placed Aston Villa.
Tragically, Chapman was only alive to witness the first of Arsenal’s triumphant trio, dying of pneumonia picked up while on a cross-country scouting mission midway through the 1933/34 campaign.
The media-friendly director George Allison filled the vacant hot seat, officially announcing his appointment in the summer of 1934 with typical aplomb. “I have about 32 years experience of professional football and, I believe, some reputation in the football world,” he declared, “I do not say what kind of reputation!”
Whatever his standing had been was improved by steering Arsenal to a third consecutive title in 1935.
Liverpool had claimed five of the previous nine titles before even embarking upon the first of their hat-trick run from 1982 onwards. Bob Paisley ended his glorious tenure with Liverpool‘s second title in this sequence, making way for fellow boot room stalwart Joe Fagan to take his turn at the helm in 1983.
“Maybe by our standards we didn’t deserve the league this time,” Graeme Souness conceded after an underwhelming title run-in to close out the three-peat in 1984. “But by everybody else’s standards, we did.”
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Less than 12 months after completing a historic treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, Sir Alex Ferguson was convinced that he had already forged a superior side.
After romping to the first Premier League title of the new millennium, finishing a then-record 18 points ahead of second-placed Arsenal, Ferguson gushed: “I think this is the best Man Utd team we have ever had.”
United opened up another double-digit chasm to the Gunners the following year to complete their treble of league titles and earn Ferguson the unique reputation of becoming the first individual to ever win the English top flight with the same club in three successive seasons.
Ferguson may have rated his 2000 team as the best at the time but there is a very strong case that the side he moulded into his own image seven years later was even better.
Spearheaded by a fluid and fleet-footed frontline of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo – which included Carlos Tevez for two of the three seasons in question – United also boasted an impenetrable backline.
For the first and so far only time in the history of the award, the same club contributed the goalkeeper and all four members of the defence in the PFA Team of the Year, with Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all snagging a spot in 2007 – the first of United’s three successive titles.
While Manchester City celebrate their third title on the spin, as many as seven clubs in the 2022/23 season are yet to earn three Premier League wins in a row.
Pep Guardiola has insisted that his domestically dominant outfit must win the Champions League to cement their legacy, to “be in the books, the real books”. Yet, as one of just six teams in the history of England’s top flight to win the title three times on the spin, Guardiola’s side are guaranteed a spot in history.
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