20-year table gives Premier League lesson

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If a 38-game season separates the best from the rest, what can two decades of Premier League football tell you?

Manchester United have been the most successful team in Premier League history, and boardrooms across the country can learn from their model for success.

Pipped so cruelly to the Premier League title, this season United fans have been forced to instead take solace in a table which takes a slightly longer-term view. The 20-year Premier League table places United in first, more than 200 points clear of second-placed Arsenal, and hints at the most crucial ingredient for success - managerial stability.

City fans celebrated their maiden success with the vigour of a group made to wait 44 years for glory - and rightly so. But the Old Trafford faithful, shaken by the unfamiliar feeling of being second in their own city, can equally point to their history - and 1663 Premier League points.

Football is rife with cliches, and many of them are little more than lazy generalisations, but occasionally statistics prove them useful, as is the case when looking at the 20-year table.

In the beautiful game, stability is said to be key. When attempting to explain success or failure, fans, pundits and players alike will often point to managerial stability, or lack thereof.

David Moyes has 10 seasons under his belt with the Toffees, a decade during which Everton have risen to seventh on the all-time list. Equally, Tony Pulis at Stoke has spent six successful years at the Britannia - four in the Premier League - taking the Potters from 45th on the League table up to 32nd, and rising every year.

But it is the presence of Arsenal and Manchester United at the top of the table that demonstrates the value of stability, as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson are the two longest serving managers in English football.

Ferguson took over United in November 1986, and has overseen the most successful 26 seasons in the club's history. 10 years after Ferguson's appointment, a little know Frenchman walked through the door at Highbury, and led the Gunners to Premier League titles, FA Cups and unbeaten seasons.

The two have occupied their positions ever since, and their clubs sit proudly atop the 20-year Premier League table as a result. Nothing can match managerial stability in terms of fostering an environment for success. It creates an atmosphere of consistency, both in terms of authority and influence, and allows managers time to build sides in their own image, rather than parachuting them into uncomfortable dressing rooms full of someone else's signings.

Obviously, a board must feel confident in their initial appointment, and must be prepared to commit at least two seasons to their choice. Unfortunately, manager's rarely get such a luxury.

A difficult month can be enough to oust a perfectly respectable boss. Former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas had a formidable record at Porto, but at Stamford Bridge he was afforded just eight months. Such short-term thinking reflects poorly on the club's board, rather than on the manager himself - to sack an appointment so quickly is a tacit admission that the board got the appointment wrong in the first place.

Like Villas-Boas, Ferguson suffered a difficult start to his United career, even finishing 13th in the 1989/90 season. But the board backed him, and have been rewarded with 12 Premier League titles and counting.

Wenger himself came in for criticism this season, after Arsenal's worst league start in 58 years, but rallied and eventually finished third. Those who called for his sacking only have to look at Liverpool's search for a new manager to realise there's a limited number of world-class candidates available.

All of which proves instructive for those who want to clamber up the table, and chief upon them is Manchester City. Following defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, City were said out of the title race with six games remaining and Mancini was reportedly set for the sack at the end of the season. But City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak backed his manager, insisting that the Italian would keep his job, and six games later he was watching Mancini lift the trophy.

Such loyalty will be key as City seek to make a dent in Manchester United's considerable lead atop the historical Premier League table. Mancini's side currently sit 10th, 879 points off their bitter rivals.

Despite winning the league this year, they failed to eat into Ferguson's advantage, taking the title only on goal difference. But if City have ambitions to be the best, and with the money at their disposal they surely do, a long-term view of success will ultimately prove more fruitful than sticking rigidly to short-term goals.

Big budgets bring big pressures though, as Chelsea have shown, but City should ignore the Stamford Bridge precedent and instead learn from their bitter rivals.

The 20-year table proves what many observers have long thought - managerial stability brings success. City sampled it this year, and promise it is just the beginning. If they are to stick around, and if history is anything to go by, keeping hold of Mancini could be key.

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