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May 11, 2014

All hail the champions

Was this the day we waved good bye to "typical City" and stepped out into the harsh light of a brave new world? Some will hope not, after decades of spectacular failure and belly laughs at every corner. Manchester City just aren’t Manchester City without one or two slight malfunctions and miscalculations along the error-strewn way. But for now, they’re the champions again.

It quickly became apparent on this occasion during a gentle end to an incredible season that this would not be one of those occasions to add to the veritable pile of City memories of the club disintegrating from being champions of England in the late 1960s to a third-division side.

Manchester City, as nerveless on the pitch as the fans were in pieces off it, strolled to their second title in three years, their fourth overall and to a domestic double of trophies at the same time.

Goals -- 102 of them -- tell the mesmerising story of a well-run club with a core spirit of ice-cold focus and professionalism that just does not know when to give up. During this 2013-14 Premier League season, the top spot had belonged to Arsenal for 128 days, to Chelsea for 64 and to Liverpool for 59. City, enjoying the feeling for only 15 days, are champions. This smacks of a group of players who timed their run to the top with perfection, who hit the summit when others were faltering and held their nerve perfectly when the rest began to crumble.

- Brewin: City hold their nerve - Pellegrini: Players hail title-winning boss - Delaney: Liverpool character - Thorne: Limp West Ham sum up Allardyce - Video: Wenger congratulates Man City

Much has been said about the mentality among the players. Ignoring the jittering masochism in the stands, they go out and pass their opponents to death.

By halftime at the Etihad we had the edifying statistic that West Ham’s total of accurate passes (74) was exactly the same as Yaya Toure’s. This aptly demonstrates the cavernous gulf between also-ran teams and the top of the table. It has been City’s ability to hold on to possession, even in the most difficult games, that has won them so many points.

Suddenly the work of Manuel Pellegrini is being noticed far and wide. This is a team built on practicality but oozing with hundreds of those little extras that make a real difference. Of course, people will let their eyes drop toward the bottom line on the accounts sheets and gasp at all the noughts, but modern football is propped up by money wherever you look. You win nothing relying on youth, good manners and a following wind. Even those sides who have come on in leaps and bounds this year (such as Liverpool) would not have done so without massive investment. This is the football world we live in.

Pellegrini, set with the eye-watering task of gaining five trophies in five years (and we all know which trophies were being alluded to) has captured two in his first eight months. The Quiet Man and Charming Man banners are sprouting like a good harvest of cabbages around the Etihad, and for good reason.

With quiet aplomb, solid nerve and a respectful distance from the hubbub of static and noise the Premier League generates every weekend, the Chilean has delivered what was requested in the style required and in double-quick time. The sight of a hip-shaking celebration at the final whistle as his ecstatic players threw him in the air revealed just how highly he is thought of.

No tantrums this year, no shirts thrown to the ground, no sulky trots straight up the tunnel when substituted and no point-blank refusals to enter the field of play when requested. Clearly The Engineer has fabricated a team spirit and atmosphere of mutual respect that some of his predecessors found extremely hard to come by.

So, on the very date that Joe Mercer’s aces won a thrilling league title on Tyneside -- 4-3 against Newcastle United -- City triumph again. If that feels a little bit like a long time ago to some, take your minds back two years to the day City won their first Premier League title in that tumultuous finale against QPR. The Blues went ahead in that game, lest we forget, in the 39th minute through Pablo Zabaleta, exactly the same minute that City took the lead this time against West Ham. There, all similarities die a death.

The fans will hope in this new era of clinical, professional, no-worries Manchester City, that their dear beloved old club who regularly shot itself in the foot to hobble over the finishing line in a state of serious disrepair does not leave them entirely. To thousands, brought up on a philosophy of “expect the unexpected,” this brave new world will take a few more years yet to fully come to terms with. As the old saying goes, the mind is willing but the body is weak.

In the meantime, let us raise a glass to a superb City surge to the line and a redoubtable runner-up in resurgent Liverpool. Let us look forward to a summer of World Cup football played with the same energy, panache and verve that we have witnessed all season in England.

All hail the champions: Manchester City.