The fans were warned not to invade the pitch. There was a message on the big screen a few minutes before the end, a reminder on the public address system that entering the playing surface was strictly illegal and would not be tolerated. There was a line of stewards and police officers poised like sprinters by the touchline, ready to secure the turf as soon as the game ended.
And then the game ended and within seconds the grass was engulfed by stampeding boots and pounding steps and one little girl doing cartwheels, which to be fair was very cute. “PLEASE LEAVE THE PITCH,” the announcer pleaded again, as Manchester City’s players and staff dodged a swarm of flying bodies, some fully clothed and some not, each one bearing a smartphone with a little blinking red dot on the screen. They weren’t really celebrating, you see; they were simply taking what they thought was theirs. A few guys decided to carry out a strength test on the goalposts at the south end of the ground: a task probably best left until the summer and to trained maintenance personnel.
Nothing against pitch invasions, personally speaking – as long as no harm is intended and no harm is done, then who cares? But there seemed to be a rich irony in the fact that the club that built an entire sporting dynasty on the right to do whatever it wanted had discovered a sudden taste for rules and order. Eventually the security staff restored a modicum of calm and the few remaining intruders could retreat to the stands, their content captured, their thirst for freedom slaked.
So, after a fashion, the coronation could proceed: an event that ultimately proved not dissimilar to the actual coronation, another event dedicated to the glorification of state power and the flaunting of lavish wealth built on exploitation and plunder of the earth. They had clearly been planning this event at City for some time. The shirts had been freshly printed. The “Champions” banner was being unfurled across the frontage pretty much from the moment the final whistle went in Nottingham on Saturday evening. Even the players’ reaction to the moment of victory was captured not on jerky phone footage but by City’s in-house camera crew, ready to roll out across the club’s digital channels within minutes.
Nothing here is left to chance. In many ways this is the founding ethos of Abu Dhabi’s little blue sock puppet: the ability to plot out not simply the next move but all the moves after that, a painstaking attention to detail, the blunt will and brazen assurance to remove not only the obstacles but the things that might one day be obstacles, maybe.
Seven of the clubs in this season’s Premier League are yet even to win three games in a row. City have just won three titles in a row and the most remarkable thing is they barely seem bothered about it, as if this is simply natural, like water being water, like the car starting when you turn the key in the ignition.
There was a game to play first, of course, which was fairly forgettable. Chelsea’s players had courteously formed a guard of honour beforehand: just the starting XI and substitutes, otherwise the pitch might not have been wide enough to fit them all. Lots of people seemed to be slipping over, although whether it was the pre-match watering or the tears of City’s haters, nobody could say for sure. There was even the heartwarming sight, around the half-hour, of Raheem Sterling running clean through on goal and missing a one-on-one chance in front of the City supporters. Who says this place has no sense of history?
In the medium term Chelsea’s abundant wealth should make them one of the clubs best placed to challenge City’s dominance, just as soon as they can kick the habit of hiring Frank Lampard. As his team raised the pace in the second half, creating some decent openings, Chelsea’s interim manager waved and raved in his technical area, aware that a result at the home of the champions would be the sort of feather in his cap that could secure him the job on a permanent basis. Not this job, obviously. Maybe one of the England youth teams. Or something in Belgium.
But ultimately Chelsea were the meat in the room here, and in many ways so was everybody else. Already you get the sense that City are floating away from their current time and place, a trend most evident in the frequent and not at all fatuous attempts to compare them with Manchester United’s 1999 treble winners or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool or Arsenal’s Invincibles or whatever.
You see it, too, in Pep Guardiola’s increasing willingness to discuss his legacy, in City’s attempts to memorialise their triumphs almost in real time, the statues of David Silva and Vincent Kompany and Sergio Agüero. The present is already settled; now, it seems, City have set their sights on conquering the past and the future.
And here, of course, the terrain gets trickier. There is a Premier League investigation to come: more arguments to win, more campaigns to plan. More challengers and more great teams will come along. Perhaps future generations will take a dimmer view of the wealth that helped City to success and the way it was sequestered. Nobody, not even autocratic rulers, get full control over their legacy. Some things, as ever, are best left to posterity.