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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 16:14 GMT

Le Arsenal and Le Takeover

Manchester United or Murdoch United?

On top of France winning the World Cup, there was a major Gallic influence on English league football in 1998 - particularly on Double winners Arsenal.

[ image: Everton could only watch Marc Overmars and Arsenal blow by]
Everton could only watch Marc Overmars and Arsenal blow by
The Gunners were managed by Frenchman Arsene Wenger and powered in midfield by French internationals Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira.

These and other continental imports such as Holland's Denis Bergkamp - backed by a sturdy English defence - enabled them to overtake Manchester United and win the Premiership.

Arsenal claim the Premiership title
BBC Radio 5 Live's Mike Ingham describes the celebrations

The loss of PFA Player Of The Year Dennis Bergkamp to injury did not stop Arsenal from beating Newcastle to lift the FA Cup, completing a memorable season.

Review of the Year
Along with the champions, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Newcastle qualified for European competition after the 1997-98 season.

At the other end of the table Crystal Palace, Barnsley and Bolton sank back into the First Division, while Nottingham Forest, Middlesborough, and Charlton Athletic won promotion.

Slim pickings in Europe

Chelsea's international brigade were the only side to achieve European glory for English football, beating VFB Stuttgart to bring home the Cup Winner's Cup, while Manchester United failed in their quest for the Champion's League title, losing on away goals to AS Monaco.

Inter Milan, meanwhile, revenged their loss in the Cup Winner's Cup the year before by winning the UEFA Cup in an all-Italian affair against Lazio.

Juventus reached the final of the Champion's League for the third straight time - and for the second time in succession, the Turin giants fell, this time by a score of 1-0 to Spain's Real Madrid, who celebrated winning Europe's premier club competition in grand style by sacking their manager shortly after.

The managerial merry-go-round

[ image: A year after winning the FA Cup, Ruud Gullit left Chelsea]
A year after winning the FA Cup, Ruud Gullit left Chelsea
The managerial merry-go-round spun ever faster in British football in 1998, beginning in February with the shock announcement that Ruud Gullit had left Chelsea and Gianluca Vialli would become the new player-manager.

Less surprising was the departure of Brian Little from underachieving Aston Villa, although few people other than Wycombe Wanderers fans could have known much about Villa's new manager, John Gregory.

In Scotland, both Rangers and Celtic hunted for new managers.

Walter Smith had already announced he was quitting Ibrox at season's end, while even stopping Rangers' nine-year title run was not enough to keep the nomadic Wim Jansen at Celtic. Smith would be replaced by former Dutch National Team manager Dick Advocaat, only to re-emerge at Everton over the summer, while Celtic turned to one-time Aston Villa manager Dr Jozef Venglos.

There were more changes in the first few weeks of the new 1998-99 season, as Kenny Dalglish's time in Newcastle came to an end, to be replaced by Gullit. The dreadlocked Dutchman promised the Tyneside fans a return to 'sexy football'.

Christian Gross's unhappy tenure at Tottenham Hotspur ended shortly afterwards, touching off a chain reaction through out the Premiership.

Spurs eyed Leeds boss George Graham - who had won glory with north London archrivals Arsenal - and engaged in a public tug-of-war with the Yorkshire side for the Scotsman.

Resigned to losing Graham, Leeds set their sights on Leicester City manager Martin O'Neill, whom the Foxes were determined to keep. Finally spurned, Leeds turned to former Graham assistant David O' Leary.

[ image: Roy Evans resigned, bringing an era to an end at Anfield]
Roy Evans resigned, bringing an era to an end at Anfield
An era came to an end in November, when Roy Evans stepped down as joint manager of Liverpool.

Evans had been in the Liverpool organization for 35 years, forming the last link to legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, and his departure left former French national team boss Gerard Houllier in sole charge at Anfield.

Another Roy found himself out of a job soon after, when Roy Hodgson left Blackburn Rovers 'by mutual consent' only 45 minutes after a loss to Southampton. It later emerged that he had been sacked.

Stumbling on the way to Euro 2000

[ image: Paul Ince's red card in Stockholm added to England's woes]
Paul Ince's red card in Stockholm added to England's woes
Meanwhile, England's Euro 2000 campaign suffered a rocky start with a loss in Sweden and a home draw against Bulgaria.

The team were not helped by Glenn Hoddle's continued jousting with the press.

Another tabloid favourite was Sheffield Wednesday's Paolo Di Canio, who shoved referee Paul Alcock after being ejected against Arsenal and was subsequently banned until Boxing Day.

Paolo Di Canio's infamous shove Paolo Di Canio was suspended after pushing referee Mike Alcock over

Scandal of a different kind came in December, when Graham Kelly resigned as chief executive of the Football Association. The move followed allegations about a 3.2m loan made to the Football League of Wales.

FA Chairman Keith Wiseman also tarnished with the same brush, denied the loan had been a bribe and insisted he would stay in post.

Mr Kelly admitted, however, that the loan had been in return for Welsh support for England's 2006 World Cup bid - though he denied that this action constituted a bribe.

City takeovers

Pressure for a European superleague was avoided by the top clubs agreeing to a revamp of the European competitions in their favour.

But the most far-reaching news of the 1998-99 season came not on the pitch but in the boardroom - or to be more precise the boardrooms of City companies which began to take control of England's leading clubs.

Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting moved to buy Premiership giants Manchester United for over 600m.

The sale, still under review, gave rise to speculation about takeovers of other top clubs.

In December, Newcastle United were the subject of an approach, initially thought to be by Sony. In the end, it emerged that the prospective buyers were the US-based communications giant NTL.

Significantly, the deal will only go ahead if the Monopolies and Mergers Commission approves the Manchester bid.

Such financial manoeuvring must be expected to increase in the years to come as the circle of money breeds success and success breeds money becomes ever tighter.

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