Money may not buy happiness. But it can buy an English Premier League title, as Manchester City proved again Sunday, beating West Ham United, 2-0, to win its second championship in three seasons.
That's as many titles as the team had won in its previous 131 years. And it owes that turnaround to deep-pocketed owner Sheikh Mansour, who has made the team the best-paid sports franchise in the world, and the best-performing team in the world's most competitive soccer league.
"We're building a real club, with a heart and a soul," captain Vincent Kompany said after Manchester City held off a frantic charge from Liverpool, which won 12 of its final 14 games to finish two points back. "Every year we improve. The belief is there now that if we play like we can, we can win a lot of titles."
Manchester City scored 102 goals in its 38 league games, one short of the league record. And Sunday's shutout was its 16th. Yet, it spent only 15 days in first place during a season in which there were 25 lead changes atop the standings, the second-most in the Premier League era.
And though Liverpool, which gave up the league lead in the season's final week, fell just short of a title it has been chasing for nearly a quarter of a century, captain Steven Gerrard cheered the team's progress from a seventh-place finish last year.
"We proved this season we're capable of mixing it with the best," said Gerrard, who helped the Reds close the season with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle. "We want to go one better next year. We're capable of challenging.
"Things have changed here. The supporters know it and the players know it. We are genuine title contenders before a ball is kicked next year."
Liverpool scored 101 goals and had three or more in a game 21 times. Plus the team had the league's top two scorers in Luis Suarez, whose 31 goals equaled the league record for a 38-game season, and Daniel Sturridge, who scored 22 times.
"We made the supporters dream. We made ourselves dream," Gerrard said. "We gave it a great shot but we fell a little bit short. What we do now is we dust ourselves down and go again.
"I believe the title's not too far away."
Especially now that the Union of European Football Assns., the ruling body for European soccer, has determined that Manchester City's spending habits violated financial fair player guidelines. UEFA took no action after the club apparently ignored a deadline to either accept or contest penalties that include a record $83-million fine and a wage cap. UEFA could decide as early as Monday whether to stiffen the sanctions against the club's Adu Dhabi owners, who have invested $1.7 billion in the team over the last six years.
For the players, however, Sunday was a day to celebrate, after which the focus will switch to next season.
"We know the owners have been spending big over the last few years to make this happen," fullback Pablo Zabaleta said of Mansour, who is paying the club's first-team players an average of $8.1 million a year. "So this is time to enjoy. But we are very hungry for more. We will work even more to bring more success to this club."