By his own admission, before David Moyes rubber-stamped the signature of Joleon Lescott to Everton from Wolves in 2006 for a perfectly affordable fee of £5m he had previously watched the defender on 25 occasions.
This can be construed as a laudable amount of research but it also lends itself to a pertinent query: would the Toffees boss have spent so much time making absolutely certain of Lescott’s quality, if the centre-back was already excelling in the top-flight instead of the Championship?
If the lack of Premier League experience was indeed a consideration – and let’s face it, it probably was – then we must wonder why Moyes wasn’t greatly appeased by his signing of Tim Cahill two years earlier.
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Like Lescott, Cahill was a stand-out star of the second tier and consistently so. In six seasons at Millwall, the midfielder scored 57 goals in 251 appearances and featured in a FA Cup final.
In 2004, Everton swooped. In the same window that saw Helder Postiga join Spurs for £6.2m and Mateja Kezman go to Chelsea for £5m, the Toffees managed to Cahill for just £2m. Only Crystal Palace appeared to be amongst his suitors.
Last January Championship club Leeds narrowly missed out on signing the league’s most dazzling raw talent in Daniel James. The Welsh wizard had been lighting up the second-tier of English football, scoring six goals and providing ten assists in 39 appearances across all competitions come the end of the campaign.
No other club sought to take advantage of this which meant that in the summer – following a latter half of the campaign that saw James score sensational goals for Swansea and mark his international introduction with an impressive goal too – Manchester United swooped in with a low-ball, successful bid of £15m.
Did the Red Devils celebrate the securing of such a bargain? In the main yes, though certainly not wholly, while rival fans snickered behind their hands, viewing the transfer as a symbol of where United are now. How the mighty have fallen, signing a Championship player. Where once they shopped in Waitrose, now they trawl the shelves of Lidl.
Imagine my shock when Man U fans don’t know who Dan James even is… complaining about signing ‘championship level’ players… sort of fans who couldn’t tell you what old Trafford looks like ?
— The Swamp King Brett Myers. (@bmyerswrestler) May 10, 2019
James has so far made five Premier League appearances for United and scored three goals. He has been a breath of fresh air and unquestionably a cause for optimism as the club navigate a tricky period of readjustment. He has out-performed more high-profile team-mates like Jesse Lingard, who has yet to score or assist this season.
There has always been a certain snobbery emanating from the Premier League towards the Championship, their lesser cousin. That was the case at the turn of this century, and it persists to this day. And this is despite example after example showing this belittlement to be a fallacy. The likes of James Maddison, Joe Gomez, Aaron Ramsey, and perhaps the biggest one of all, Gareth Bale, have all shown that the second division can be a happy hunting ground for the top clubs.
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Yet perhaps this is changing. This summer saw a number of players move up a division, including the likes of Che Adams, Oliver McBurnie, and Adam Webster. These are players who – unlike Cahill and Lescott – have not consistently shown their worth in the Championship season after season but rather – like James – enjoyed a relatively brief period of recognition and achievement at the second-highest level.
Both Adams and Webster made their move to the top-flight after just three seasons in the Championship, whilst McBurnie only had two campaigns in English football’s second-tier. Hardly individuals who have been doing the business year-in and year-out.
So are lessons being learned then? Is the Premier League finally waking up to the fact that the Championship is an under-used market, full of bargains and quality to spare? Let’s hope so.