Despite being unquestionably the most competitive second tier in world football, the Championship is overlooked more and more as a recruitment pool for the Premier League.
Newcastle spent £6million on Nottingham Forest pair Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles this summer – with their moves delayed until 2015 – but such deals were the exception rather than the norm.
Which is incredibly surprising because the Championship has some great players to offer the top flight. And just to prove it, here’s a list of FIVE that have enjoyed fantastic form in the early part of the season.
Could they become the next Championship stars to make the move to St. James’ Park?
[ffcvideo file=”TopFiveVideosoftheWeek” type=”mp4″]
Blackburn Rovers midfielder Tom Cairney won the Player of the Year award at Ewood park last season and has started the current campaign in a similar vein, finding two goals and three assists as an ever-present member of his side’s promotion push.
That includes this absolute banger against Norwich:
As well as this more cultured effort against Cardiff City:
The 23 year-old has been one of the Championship’s most creative forces this season, with his 2.9 key passes per match ranking in fifth throughout the division:
Likewise, in terms of pass completion rate, the former Scotland U21 makes it into the top ten:
Should Rovers return to the top flight this season, Cairney will undoubtedly play a major role.
Blackburn demonstrated a staunch public resistance to selling Jordan Rhodes during last transfer window, so if Newcastle wish to snap up the in-form midfielder, they’ll likely have to wait until next summer.
Norwich City hotshot Nathan Redmond is no stranger to the top flight. He impressed last season despite the Canaries plummeting out of the Premier League, and was linked to the likes of Stoke City and Southampton during the summer:
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) August 12, 2014
— talkSAINTS (@talkSAINTS) July 10, 2014
Looking at the 20 year-old’s form so far this season, it’s easy to see why. He’s ranked third in the Championship for key passes, as viewable below:
And for accurate crosses:
Whilst he comes in joint-top for successful dribbles:
That’s seen the touchline-hugging winger claim two assists in nine Championship outings this season. He’s making considerable progress in the England set-up too, with four goals and 16 caps for the U21s – that includes this clinical strike against Wales:
Having also impressed in the second-tier with boyhood club Birmingham City, Redmond is clearly destined for the Premier League.
Furthermore, Newcastle’s squad could certainly do with some added quality out wide, but Norwich will be reluctant to sell whilst they’re still on course to bounce straight back to the top flight.
Another promising young Championship winger who already boasts some experience in the top flight is Wigan Athletic’s Callum McManaman, infamous to Newcastle fans for this horror tackle on Massadio Haidara back in March 2013:
But the 23 year-old has done a lot of growing up since then. And after struggling to adapt to the second-tier last season, has emerged as a key player for the Latics to find four goals in eight Championship appearances. This solo effort against Charlton Athletic particularly stood out:
He’s also one of the division’s most proficient dribblers, as viewable below:
Of course, McManaman is best known for his vital role in Wigan’s FA Cup haul back in 2013, netting three times en route to the Wembley final where he was named as Man of the Match against Manchester City. Here’s a look at his highlights from that historic afternoon:
A move back to the Premier League could unlock that kind of form on a more consistent basis, but having rejected a bid from Celtic in the summer, Wigan appear in no mood to sell.
Charlton Athletic striker Igor Vetokele arrived at the Valley this summer and didn’t take long to make his impact felt, picking up the Championship’s Player of the Month award for August.
Indeed, the 22 year-old claimed five goals, one assist and two Man of the Match awards in his first five appearances for the Addicks as the spearhead of Bob Peeters’ mini-revolution in south-east London – including this brace in during a 2-2 draw with Brighton:
That currently leaves him joint-third in the Championship’s scoring charts:
That may seem like a bit of a flash in the pan, considering the Angola international hasn’t found the net in his last four Championship outings.
But Vetokele was sourced from FC Copenhagen this summer, where he netted 16 goals in 43 league appearances and also sporadically featured in the Champions League, underlining his pedigree.
Having only just joined the Addicks, Newcastle won’t be striking a deal for the 5 foot 8 poacher any time soon. But Vetokele’s Championship career has started magnificently; the Magpies would be wise to monitor his progress from afar.
Nottingham Forest summer signing Michail Antonio is arguably the Championship’s most in-form player right now, proving incredibly proficient in a supporting role to the division’s top scorer, Britt Assombalonga. Here’s a look at his stats from the campaign:
The 24 year-old can operate anywhere in the attacking third, including as an out-and-out striker, but his predominant position for Forest this season has been on the left wing.
Antonio has been doing the rounds in the Football League for some time, having turned out for Reading, Cheltenham, Southampton, Colchester and Sheffield Wednesday – whom Forest bought him from for £1.5million this summer – after making a name for himself at non-league side Tooting and Mitcham United.
Former non-leaguers reaching the top flight has become a bit of a theme over the last few years – Rickie Lambert, Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin to name a few – and the 5 foot 9 winger has enough about him to maintain that trend. Take this Dennis-Bergkamp-esque strike against Fulham for example:
Once again, it’s unlikely Stuart Pearce’s side will sell any time soon, but Antonio remains one to watch for the future.