How to (and how not to) succeed in the Championship

The championship is one of the most exciting and competitive leagues in the world, becoming a mini premier league in many ways, emphasised by recently promoted sides such as Bournemouth, Watford and Burnley now becoming solid Premier League sides.

It really is a league where anyone can beat anyone, meaning that there is no such thing really as a shock result anymore. The fixtures are incredibly difficult to call, with sides like Derby and Norwich often following up strong victories with poor defeats. Therefore, predicting a potential winner is virtually impossible; would anyone realistically have predicted Sheffield United and Cardiff in the top three at this stage of the season?

However, the sides which tend to do well have followed a similar trend in recent years, and this article will attempt to dissect a few observations I have noticed which have led to successful teams in the championship.

Looking back at sides such as Swansea, Bournemouth and Southampton, the momentum gained from promotion from League One was built upon, and often led to successive promotions. Brentford also got to the play-offs in their first championship season. Momentum and confidence are often overlooked qualities in football, as sides often underestimate newly promoted sides and see them as an easy three points. This may explain the success of Sheffield United this season, as players like Billy Sharp, Chris Basham and John Fleck entered this season high on quality and in the form of their lives, and this has been shown with recent results.

Confidence also plays a part; confidence within the camp leads to great performances, and confidence from the fans leads to fired up players willing to take risks. The sheer amount of newly promoted sides which end up becoming a championship force suggests that it simply cannot be down to coincidence.

Another observation I have noticed is that the possession of young, hungry foreign imports often leads to successful sides. Huddersfield, Watford and Brighton, among others, all possessed an abundance of talented players from overseas who played major parts in their promotions. Huddersfield built their side around the centre half partnership of Cristopher Schindler and Michael Hefele, Watford used the attacking prowess of Matej Vydra and Odion Ighalo, and Brighton’s side benefitted from the talent of Anthony Knockaert, Jiri Skalak and Tomer Hemed during their promotion seasons. A similar approach has been used by Wolves and Leeds this season, with Wolves’ side built around the extravagant Ruben Neves, Leo Bonatini, Ivan Cavaleiro and Diego Jota among others, and Leeds’ star players being Pierre-Michel Lassoga, Samuel Saiz and Pontus Jansson among others.

This is clearly a good way to go, as often these players come to England to prove themselves and really strive to play in the Premier League, which is often seen as the best league in the world. As a result, highly rated youngsters often come to the Championship, such as Ruben Neves, Neil Maupay who went to Brentford and Martin Braithwaite, who joined Middlesbrough.

Contrast these sides with the likes of Hull, whose side features Michael Dawson, Seb Larsson and Frazier Campbell, Sunderland who are built around Lee Cattermole, Darron Gibson and John O’Shea, and even Sheffield Wednesday, whose attacking players are 30+ former Premier League players Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper. Looking at this point of view, sides featuring classy foreign players tend to be the ones which succeed, and those with ex-Premier League stalwarts at the end of their career to struggle.

On a similar vein, often successful championship sides have featured unproven talent plucked from the EFL, who have used the championship as a way to make a name for themselves. Recent examples contain then-Burnley forward Andre Gray and then-Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, who have since completed big money transfers, Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and of course a certain Jamie Vardy. The manager has a massive part to play in this development, as Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche pride themselves on getting the best out of young players. This is exactly what is currently happening at Sheffield United and Cardiff, with both Chris Wilder and Neil Warnock allowing the players to express themselves this season. At Cardiff, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has arrived from further down the football league and been a revelation this season.

Of course, many other factors come in to play, but my observations have been that a side which contains a blend of unproven talent from the EFL, stylish flair players from overseas and a manager who gives the players a platform to express themselves will succeed in the championship.

What else guarantees success in the Championship? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Sky Sports