3 young players choosing between Premier League struggles and Championship success
Background photo: James Boyes, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Before we get started, it’s pertinent to point out just how difficult and demanding the Skybet Championship is. Besides being the richest second-tier league in the world; The level of competitiveness in the Championship is high enough to drown good teams who show the slightest trait of weakness. The same can be said for players; youngsters especially. It’s now clearer than ever - talented up-and-comers are more likely to find a stomping ground in the Championship than the Division above.
There are numerous reasons why I’ve come to this conclusion. Firstly, the EFL Championship is contested by 24 teams. It means there are 46 matchdays to be played by each team – that’s eight more than in the Premier League. Factor in the Cup competitions and you get a league where every team is hounded with tough matches all through the season. What that does is provide ample opportunities for managers to rotate their squad; which in turn helps talented players get noticed.
So, a good player who lands in the Championship will surely get his chances to shine. How he takes it is a different matter. Moving up the ladder is the real hassle.
Good as the Championship may be, the quality still can’t be compared to what’s obtainable in the Premier League.
The Premier League is where every player in the Championship wants to end up. In fact, the bottom-line of a Championship season is the promotion to the Elite League for three clubs. Two teams earn their place by finishing first and second while the third has to win a high-contested four-team playoff. For the players who make it happen, the joy that follows is better experienced than described.
For youngsters who perform well enough, they don’t necessarily have to wait for their clubs to win promotion. A Premier League club could sign them up.
However, many players who shine in the Championship choke on the Premier League. There are players currently struggling in the Premier League who were gems during their Championship days. Brighton’s Anthony Knockaert comes to mind.
Knockaert was signed by Leicester City in 2012. He instantly showed signs of being a prolific winger. He scored 15 goals in two seasons for the Foxes and helped them win promotion. Then his form dipped drastically. The Frenchman played nine Premier League games without scoring before saying goodbye to the King Power and England.
In 2016, Brighton brought back Knockaert to English football. Once again he found a haven in the Championship hitting 20 league goals in 60 appearances over two seasons. Not bad for a winger. But since the Seagulls earned promotion to the top-tier, he’s only managed four in 54 league outings. When faced with Championship opposition (Derby County) in the FA Cup last weekend, he scored his third goal from his 25th game this season.
There are plenty of others like Knockaert. Nahki Wells is a centre-forward who’s played nearly all his life in England; albeit, the lower leagues. Between 2013 and 2017, he played four seasons for Huddersfield in the Championship. He was averaging 12 goals per campaign.
Wells was then offered a Premier League shot by Burnley who later signed him for £5 million in 2017. The goals dried up almost instantly. Followed with an ankle injury. The Bermudian never scored a goal for Burnley before getting loaned to Queens Park Rangers in the Championship last summer. He’s scored eight times already.
Newcastle’s Jacob Murphy falls deep into this category. After going through varying spells in League One, the 23-year-old settled with Norwich in the 2016-17 Championship season. Playing predominantly as a winger, the Englishman scored 10 goals in 40 appearances. It was good enough to get him signed by a Premier League club in 2017. Again, he failed to show the talent that got him there. Murphy couldn’t break into Rafa Benitez's first team. After one goal in 28 games, Newcastle has since loaned him to West Brom. He’s already scored in the Championship after just three starts.
You can’t fault young players for craving Premier League football. After all, their mates are shining in the top division. But the Premier League doesn’t give too many chances. If the Championship is tough, the Premier League is the toughest. Talented youngsters can always find a place to spread their wings in the Championship.