Part of Championship’s charm lies in its resident cliche that anyone can beat anyone, which in turn can produce surprise promotions
No guarantees for high-profile managers Frank Lampard and Marcelo Bielsa in Championship football
It is about the grind and the potential glamour. The Championship returns on Friday night for a 46-game slog with the potential prize for promotion valued at almost £200 million (Dh961m).
The notion of speculating to accumulate can be evident in signings. This year, it is perhaps most apparent in managerial appointments.
The season begins with Reading hosting Derby County or, as they may be known, “Frank Lampard’s Derby”. A player who was a byword for consistency and quality makes his managerial debut with a club who have been regular disappointments in recent seasons.
At the other end of the spectrum, but showing similar ambition in plucking a high-profile newcomer to England’s second tier, Leeds United have opted for Marcelo Bielsa, the ideologue who is a hero to Pep Guardiola and a mentor to Mauricio Pochettino. The former Argentina manager is set to bring an idiosyncratic 3-3-3-1 formation to a league that used to be a byword for 4-4-2.
Bielsa’s bow comes on Sunday against Stoke City, one of those expelled from the Premier League in May. One common denominator among the relegated clubs is that three established members of the elite all underachieved dramatically to go down.
Another is that they all have new managers.
Yet they have gone down different routes. While none have plumped for the promotion specialists who can prevail at the upper end of the Championship, Stoke have the closest thing to a safe bet in Gary Rowett, who steered Derby to sixth last season.
Swansea City, having lost their identity, are looking to reconnect with their progressive roots under Graham Potter, the Englishman who was a revelation in Sweden with Ostersunds. West Bromwich Albion promoted Darren Moore, the untried caretaker who threatened to keep them up after Alan Pardew’s wretched reign.
Stoke have been the most ambitious spenders, bringing in costly Championship match-winners Thomas Ince and Benik Afobe and the Nigerian Oghenekaro Etebo, who excelled in the World Cup.
Of their class acts, Joe Allen will definitely stay. Jack Butland might. They look best equipped to go up.
West Brom have been obdurate in keeping Craig Dawson and Jay Rodriguez, while they may retain the services of Salomon Rondon, though Ben Foster and Jonny Evans have gone.
Their replacements Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley look fine buys but the most intriguing addition has come off the field: Roberto Martinez’s long-time assistant Graeme Jones has joined as Moore’s right-hand man. And, with finances limited, more departures may follow.
Swansea may have had the biggest clearout, ranging from stalwarts such as Angel Rangel and Leon Britton to misfits like Borja Baston and Renato Sanches via, potentially, key players like Lukasz Fabianski and Alfie Mawson to both Ayew brothers.
It gives Potter both a blank canvas and a huge rebuilding job in what may be a year of transition.
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If Aston Villa, plunged into financial difficulties by losing May’s play-off final, are a warning of the perils of overspending, they also show the Championship can be difficult to leave.
None of the three teams ejected from the Premier League in 2017 returned at the first time of asking – indeed Sunderland went straight down to League One – though Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough have reasons to be confident about their second season back in the second tier.
Besides Leeds and Derby, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Villa, with new investors, also look well worth watching. Yet part of the Championship’s charm lies in its resident cliche that anyone can beat anyone, which in turn can produce surprise promotions.
Cardiff City’s elevation last season would have been a shock, but Huddersfield Town’s campaign the previous year was still more unexpected. Yet those feats come at a cost to the more favoured.
Lampard and Bielsa should be wary.