The Championship is a division that embraces young players breaking into the first team. It’s a foundation for building a reputation and eventually being shifted on for a substantial transfer fee to a higher placed club. The asking price of some players in the Championship now is astonishing and people often ask ‘are they worth it’.
Sam Byram of Leeds and Will Hughes of Derby have been speculated at £10 million plus for their services and recently Palace moved on their extremely gifted young winger Zaha for around £15 million. Therefore it shows that clubs in the Premier League are willing to speculate to accumulate on young talent.
I will look at the 5 best Premier League players that played in the Championship and then signed for big money elsewhere.
Theo Walcott: 21 Apps, 4 goals.
At the time the Theo Walcott fee seemed widely unreasonable and misjudged by Arsene Wenger. Signing for Arsenal in 2006 he cost an initial payment of 5 million and with international and club appearances could rise to 12 million. In hindsight of course, the payment seems quite small for a player that is one of the first names on the team sheet for club and country.
Since 2006, Walcott has made 185 appearances for the North London side scoring 40 goals, as well as 12 goals in 52 games in European cup competitions. He has also made 36 appearances for England, scoring 5 goals. A very memorable hat-trick against Croatia during the 2010 World Cup Qualifying stage will be a highlight of his international career and one of the fondest memories fans have of him.
He has yet to win anything trophies with Arsenal but was named ‘Football League Cup Top Goalscorer’ last season as a well-deserved personal accolade.
Phil Jagielka: 92 Apps, 8 goals.
A veteran of the second division with Sheffield United he played 127 ‘First Division’ games and then 92 games when it was name changed to ‘The Championship’. He spent 8 years at Sheffield United with 7 of those coming in the second division. He was finally promoted with United in 2006 and was named ‘PFA Championship Player of the Year’ which was long overdue for what was a supremely talented player.
He was part of the side that got relegated from the Premier League with Sheffield United but he had shown enough for David Moyes to take the gamble on him. In 2007 he moved to Merseyside for a fee around 4 million pound on a five year contract. He has grown and grown into a better player each year and eventually got an England call up in June 2008 where he was mainly used as a squad player.
Fast-forward to this season, Jagielka is now one of the first names on the England team sheet and current Everton captain, who’re fighting for a top 6 finish. He spent many years doing his ‘apprenticeship’ and he never lost the fight to achieve the best he possibly could.
Ashley Young: 78 Apps, 16 goals
Ashley Young was known as one of the most promising young players outside the Premier League and when he came to age during the 2005/2006 season he was unplayable. Nothing was expected of Aidy Boothroyd’s Watford side, in fact many tipped them to be relegated to league one. Ashley Young provoked a spark and was integral in their promotion. He started well in the Premier League, scoring 3 goals in a struggling Watford side and caught the attention of the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa.
He eventually signed for Aston Villa for around 8 million pound, quickly becoming one of their key players. The PFA named him in the 07/08 and 08/09 ‘Premier League Team of the Season’ and 08-09 ‘Young Player of the Year’. Overall, he spent 4 and a half seasons at Villa playing in 157 league games and scoring 30 goals.
He signed for Manchester United in 2011 for a fee believed to be around 15 to 20 million pound. He played a large part of the 11/12 season where United was piped to the Premier League title in the last second by rivals Manchester City. He played less during the 12-13 season but won the top accolade in English football and his first major club trophy as a player.
He has represented England 30 times since making his debut on the 16th November 2007 under the tutorship of Steve McClaren. He has remained a firm fixture in the national side, scoring 7 goals thus far.
Leighton Baines wasn’t thought to be a boy wonder or an exceptional player early on in his career. He started playing first team football in 2002 for Wigan Athletic in Division 2 (League One Equivalent). He managed 6 appearances in the side that won the Second Division. The year later he played a bigger part in the side that just missed out on the play-offs in the First Division and then was a key part of the side that finally gained promotion to the Premier League under Paul Jewell in the Championship’s debut season.
Leighton Baines remembers worrying about what he would do after promotion, he was so sure that he wasn’t good enough for the Premier League he had already convinced himself of a life in the reserves or out on loan.
He finally came out of his shell and burst onto the scene in Wigan’s first season in the top-flight. He was a major asset and as it turned out and was plenty good enough for the Premier League.
He went on to sign for Everton with a transfer figure somewhere around 6 million pound, which in hindsight is absolutely nothing for one of the best left-backs in the world. He has been proven good enough to challenge long-term fixture Ashley Cole in the national side, making 21 appearances for the England side since his debut in 2010 against Egypt.
He hasn’t won a club trophy at Everton yet, but has been named ‘Everton Players’ Player of the Season’ 3 times, ‘Everton Fans’ Player of the Season’ twice and been included in the ‘Premier League PFA Team of the Year’ twice, beating Left back rival Ashley Cole to the punch.
Lescott is one of the highest rated players I can remember at Championship level. Travelling to the Molineux in my younger days, I remember being told look out for their centre back. He never failed to live up to expectation, clearly playing well below his level.
He moved to Everton at the start of the 06/07 season for an initial payment of 2 million pound, followed by 3 million paid through appearance fees and instalments. He quickly made himself a key member of the Toffees side that were constantly challenging at the right end of the table. Therefore becoming known as one of the best centre defensive players in the Premier League and was signed by Manchester City for 22 million pound, making him the highest valued player to have played in the Championship.
He found life at Man City a little hard to adapt but he finally got his break-through due to the absence of Kolo Toure and made a formidable partnership with Belgium’s Vincent Kompany.
He was a key member of the squad that won the 2011/2012 English Premier League playing 33 league games out of a possible 38, scoring 2 goals.
He has capped England 26 times since his debut in 2007 and gone on to establish himself as a member of the senior squad.
Who would have your list, does Michael Dawson deserve to be included over the players mentioned?
image: © wonker