The hair will fly, the nails will scratch and the blood will flow.
And that’s only when Sven’s latest squeeze discovers that he didn’t think they were ‘exclusive’. The promised land of the Premier League and the opportunity to be Sky Sports’ obligatory ‘small club done good’ feel good story of next season is the aim. The Championship and all it’s glorious unpredictability gets underway this weekend and although it’s not the ‘best league in Europe’ as some pundits who are trying to stand out from the crowd pretend it is, it’s mighty entertaining.
To its credit, there are few competitions in the world that can truly match the unique ‘stringing your hopes along for such an extended period of time before it comes to nowt’ like the Championship. It’s like the experience of being a Liverpool fan for the last 20 years compressed into one season. Lots of clubs will expect to find themselves in the clichéd position of being ‘there or thereabouts’, but for the majority the promotion bids will end long before it’s necessary to check which tube line goes closest to Wembley. With 6th place good enough to earn you a shot at going up, supporters may be giddily thinking ‘Two wins would have us right back in contention for the Playoffs’ somewhat forgetting that two wins for everyone else would pretty much have you in the place where you began.
West Ham and Leicester are playing the roles of the evil boys who are bending the unspoken rules the division by not being cash-strapped plucky underdogs. The pair have invested heavily in their promotion campaigns and are understandably joint-favourites for promotion. Under Sam Allardyce, West Ham will play the turgid brand of football that monetarily made your stomach turn when you spotted the name of Bolton and then Blackburn coming up on the fixture list – i.e. exactly the type of football that will get you promoted. The vocal Upton Park faithful won’t like it, but if they take some time out from shouting obscenities at the manager, they may very well see their team in the upper echelons of the table and with that the dissent will most likely die away. The signing of Kevin Nolan will improve an already useful midfield to the point that selling Scott Parker may not be a move that impacts their promotion bid as much as once feared. Constantly craning your neck upwards as the defenders hoof the ball towards the target man is a skill most midfielders can master, so the Hammers may as well cash in on their most coveted player. The Hammers weren’t ‘too good to go down last term’ – but they’re good enough to make an instant return.
Leicester’s influx of wealth has resulted in the type of transfer dealings you can only dream of. Providing your dreams feature David Nugent, Sean St. Ledger and a longing for the return of local boy done slightly above average, Emile Heskey. The Foxes position as favourites is a little more questionable than that of West Ham. Whilst Big Sam has a history of getting results from limited resources, Sven Goran Eriksson’s major achievement in football would appear to be maintaining a good reputation despite not actually doing a whole lot of note. Give him an unlimited chequebook and little pressure and Sven will work laudable but ultimately trophy-less miracles, but the challenge of getting a team up to the top flight may not afford him much in the way of leeway. After overseeing an initial upturn in results after being appointed manager, Leicester’s season peaked and throughed before settling somewhere around mid-table, which given the woeful start they had to the season, was perfectly acceptable. It’s Sven’s first full season in charge, but his honeymoon period is over and his team will need to start the season well or else it may not be long before he’s on the lookout for another well-paid job with non-specific targets.
Of the relegated teams, none has ‘the new Leeds’ written all over them more so than Birmingham City. After several years of the type of prudent financial running of the club that the fans hate until they realise it’s better than oblivion and repeated trips to the East Midlands. Carson Yeung strolled into town splashing the cash like a man who feels insecure about something and with some of those investments now looking about as well-judged as setting up a music shop that sells actual music. Having cut his managerial teeth in the Erinsborough of British football that is St. James’ Park, Chris Hughton is the man to have around in turbulent times, but even his level-headed and amiable approach may not be enough to arrest the slide, particularly if the financial difficulties mean he needs to offload any of the more prized assets amongst his squad. Like David Walliams with a few white wine spritzers in him, it could go either way. The knife-edge nature of their season is exemplified by the odds – the Blues are 7/2 to get promoted at the first time of asking, but at 9/2 are only a marginally bigger price for relegation.
Leeds will get a lot of attention from people who still wish it was the 1970s. The league table never lies and last season’s tells us they were one place out of the playoff places, but it’s worth casting your eye a little further across the standings because the Goals Against column is a cause for concern. The Whites conceded more goals than many of the teams battling relegation last term and getting rid of Kasper Schmeichel would seem to be more about finding a scapegoat than a solution. They should be in the mix for the Playoffs, but another season of feeling like a big fish in a medium sized pond may lay ahead. Also partial to a trip down memory lane are the Nottingham Forest fans, but there must be doubts about their chances of improving on their near-misses of recent seasons and that’s not the teeing up of a Steve McClaren insult. His forays into Dutch and German football had varying degrees of success and despite being torn to shreds by the media, he’s a useful manager. The concerns about Forest are more about the strength of their squad. They’ve made a couple of good signings, but they’ve also seen a lot of handy players make their exits. The first XI will hold it’s own with the division’s best, but a lack of quality in depth may become an issue as the season rolls on.
There’s always a surprise package in the League of Unpredictability and Championship new boys Brighton and Hove Albion probably just about qualify as a potential surprise package – albeit a surprise along the lines of discovering you’re eating margarine as opposed to butter. The Seagulls swaggered to the League 1 title last year and Gus Poyet has been given the finances to do some strengthening of his squad. Backing them to be champions may be a little ambitious, but 5/1 for them to be promoted doesn’t sound quite so implausible. Something a little more out of left-field may be Millwall which will be music to the ears of the police officers who man the Premier League grounds of the country and who like overtime payments. There’s been a revolving door at the Den during the close season, but roughly speaking, Kenny Jackett has a decent squad to choose from and he should be able to string along the fans’ hopes of promotion until late into the season at the very least.
How do you think the Championship season will go? Will Steve McClaren develop a cockney accent to fit in around London? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.