With four of this season’s PFA Team of the Year (and the majority of the squad of champions elect Leicester) bought from the Football League, Championship clubs may be preparing for a Premier League raid this summer should they not gain promotion. We pick the six best Championship players of the season – at least according to the games the boy Storey has watched:
Andre Gray (Burnley)
The intention of parachute payments is clear. Without them, teams could not afford to financially gamble on staying up, better off allowing themselves to be relegated and using the broadcasting revenue to fund a more sustainable future promotion bid. It is an insurance policy against relegation but also a persuading mechanism for money to be spent on promotion, thus making the Premier League a better spectacle.
It also means that clubs relegated to the Championship can make some significant purchases upon their arrival, none more so this season than the £9m Burnley paid Brentford for striker Andre Gray. Having scored 16 league goals during the Bees’ first season back in the second tier, Burnley saw enough in the 24-year-old to triple their recent transfer record.
It has proven a savvy move. Burnley are not yet certain of automatic promotion, but Gray’s 22 goals in 39 league games has taken them to the verge of re-promotion. It’s also worth pointing out that Burnley are still waiting to learn the fee they will receive from Liverpool for Danny Ings. They have already found his replacement.
Andrew Robertson (Hull City)
When Hull signed Andrew Robertson from Dundee United in 2014, people north of the border couldn’t believe that the left-back hadn’t found a more high-profile destination. They were probably still confused that, when Hull were relegated, they managed to hold onto him. Steve Bruce’s claim that Robertson would cost £30m had something to do with it.
Still just 22, Robertson has played a vital role in Hull’s attempt at immediate re-promotion. He has started 40 league games as Bruce’s side have confirmed a play-off place after their automatic promotion bid fell just short.
The rumours don’t go away, with Manchester United last week reported to be scouting Robertson over a possible summer move. That’s likely to be complete guff, but Hull are certainly going to struggle to keep hold of their little gem.
Alan Judge (Brentford)
It was all going so perfectly well for Judge. Despite Brentford languishing in the middle reaches of the Championship, the former Blackburn, Plymouth and Notts County winger had been coverted into more of a central midfielder, and suddenly shone brighter than ever before. Judge was about to be named in the PFA Team of The Year and a likely member of Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad.
Then, on April 9, Judge had his leg broken by a tackle from Ipswich’s Luke Hyam. Not only had a tremendous season come to an abrupt end, but Judge will miss out on the European Championship.
“I have another year left but I think most likely I will be moving in the summer,” Judge said in March. “The contract hasn’t been renegotiated and they haven’t come to me, so it looks like I will be moving in the summer. The Euros could be a showcase but I have to keep doing what I am doing and see what the manager thinks. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.” The poor lad already had.
Daniel Ayala (Middlesbrough)
It has been a winding road back to the top for Daniel Ayala. The Spaniard played five Premier League games for Liverpool before being sold to Norwich. He then played only seven top-flight matches there before falling out of favour, form and fitness as Norwich survived the drop. Loaned out to Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, he finally moved permanently to the Riverside for £350,000 in January 2014.
Since then, Ayala has become the rock in Middlesbrough’s defence. It is no surprise that Aitor Karanka’s side had their wobble while Ayala was injured. Since his return the team, they’ve not lost a game.
Middlesbrough have conceded only 28 league goals this season, five fewer than any other team in the Football League. Their record with Ayala starting is even more impressive: 32 games, 18 goals conceded.
Beram Kayal (Brighton)
Full-back Bruno may have been named in the PFA Team of the Year for the Championship and Anthony Knockaert been sodding brilliant since arriving in January, but it is central midfielder Beram Kayal who is the unheralded star of Brighton’s unlikely automatic promotion push. Lewis Dunk and Dale Stephens could easily have been selected from a team in the truest sense of the word, but hey, it’s my party and I’ll Kayal if I want to.
The Israeli international has contributed two goals and seven assists in the league this season, but it is his calming influence in a holding role that has proved so vital. Kayal is capable of pushing forward or playing as a box-to-box midfielder, but has largely tempered his attacking endeavours for the greater good. No Brighton player makes tackles more often.
“We always knew he had the ability from playing at Celtic,” said manager Chris Hughton after Kayal had been named Brighton’s Player of the Year after getting 41% of the fans’ votes. “This year, from playing consistently, we’ve been able to see his level going up and up, which is obviously great.”
Ross McCormack (Fulham)
The older version of Jordan Rhodes, namely a striker who scores shedloads of goals in the second tier but never gets the move higher. Yet while Rhodes might finally get his top-flight chance with Middlesbrough, for McCormack it’s a case of same old story.
The Fulham striker was voted as the second best player in the Championship by the managers of the division, and is the most expensive non-top-flight signing in English football history. He has also scored 21 league goals in a Fulham side that flirted outrageously with relegation, nibbling the ear and nuzzling the neck of League One before finally being better than MK Dons.
McCormack is Fulham’s top goalscorer this season. He is their top assist provider too. And their top chance creator. And is fouled more than any other player. Ever think he chose the wrong club to move to for £12m?