Arsenal, Liverpool target and promotion-winning trio feature in Championship XI of breakout stars

Lewis Oldham
Championship breakouts

The 22/23 Championship campaign is in the can and this is an XI of players whose reputations have soared to new heights over the past 10 months.

As F365’s resident Millers fan, I’ve been quite restrained and only included two Rotherham players. They make the cut alongside three promotion winners who achieved great things with Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town.


GK: Viktor Johansson (Rotherham United)
The Millers shot-stopper was excellent for Rotherham in League One last season as he shared the role of first-choice goalkeeper with Josh Vickers. But Johansson was undroppable in 2022/23 as he almost earned Matt Taylor’s side points single-handedly at times.

I’d be lying if I said I was not still bitter over Johansson not being included in the Championship Team of the Season as Rotherham would have likely been relegated without his heroics. His performances have earned him a spot in the Sweden squad and on the evidence of his freakish form, he is there to stay.

Championship breakout 'keeper


RB: Trai Hume (Sunderland)
After being plucked from Linfield at the start of 2022, the jury would have been out on Hume right away as there is a stark quality gap between the Irish Premiership and the Championship. So the 22-year-old deserves plaudits for ensuring that this transition has been seamless.

Hume went under the radar compared to some of Sunderland’s more flashy players (namely Amad Diallo and Jack Clarke) but he more than held his own. He made 30 league appearances during his debut campaign in the Championship and he’s set to become a full international for Northern Ireland.


CB: Anel Ahmedhodzic (Sheffield United)
Championship watchers anticipated that Ahmedhodzic had something special about him when Sheffield United paid £3m to sign him, but little was known about the defender prior to his arrival in England.

The 24-year-old has made Sheffield United’s scouts look bloody good at their job as he has been a sensation at Bramall Lane.

I’ve named Ahmedhodzic the 22/23 breakout star in F365’s end-of-season awards for the second tier and he has quickly nudged himself alongside Iliman Ndiaye, Sander Berge and Ollie Norwood as the Blades’ most important players heading into their return to the Premier League.


CB: Cameron Humphreys (Rotherham United)
Johansson has been the runaway winner of Rotherham United’s in-house Player of the Year award but Humphreys has comfortably been their best signing. The ex-Man City youngster was secured by the Millers on a free transfer following his spell at Belgian outfit Zulte Waregem.

We are seeing more players from Europe’s top leagues flock to the Championship (more on Millwall’s Dutch dynamo later) and Humphreys has been a sensational find for Rotherham.

The composed centre-back has barely put a foot wrong in a defensive sense. You can also tell from a mile off that he is a product of the Pep Guardiola regime at City as he is unnervingly calm on the ball. According to transfermarkt, Will Vaulks is Rotherham’s record sale at €2.35m and Humphreys will comfortably top this fee when big clubs come knocking.


LB: Alfie Doughty (Luton Town)
Doughty’s move from Stoke City to Luton last summer did not create much fanfare. But the Hatters have mastered the art of picking out a bargain and the full-back has low-key been one of the signings of the season in the second tier.

Nathan Jones was not sold on Doughty at the start of this season as he was on the periphery but he has been integral as part of Rob Edwards’ preferred 3-5-2 set-up. His emergence has been among quite a few success stories to take place at Kenilworth Road this campaign.


CM: Hayden Hackney (Middlesbrough)
Hackney’s rise to prominence has been extraordinary. He was on loan in League Two with Scunthorpe United in 2021/22 but now he is regarded as one of the best young players in the Championship.

The 20-year-old has loved life under Michael Carrick this term. The Man Utd legend did a great job with Chuba Akpom to unleash his inner goal machine and he did just as well to nurture Hackney to the point where the midfielder – according to 90min – could earn himself a move to Arsenal or Liverpool this summer.

READ MORE: James Maddison enters Premier League relegated XI alongside two future Man Utd captains


CM: Josh Eccles (Coventry City)
The Sky Blues came up short in the Championship play-off final and this will likely lead to Viktor Gyokeres and Gustavo Hamer leaving the club this summer. But luckily for them, they have a manager in Mark Robins who gets everything out of his players and Eccles is a fine example of that

The 23-year-old only played five league games in 2021/22 but Robins has pulled the trigger on the defensive midfielder, who has often afforded Hamer the freedom to make the difference in attacking areas. Eccles will need to step up even more next year as Coventry attempt to push for promotion again.


RW: Nathan Tella (Burnley)
Some pretty daft board-level decisions led to Southampton being relegated from the Premier League and letting Tella go out on loan was an especially stupid one.

From the player’s perspective, he has been spared a miserable season with the Saints. And instead, he’s been a key part of a Burnley side that have lit up the Championship under Vincent Kompany.

Tella – the Clarets’ top scorer with 19 goals – would have been a valuable option for Southampton in the Premier League and while his parent club have dropped down a league, he will likely be looking to join Burnley in returning to the top flight.


AM: Zian Flemming (Millwall)
When Flemming’s arrival was announced last summer, plenty of Millwall supporters will have said, ‘Huh, who’s this?’. But the powerful attacking midfielder is now adored at The Den.

Millwall’s £1.7m record signing took no time to adapt to life in the Championship. He grabbed 15 goals and three assists in the league and he certainly looks the real deal. We will see in a year’s time if Flemming is a one-season wonder, but I would suspect he will follow in Gyokeres’ footsteps and be even better in his second year at this level.


LW: Riley McGree (Middlesbrough)
The ex-Birmingham City loanee has enjoyed a pretty special year. He played a part for Australia during their memorable World Cup campaign last year and for Boro, he’s formed a fearsome left flank alongside Ryan Giles.

McGree was involved in nine goals in the league in 22/23 and while Middlesbrough came up short in the play-offs, you’d be foolish to write them off for promotion next season; the 24-year-old winger should establish himself as one of the league’s best wingers in the process.


ST: Sory Kaba (Cardiff City)
Cardiff were perilously looking over their shoulders in 21st place when Kaba secured himself a loan move to the Championship strugglers on deadline day in January.

Kaba arrived four days after Sabri Lamouchi was appointed as manager and together they were tasked with solving Cardiff’s goalscoring woes after they scored just 21 times in their first 29 league games.

Lamouchi did a superb job to keep Cardiff up and this was largely thanks to the efforts of Kaba, who grabbed eight goals and one assist in 17 appearances. The FC Midtjylland forward is unlikely to be a Bluebirds player next season, but he will always be in their hearts after firing them over the safety line.

READ MORE: Watford to Rotherham… Every Championship club ranked by record signing, including Heskey (twice!)