I’m expecting big things from Leicester City, Birmingham, Tommy Conway and Patrick Bamford as I predict the 2023/24 award winners in the Championship.
Vincent Kompany and Chuba Akpom were the big winners when awards season rolled around for the 2022/23 campaign, while the less said about Dwight Gayle the better.
Ahead of Friday night’s 23/24 curtain raiser between Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton at Hillsborough, I’ve decided to jump the gun and predict who will scoop up this season’s awards in ten months’ time. From Manager of the Year to Biggest Flop, here are my selections…
Manager of the Year – Enzo Maresca
Leicester City have not missed a beat with their summer recruitment and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone predicting them to finish outside of the top two come the end of the season.
Even with James Maddison and Harvey Barnes being sold on, the Foxes have comfortably the best squad in the Championship and even with the standard of the league higher than previous, they cannot be aiming for anything other than automatic promotion.
It will be difficult for Leicester to pass up this opportunity given the quality of their squad. Though if it was to go wrong, the blame will likely lie at the door of their novice manager.
Maresca’s inexperience is the main question mark surrounding Leicester and he is jumping into the deep end by taking over at a Championship club for his first manager’s job.
But he comes with rave reviews from his time working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and early indications suggest that we could have another Kompany on our hands.
Should Maresca live up to expectations and guide Leicester to the title at a canter, he would rightly be at the front of the queue for the Manager of the Year accolade.
Player of the Season – Harry Winks
And the player leading Leicester City’s charge to promotion *should* be former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Winks.
The England international was always likely to be a casualty of the Ange Postecoglou revolution at Spurs, but I like many assumed that he would have headed to a lower-end Premier League team this summer.
Yet as it turns out, Winks has opted to be a bigger fish in a small(er) pond down in the Championship with the Foxes and following his morale-boosting spell in Serie A with Sampdoria, this could prove to be an inspired move.
While Winks is perhaps not at this stage good enough to star for Spurs, he is still capable at Premier League level so this transfer should enable him to stand out against lower-quality opposition.
The £10m invested to recruit Winks tells you all you need to know about how important Leicester feel he will be for them this season and if all goes to plan, he will be a class above the rest and be the best player in the division.
Young Player of the Season – Tommy Conway
Bristol City boss Nigel Pearson has deservedly had his critics over the past couple of years as the club have languished in the bottom half. But the Robins are going under the radar to do some superb transfer business with Rob Dickie, Ross McCrorie and Jason Knight their most notable additions so far.
They are certainly on track to progress into the top half (and even sustain a surprise challenge for the play-off places) and Conway is going to have a large role to play.
AFC Bournemouth-bound Alex Scott hogged the headlines last season from a Bristol City perspective, but Conway was not too far behind him in terms of importance.
The 20-year-old attacker grabbed 12 goals and four assists for the Robins during his first full season in the senior ranks in 2022/23 and with Pearson’s side seemingly on the rise, Conway will up his tally in 23/24 and could even reach 20 goals to set himself up to follow Scott in winning the Young Player of the Season award (and securing himself a big-money Premier League move).
Top scorer – Patson Daka
It will take some doing for someone to match the 28 goals Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom managed last season as a measly tally of around 25 will likely be needed to finish as the top scorer in 2023/24.
I reckon Akpom will struggle to reach double figures this season and if this proves to be an inspired bold prediction (it probably won’t), the ex-Arsenal man won’t be the top scorer for a second straight year. And with Leicester being the prime candidate for promotion, it is a pretty safe bet that one of their players will finish atop the goalscoring charts.
While I cannot see Jamie Vardy finding the net with ease like many are predicting, Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho are better picks for top scorer.
I’ve ended up opting for Daka. His last two seasons at Red Bull Salzburg saw him score 61 goals in 87 appearances. In the same timeframe for Leicester, he’s netted 15 goals in 74 outings.
Daka is not the first footballer who has struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League (and he won’t be the last), but he’s still only 24 and his natural goalscoring instinct will shine through in a side battling for promotion. After two meh seasons, it will be the third time lucky for the striker at Leicester.
Best signing – Ryan Manning
Unwilling to pile all of my eggs in Leicester City’s basket, I’m spreading out my picks and going for Southampton freebie Manning as the Championship signing of the season.
After his contract at Swansea City expired, most people figured that Manning would be Premier League-bound after emerging as one of the best wing-backs in the Championship during his time in Wales.
The Republic of Ireland international was a creative force last season with 10 league assists and he also scored five goals of his own for good measure. A sensational tally for a player in his position and Southampton have done really well to secure his services to reunite him with former Swansea boss Russell Martin.
I am not fully sold on Southampton’s squad or their promotion credentials, but the addition of Manning is a potential game-changer and he should take this deserved step up in his stride.
Best loanee – Callum Doyle
The Foxes are the likely next winners of the Championship and they are also the winners of this summer’s transfer window.
Conor Coady is a tad pricey at £8m but he will prove to be a decent signing if you gloss over the fee. He joins Stephy Mavididi and Mads Hermansen in moving to the King Power Stadium for fees, while Doyle has joined the club on loan from Man City.
Like Winks, Doyle could have easily ended up at one of City’s Premier League rivals on loan this season after his stellar performances for Coventry City but he has opted for a year with the promotion chasers.
Man City are spoilt for choice when it comes to youth prospects, which is bloody unfair considering how brilliant their first team is already and Doyle should end up there one day if his recent form is anything to go by.
After forming a strong partnership with Carl McFadzean last term, Doyle will no doubt learn a lot from working alongside Coady but the youngster should also outshine his older teammate in helping Leicester *attempt to* return to the Premier League.
Surprise package (club and player) – Birmingham City and Patrick Bamford
Those who have read my articles over the summer won’t be surprised to hear that Birmingham are my pick for the surprise package out of the 24 Championship clubs.
I’ve been waxing lyrical about the Blues all summer as a result of their expert transfer business, which has only been bettered by Leicester City.
They have a youthful coach in John Eustace who surpassed expectations to keep them up last season and with around £5m in total being spent to sign Dion Sanderson, Lee Buchanan, Ethan Laird, Krystian Bielik (and more), Birmingham are a sure-fire shout for a top-half finish and they could even sneak into the play-offs.
As for the player, I can see a Bamford redemption arc incoming.
Bamford came under fire last season and he has been absent for most of the last two years through injury. He missed chances in key moments as Leeds were relegated from the Premier League and his hero status at Elland Road is no longer intact.
But it is easy to forget just how good Bamford was between 2019 and 2021. He netted 33 league goals in this time working with Marcelo Bielsa and now back fully fit with a point to prove, I reckon he’s going to rediscover his goalscoring touch under Championship specialist Daniel Farke to find himself back in Leeds’ good books.
Biggest flop (club and player) – Blackburn Rovers and Aaron Ramsey
As for the booby prize, Blackburn Rovers stand out to me as the obvious pick. Jon Dahl Tomasson worked wonders last term to turn an average-looking squad into play-off challengers but a significant decline feels inevitable this season.
Given the club’s widely reported struggles at board level, it feels like only a matter of time before Tomasson follows ex-star man Ben Brereton Diaz in moving on for a grander project elsewhere.
Even if Tomasson sticks around this season, a fall from grace (deep into the bottom half) is on the cards for Rovers and moving to Ramsey, I reckon his return to Cardiff City will go just as poorly.
The former Arsenal man’s return home is a lovely feel-good story for Cardiff supporters, who are seemingly forgetting that he is not the player he once was.
Injuries have troubled him in recent years and he did not produce anything of note for Juventus, Rangers or OGC Nice. His slump was highlighted at last year’s World Cup as he struggled during Wales’ lacklustre attempt to get out of the group stages.
Expect more injuries and underwhelming performances to overshadow Ramsey’s second stint at Cardiff as loan pair Karlan Grant and Josh Bowler are safer bets to be their best signing of the season.