The EFL has long used the volatility of results in the Championship to market the competition in the face of the increasing predictability of results in major foreign leagues. Tom Simmonds looks at what has happened in the English second tier so far this season and concludes that sanity and strategizing might at last be prevailing.
The narrative that parachute payments are everything in determining success in the Championship is taking something of a battering 15 games into the season. Look past Newcastle’s emerging stranglehold on one of the automatic promotion places a six point gap over third place that most expect to only get larger, and an interesting picture emerges. Save for Norwich in fourth spot, none of the rest of the top 10 teams in the Championship are currently beneficiaries of Premier league parachute payments.
Two interesting question surround this development. The first is a wider point about whether parachute payments are harmful in that they encourage teams to live beyond their means for longer and further entrench a culture of debt in football administration that, frankly, needs no further encouragement.
The second question is more relevant to the immediate unfolding picture in the Championship, and that is, do these clubs have anything structural in common that is allowing them to leapfrog the likes of Aston Villa and QPR?
The perennial basketcase of Leeds United, whose tendency to not draw many sees them sitting ninth can be seen as outriders here. You could not reasonably argue that the sort of stability that enables success is in evidence in West Yorkshire with Massimo Cellino still at the helm. It was not long ago that Cellino was threatening to sack Garry Monk, and he probably will if Leeds hit a bad run any time soon.
Also, the tired explanation of equating the amount of money a club has with their chances of success could be levelled at fifth-placed Reading and eighth-placed Sheffield Wednesday, mini-Leicesters in that both clubs are the beneficiaries of minted Thai consortiums. However, it’d be far too simplistic to put their good starts solely down to swollen coffers, particularly when you look at some of the other occupants of the top 10.
Huddersfield, Brentford, Bristol City and Birmingham were not among the pre-season promotion favourites. Brighton were, after almost achieving promotion last season, but all five of these clubs seem to have plans and infrastructures which will put foundations in place for them to grow in a sustainable manner. Brighton’s is already well-established, Bristol City’s ongoing redevelopment of Ashton Gate into a state-of-the-art arena and Brentford’s plans to move to a new ground at Lionel Road in the next couple of years hint at an awareness among boards of the importance of generating non-football income.
In terms of football, all of these clubs are being well managed. There isn’t a football fan in the UK who does not know of Chris Hughton’s high competence, and a lot has been written about Huddersfield gaffer David Wagner’s ties with Jurgen Klopp, but Gary Rowett’s work at Birmingham deserves special praise. This is a manager who has a paucity of resources compared to a lot of his peers , and who inherited a club that was in a mess off the field largely due to past excesses. On-pitch performances since Rowett’s arrival have made light of what was going on in the background, and his work at St Andrew’s will surely see him linked with a Premier League move soon.
Brentford’s Dean Smith, a manager whose work at Walsall I have praised previously, has taken well to management in a higher division, at a club where much is made of the owner Matthew Benham’s unorthodox methodologies, but where the chief guiding principle that underpinned Smith’s time at Walsall, finding diamonds and polishing them, seems to also be the dominant one. Maybe, just maybe, Championship clubs have seen how chasing the dream in a short- termist fashion can lead to ruin and have concluded that gradual building is the way to ensure that success is not a fleeting visitor.
Read more from Tom here.
Follow Tom on Twitter at @TallulahOnEarth