In some ways, the Championship is a world unto itself. Somewhere no player truly wants to be. Every club, with just a few exceptions, is desperately scrambling to get out. The Premier League, full of riches, acclaim and prestige, looms tantalisingly close.
Whether through achieving a promotion or earning a move, most players are understandably desperate to make the step up. For some, it proves a bridge too far, but there are several who already seem destined to end up there, one way or another.
Nathan Ferguson – West Bromwich Albion
Outside of the West Brom set-up, Nathan Ferguson was little known prior to the arrival of Slaven Bilic. A centre-back considered slightly too short to cope with the physical demands of Championship football, the club’s new manager decided to try him on the right side of defence instead. He was a revelation and has also filled in well on the left too.
Unfortunately, Ferguson’s impact caught the Baggies’ hierarchy by surprise and interest mounted with his contract heading into its final year. Fearful of losing a reliable and versatile prospect, they offered him a new deal but talks stalled and Crystal Palace looked to have capitalised, agreeing a £10million fee before his medical revealed a knee injury that they felt required surgery. A compromise couldn’t be reached and the 19-year-old looks set to leave in the summer.
Said Benrahma – Brentford
Arguably no club has worked the transfer market to their advantage better than Brentford in recent years. Their data-driven recruitment model has unearthed some undervalued players from lower-profile leagues, who have then been sold on for a substantial profit. This money is wisely reinvested and the cycle continues.
Said Benrahma is just one example of this trend, with the Algerian winger arriving from Nice in July 2018 for £1.5million. He has subsequently established himself as one of the Championship’s most exciting and productive players, a fluid dribbler who blitzes past defenders to lay on goals for teammates or score them himself. If Brentford don’t win promotion this year they will be fielding several large bids from Premier League clubs.
Kalvin Phillips – Leeds United
After a run of seven consecutive league wins during November and December, Leeds’ form has wavered recently, sparking fears of another late-season collapse. If one player can steer the club back on course it’s homegrown hero Kalvin Phillips. The holding midfielder, who can also play in central defence, has become Marcelo Bielsa’s leading man.
He makes the manager’s high-intensity approach work, bringing a perfect mix of energy, composure and positional awareness to the heart of the team. Whether or not Leeds finally return to the top flight for the first time in 16 years, Phillips is a player who already belongs at the highest level and won’t be short of suitors.
Matty Cash – Nottingham Forest
Although more accustomed to playing in midfield during previous seasons, Matty Cash has found a home at right-back under Sabri Lamouchi. His fine performances, bristling with poise and purpose, have even sparked rumours of an impending international call-up for Poland, who he is eligible to represent through his grandmother.
Plenty of scouts have been gathering at the City Ground in recent months to get a closer look at Cash, who has started all but two league games this season and signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract back in November. It was a sensible move from both parties and will ensure a higher fee can be secured if, and when, concrete offers come in. AC Milan were supposedly on the prowl during January.
He plays a neat one-two with Albert Adomah before unleashing a superb strike to give Forest the lead! ð³
Jude Bellingham – Birmingham City
Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland and Demarai Gray were all impressive graduates of the Birmingham City academy but Jude Bellingham is operating on another level entirely. The 16-year-old plays with such startling consistency and quality that rumours of interest from Manchester United and Bayern Munich aren’t remotely surprising.
Having started the season on the fringes of the team, itself a remarkable achievement for someone so young, he quickly became central to Pep Clotet’s plans, scoring winning goals on his second and third league appearances. A skilful and strong midfielder, with excellent touch and awareness, he’s ideally suited to a box-to-box role but has also played out wide or in the hole.