FL 125 Championship
As Sky Sports picks out 125 players to watch in the Football League, here's the Championship 1-30. All 24 clubs are covered over the course of two second tier instalments, but have we got it right?
By Chris Burton & Daniel Storey
Last Updated: 30/07/13 2:39pm
With the Football League currently celebrating its 125-year anniversary since inception and with the new season to get underway in earnest at the weekend, we've spread our net across the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two to pick out 125 shining lights outside of the Premier League for the 2013/14 campaign.
Even if you're the type of supporter that doesn't have to debate whether the glass is half-full or half-empty because you've long-since since drained the contents, there's no need for despair as we've picked out at least one player from every club.
In total, we've ranked 65 players from the Championship and selected 30 each from Leagues One and Two respectively as those most likely to make a significant impact this season.
It's all a matter of opinions though and we'd love to hear yours. So if we've got your club's star man all wrong or missed a young kid all set for a breakthrough campaign let us know by filling in the feedback form below.
1. Wigan Athletic - James McCarthy
Whilst rumours continue apace of a rendezvous with former manager Roberto Martinez at Everton, for the time being at least McCarthy is an extremely talented Championship footballer. Only 22 and yet with over 250 career appearances, over half of these games have been at Premier League or international level. A box-to-box midfielder with the emphasis on passing and movement in the attacking third, there has been talk that any bid to prise McCarthy from the DW Stadium must be greater than £15million. Given similar fees for Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Jack Rodwell in recent times, it's difficult to blame Wigan for that stance.
2. Queens Park Rangers - Adel Taarabt
There is no doubt that Taarabt struggled during QPR's spell in the Premier League, and the player's attitude was rightly doubted by both Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp last season. After angling for a move abroad (which may still come to fruition) he now finds himself back in the Championship, a division in which he dominated last time around. It is the evident cliché of the mercurial talent, but rings true - on his day Taarabt is potentially the finest player in the Football League.
3. Queens Park Rangers - Loic Remy
Another of QPR's squad that is unlikely to see out the full Championship season, it seems suitably bizarre that a player of Remy's standard could line up against Sheffield Wednesday on August 3rd. Remy has 18 international caps and is still just 26, and although his six goals towards the end of last season could not keep Rangers in the Premier League, he would be a frightening prospect in the second tier. Supporters of QPR's early Championship opponents will be suitably cursing the fixture computer, handing them a sterner test than they would potentially face after the transfer window has closed.
4. Blackpool - Tom Ince
There was a great deal of surprise when Ince revealed that he had turn down a move to Cardiff City, but the Premier League's loss is the Championship and Blackpool's substantial gain. A player possessing majestic skill with an impressive goalscoring record (18 league goals from midfield), Ince was the principle reason for Blackpool avoiding a more serious relegation threat last season. Named in the Championship Team of the Year, expect more Premier League interest before the end of August.
5. Blackburn Rovers - Jordan Rhodes
A meteoric rise, it seems that Rhodes takes each step up the ladder with less difficulty than the one previous - the figures surrounding the striker's goal record are phenomenal. 100 league goals in the last four seasons and 70 in the last two seasons in all competitions, Rhodes more than justified the £8million fee that Blackburn paid Huddersfield last summer. No player in England has more league goals over the last two years, and unless Blackburn improve markedly this season, one suspects that the 23-year-old will receive a multitude of offers from Premier League clubs.
6. Queens Park Rangers - Esteban Granero
Even a year after the deal was done, it still seems crazy that QPR were able to sign a 25-year-old midfielder from Real Madrid. The deal cost the club in the region of £9million. Having won the La Liga title in 2011/12 the following season was a comparative disaster as Granero failed to hold down a regular starting place during a season of woe for his club. Now in the Championship, Granero has indicated that he is willing to remain at Loftus Road. "I was not thinking about going to the Championship when I joined but that is the reality now. I like life in London. We now prepare for life next season." Supporters should be delighted to have him on show.
7. Wigan Athletic - Shaun Maloney
One of the brightest lights in Wigan's rather dim league season last term, Maloney finally showed the potential displayed at Celtic and Aston Villa, the fee of £850,000 that the Latics paid for his services now looks like fantastic business. Appearing in all but two Premier League games last season, Maloney made nine assists (no player outside the top seven made as many) and scored six league goals. There have been rumours that Everton are interested in the winger's services, but if Wigan can hold on to their man he will be a valuable asset at Championship level.
8. Derby County - Will Hughes
It isn't every season that Barcelona reportedly show interest in a Championship player, but that simply highlights the talent demonstrated by 18-year-old Hughes in his early career. Born in 1995 (that'll make you feel old), Hughes is an attacking midfielder with a flair about his game. His dribbling and passing are far above his years, and he was called up to Stuart Pearce's England U21 squad at the age of 17. One suspects that this could well be Hughes' last season at this level.
9. Queens Park Rangers - Park Ji-Sung
Park is a midfielder that has won almost all he can at club level. Six league titles, one Dutch Cup, three League Cups, the Champions League and the Club World Cup. His move to QPR was a sign that the club meant business in the transfer window last summer, but instead turned into something of a disaster. At Championship level, the midfielder should benefit from a slightly slower pace, potentially able to run things in midfield. At 32, he will not want to be away from the top table for long.
10. Leicester City - Kasper Schmeichel
Failure to make the most of their play-off appearance last term was always likely to leave Leicester vulnerable when the transfer window re-opened. They have, however, been able to bat away any unwanted interest in their top talents. Hull City made it pretty clear that they were keen to take Schmeichel with them to the Premier League, but the Danish goalkeeper remains part of the set-up at the King Power Stadium. He has some way to go to emulate the achievements of his father - Manchester United legend Peter - but at 26 years of age time is still on his side and he has all the attributes required to become a great - with his reflexes among the sharpest in the business.
11. Bolton Wanderers - Chris Eagles
When Bolton appointed Dougie Freedman as their manager in October 2012, he said he wanted to build a team around Eagles - that's how good he is. The 27-year-old former Manchester United trainee did not disappoint his new boss, as he helped to spark a remarkable reversal in fortunes for the Trotters which carried them agonisingly close to a play-off spot. Eagles was unplayable at times over the second half the season and ended the campaign with 12 goals to his name and as many assists. If he can hit the ground running in 2013/14, there is no reason why he cannot better those tallies in another promotion push.
12. Reading - Jimmy Kebe
Now one of Reading's longest serving players, Mali international Kebe has been a consistent performer for the Royals since his arrival in 2008, but made only 18 league appearances last season as a groin injury kept him out from the beginning of March. His presence on this list is confirmed by the fact that Reading took 19 points from games in which he appeared. Across the whole season that would have equalled 40 points, 12 more than the club achieved and enough to ensure survival. Kebe's status as a crucial player for the Royals is confirmed.
13. Wigan Athletic - Callum McManaman
From Man of the Match in the FA Cup final to the Championship in the matter of a few games for McManaman, who is clearly a player that will demand attention from the Premier League as the end of August draws nearer. Released by Everton as a 16-year-old, it was only last season that the diminutive winger hit the headlines for both impressive displays and a shocking late challenge on Massadio Haidara. Initially called up to the England U21 squad for the European Championships in Israel, McManaman missed out with injury.
14. Leeds United - Sam Byram
If versatility is an attribute, 19-year-old Byram is destined for stardom. Having not made a single appearance before last August, the youngster made 53 appearances in his debut season, operating at right back, on the right wing and as a central midfielder. His standing at Elland Road can be perfectly summed up by the following awards: Yorkshire Evening Post Player of The Year, Supporters Club Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, Fans' Player of the Year. Byram won them all last season.
15. Queens Park Rangers - Shaun Wright-Phillips
Another player severely tarnished by QPR's Premier League failure, Wright-Phillips has staggered and stagnated somewhat since leaving Manchester City for the first time in 2005. However, the winger showed glimpses of his class last season, including scoring the winner against former club Chelsea, and it must be remembered that this is still a player with 36 England caps. Last season Wright-Phillips was one of QPR's better performers, and if the club can fend off interest from Stoke City (and SWP's former manager Mark Hughes) he will surely be confident of significant joy against second tier defences.
16. Reading - Royston Drenthe
Drenthe is potentially the most mercurial player in world football, and after a free transfer this summer, can now add Reading to the list of clubs that have aimed to harness his questionable antics in order to benefit from his evident talent. After leaving Real Madrid last summer, Drenthe appeared irregularly for Alania Vladkavkaz as they were relegated from the Russian Premier League. Nigel Adkins has clearly taken something of a punt, but there is the potential for the Dutchman to shine at this level.
17. Watford - Troy Deeney
Last season was more than eventful for Deeney, who began it behind bars, serving a sentence for affray. Released in September, the striker would have expected huge difficulty in gaining a first team place at Vicarage Road. As it happened, Deeney started 35 league games and scored 20 goals in a fruitful partnership with Matej Vydra that took Watford to the verge of automatic promotion. After a surge of permanent signings from Udinese, Deeney will hope to go one better next time around.
18. Reading - Jobi McAnuff
Prior to last season, McAnuff had amassed 400 league appearances without ever getting the opportunity to test himself at the highest level. After having been named as club captain for the 2011/12 season, he guided Reading to promotion to the Premier League. Although his side suffered comfortable relegation, McAnuff impressed enough to persuade both Nigel Adkins and supporters that he would be vital in Reading's bid to gain promotion at the first time of asking.
19. Burnley - Charlie Austin
Austin only remains a Championship player thanks to a failed medical at promoted Hull City, but Burnley will be more than happy with the result. A striker that scored 25 league goals for a team that survived relegation by seven points is a valuable commodity to have, that much is clear. Very few players have enjoyed a rise quite as dramatic as Austin, who was playing in the Wessex Premier League for Poole Town just three years ago. It would be interesting to see whether an alternative club to Hull would operate a less stringent approach to the medical.
20. Queens Park Rangers - Junior Hoilett
After impressing significantly during his time at Ewood Park (including two spells on loan in Germany), Hoilett was always likely to leave when Blackburn dropped into the Championship in 2011/12, but unfortunately the winger has suffered the ignominy of suffering Premier League relegation in successive seasons. Furthermore, Hoilett started just 15 games as QPR were relegated, a fall from grace for a player named by FIFA as one of their '13 players to watch in 2012'. Will be looking to get a stalling career firmly back on track.
21. Reading - Adam Le Fondre
Le Fondre may feel that he offered enough threat last season to warrant interest from the higher level, but the Premier League's super-sub now finds himself back in the second tier. ALF will surely demand to be starting more games at Reading than last season (he made just eleven league starts), and may well be the Royals' principle attacking threat as they look to regain promotion. It is the least that he deserves after his form last season culminated in being named January's Premier League Player of the Month.
22. Wigan Athletic - Grant Holt
It is only 18 months since there were clamours for Holt to be given international recognition after a fine first Premier League season, but it is clear that the striker had enjoyed his annus mirabilis. He scored just eight Premier League goals last season, and Norwich allowed him to leave the club. However, there should be no doubt of Holt's usefulness at Championship level. He scored 21 goals in Norwich's promotion season, and with service provided from Wigan's classy midfield options, there is no reason to doubt that Holt will once again hit the goalscoring trail.
23. Wigan Athletic - Jordi Gomez
Only three Spaniards have netted Premier League hat-tricks, and one of those is World Cup winner and European champion Fernando Torres. Santi Cazorla bagged a hat-trick last season against Reading, while the other is Gomez, who also managed the feat in Wigan's home date with Reading in November 2012. The 28-year-old, who was schooled in the famed academy system at Barcelona, is capable of the odd flash of brilliance, but will be aware of the need to maintain a more consistent standard. A spell in the Championship should aid his cause, and he will be hoping to be back among the top flight elite in 2014.
24. Leicester City - Anthony Knockaert
A virtual unknown when Leicester dipped into the French second tier to secure his signature last summer, 12 months on and Knockaert is now considered to be of Premier League class. The Foxes hope he will guide them back to the Promised Land, with goalscoring midfielders worth their weight in gold when plotting a promotion surge. Knockaert weighed in with nine in all competitions last season - including the most dramatic of strikes on the final day of the regular season which carried Leicester into the play-offs through the back door.
25. Watford - Almen Abdi
One of a number of loan stars to have illuminated Vicarage Road last season, Abdi will be back at Watford for the 2013/14 campaign after completing a permanent switch from Udinese. Gianfranco Zola was expected to make the securing of the Switzerland international's signature a top priority this summer, having seen him slip seamlessly into English football last term. Abdi broke into double figures in terms of goals scored last season, with his efforts in the Hornets' engine room making him a firm fans' favourites and Watford's Player of the Year.
26. Nottingham Forest - Adlene Guedioura
Not good enough for a Wolves side that suffered a second successive relegation in 2012/13, Guedioura is now being linked with a return to the Premier League after re-establishing himself at Nottingham Forest. The Reds liked what they saw during a loan spell, snapped up the midfielder on a permanent basis and unleashed him on Championship opposition last term. Guedioura's game means he is always going to serve his fair share of suspensions, but he wouldn't be half the player he is if he changed and his drive and determination in the middle of the park, coupled with a hammer of a right boot, make him one to watch every time he takes to the field.
27. Bolton Wanderers - Mark Davies
Having suffered from a series of unfortunate injuries (Davies is not expected to return before Christmas after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in February), the former Wolves midfielder has seen his status fall over the past couple of years, but there is no doubting his immense talent. A playmaker in midfield comfortable in the tackle and with ball at feet, Davies has a passing range as good as any player in the Football League. If he can regain his fitness efficiently, Bolton will surely gain huge impetus from Davies' return in a bid to return to the Premier League.
28. Brighton & Hove Albion - Liam Bridcutt
After coming through Chelsea's academy system, Bridcutt enjoyed loan spells at Yeovil, Watford and Stockport before being released in 2010. The central midfielder initially joined Brighton on a short-term deal, but earned an extension after impressing Gus Poyet. Named the club's Player of the Season in 2011/12, Bridcutt's mature performances last season earned him both plaudits and Premier League interest. Expect increased speculation during August should he start the season strongly once again.
29. Middlesbrough - Mustapha Carayol
Given how Carayol fared during his debut campaign as a Championship player, it comes as something of a surprise to find that it took until the summer of 2012 for a top club to take a gamble on the Gambian winger. Middlesbrough were the club to take the plunge, and they are now fending off mounting interest from afar in the talented 24-year-old. There weren't too many players to shine at the Riverside last term, as Boro faded badly, but Carayol is now very much an important weapon in their arsenal and he will not be allowed to leave without a fight.
30. Birmingham City - Chris Burke
Whilst Marlon King provided the firepower, Nathan Redmond the energy and Jack Butland the solidity for Birmingham last season, Chris Burke offered consistency and invention on the right wing. Burke is a Scottish international midfielder with an eye for goal, averaging one every four league games whilst at St Andrews. It was no surprise when Lee Clark chose to take the option to extend Burke's contract by a further 12 months in May.
To see who made our next Championship selection from 31-65 click here