Ruthless pursuit of Premier cash begins
The Championship is once again wide open with clubs prepared to spend big to win a promotion worth £100m. Paul Newman reports
You have only to look at the lengths of tenure of the 24 Championship managers to appreciate how desperate the chase for places in the Premier League has become.
As the new season kicks off this weekend, six of the managers will be taking their first matches in charge and five more will be starting what they hope will be their first full season. Only six of the 24 men were in the same jobs at the start of last year.
Pursuit of the Premier League's television riches has meant that managerial casualties have become commonplace in the Championship. Among this summer's victims were Dave Jones and Billy Davies, who must think their fate was poor recompense for taking Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest respectively into the play-offs two years in a row.
With promotion to the Premier League reckoned to be worth at least £100m, taking into account the parachute money that even one-season wonders will receive, it is no surprise that some aspiring clubs go for "big name" managers. Sven Goran Eriksson (Leicester City) will be competing this season against both his successor as England manager, Steve McClaren (Nottingham Forest), and Sam Allardyce (West Ham United), who was a contender to replace him.
Most serious challengers for promotion reckon on losing millions along the way in wages and transfer fees. Leicester are the latest club to spend heavily, their Thai owners having already spent some £10m on new players this summer. The Reading striker, Shane Long, who would probably cost at least £7m, is said to be another Eriksson target.
Leicester are among the favourites for promotion, but it's wide open. There are probably only six clubs who could be ruled out of the promotion picture – Barnsley, Coventry City, Doncaster Rovers, Millwall, Peterborough United and Watford. Bristol City, Crystal Palace and Portsmouth would also do well to do better than mid-table, but none of the remaining 15 clubs could be discounted as play-off contenders.
Surprise challengers for promotion? Derby are a team with plenty of scope to improve, while Nigel Pearson's rebuilding programme at Hull is taking impressive shape. Meanwhile, both Coventry and Watford have the look of teams in serious decline, Doncaster need to arrest their fall in the latter stages of last season and Peterborough are becoming a yo-yo club. Nevertheless, if recent form is anything to go by the Championship will still be a division in which anyone can beat anyone. It promises to be a fascinating season.
Manager: Keith Hill
Title odds: 200-1
Last season: 17th
Key signings: Craig Davies (Chesterfield, £700,000), David Perkins (Colchester, free).
Key departures: Jason Shackell (Derby, £1m) Hugo Colace (Estudiantes Tecos, free).
Keith Hill, who succeeded Mark Robins as manager, turned Rochdale into an established League One club but faces a tough task at Oakwell, where there has been a large turnover of players for the second summer in succession. The team's biggest problems could be in defence following the departure of Jason Shackell, the player of the year, to Derby.
Look out for Craig Davies, a powerful striker with bags of experience.
Prediction A difficult first season for Hill. Should survive but could be close.
Manager: Chris Hughton
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 18th in Premier League
Key signings: Chris Burke (Cardiff, free), Marlon King (Coventry, free), Steven Caldwell (Wigan, free).
Key departures: Kevin Phillips and Barry Ferguson (Blackpool, free), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland, free).
Birmingham have regained Premier League status at the first attempt twice in recent years, but several of last season's mainstays have left and with uncertainty over the future of the majority shareholder, Carson Yeung, more departures are likely. Chris Hughton won the title with Newcastle when last at this level but had a much stronger squad.
Look out for Jean Beausejour, could be a key man in the Championship.
Prediction Mid-table, but don't rule out a slide towards relegation zone.
Manager: Ian Holloway
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 19th in Premier League
Key signings: Kevin Phillips and Barry Ferguson (both Birmingham, free), Bojan Djordjic (Videoton, free), Matthew Hill (Barnsley, free).
Key departures: Charlie Adam (Liverpool, £6.75m), D J Campbell (QPR, £1.25m), David Vaughan (Sunderland, free).
Relegation from the Premier League should be less traumatic than at Birmingham, though the losses of Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and D J Campbell are particularly big blows. However, Barry Ferguson can be a massive influence at the club and Ian Holloway has proved what he can achieve on limited resources.
Look out for Bojan Djordjic, who was once on Manchester United's books.
Prediction Play-off contenders.
Manager: Gus Poyet
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 1st in League One
Key signings: Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough, £3.25m), Will Buckley (Watford, £1m), Will Hoskins (Bristol Rovers, £500,000), Roland Bergkamp (Excelsior, compensation TBC).
Key departures: Elliott Bennett (Norwich, £1.5m), Glenn Murray (Crystal Palace, free).
Last season's outstanding team in League One celebrate their return to the Championship with a move to a new stadium, their first permanent home since leaving the Goldstone Ground 14 years ago. Brighton have splashed the cash but have lost Glenn Murray and Elliott Bennett, two of their best attackers.
Look out for Craig Mackail-Smith, who hit 35 goals for Peterborough last season.
Manager: Keith Millen
Title odds: 80-1
Last season: 15th
Key signings: Neil Kilkenny (Leeds, free), Yannick Bolasie (Plymouth, £90,000), Ryan Taylor (Rotherham, undisclosed), Jordan Spence (West Ham, season-long loan).
Key departures: John Akinde (Crawley, £70,000), Ivan Sproule (Hibernian, free).
Keith Millen steadied the ship after Steve Coppell's departure at the start of last season but whether the Robins are capable of anything more than survival remains to be seen. The fitness of Nicky Maynard, who made only 13 appearances last season because of injury, could be crucial to their chances.
Look out for Albert Adomah, a winger who loves to take on defences.
Prediction Should be good enough to keep their heads above water.
Manager: Eddie Howe
Title odds: 33-1
Last season: 8th
Key signings: Richard Eckersley (Toronto, undisclosed), Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier (both Manchester City, season-long loans), Keith Treacy (Preston North End, undisclosed).
Key departures: Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears (both Bolton, undisclosed), Chris Iwelumo (Watford, undisclosed).
Eddie Howe is one of the brightest young managers in the country and will be fancied to do well in his first full campaign. However, he has lost several experienced performers over the summer and his team will need to take advantage of a relatively easy start to the season.
Look out for Jay Rodriguez, a home-grown striker with a big future.
Prediction Possible play-off contenders.
Manager: Malky Mackay
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 4th
Key signings: Kenny Miller (Bursaspor, £870,000), Don Cowie (Watford, free), Andrew Taylor (Middlesbrough, free), Robert Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest, free), Aron Gunnarsson (Coventry, free).
Key departures: Jay Bothroyd (QPR, free), Michael Chopra (Ipswich, £1.5m).
Malky Mackay did well to keep Watford in the Championship, but there are greater expectations here. Successive fourth-place finishes did not keep Dave Jones in work and the exits of Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra are a setback. The return of Craig Bellamy on loan would be a boost.
Look out for Kevin McNaughton, a versatile and dependable defender.
Prediction Play-off contenders.
Manager: Andy Thorn
Title odds: 150-1
Last season: 18th
Key signings: Chris Dunn (Northampton, undisclosed), Joe Murphy (Scunthorpe, free).
Key departures: Marlon King (Birmingham, free), Stephen O'Halloran (Carlisle, free), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland, free).
Andy Thorn stopped the rot last season but needs to add to his squad. After a summer of speculation about the club's future and with few new faces in the dressing room, the Sky Blues suffered a further blow when Freddy Eastwood suffered a hamstring injury that will see him miss the opening weeks.
Look out for Richard Keogh, whose defensive strengths are likely to be crucial.
Prediction Relegation candidates unless new investment leads to playing reinforcements.
Manager: Dougie Freedman
Title odds: 110-1
Last season: 20th
Key signings: Glenn Murray (Brighton, free), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham, undisclosed), Mile Jedinak (Genclerbirligi, free), Jonathan Parr (Aalesund, undisclosed).
Key departures: Neil Danns (Leicester, free), Claude Davis (released).
Dougie Freedman made a promising start in management last season but is operating on a tight budget. The departures of James Vaughan, who was on loan from Everton, and Neil Danns leave Palace short of attacking options. Glenn Murray needs to find the goal touch that made him Brighton's leading scorer.
Look out for Wilfried Zaha, a fleet-footed teen with great touch and balance.
Prediction Mid-table at best, with another long struggle against relegation more likely.
Manager: Nigel Clough
Title odds: 55-1
Last season: 19th
Key signings: Jason Shackell (Barnsley, £1m), Jamie Ward (Sheffield United, £600,000), Craig Bryson (Kilmarnock, £500,000),Frank Fielding (Blackburn, £300,000), Theo Robinson (Millwall, undisclosed), Nathan Tyson (Nott Forest, free).
Key departures: Chris Porter (Sheffield United, free), Robbie Savage (retired).
There were times last season when Derby played some sparkling football but at others their defensive naivety was alarming. The retired Robbie Savage will be missed, but Nigel Clough has spent freely, with the purchase of Jason Shackell a shrewd move.
Look out for John Brayford, one of the best attacking full-backs outside the Premier League.
Prediction Play-off contenders.
Manager: Sean O'Driscoll
Title odds: 250-1
Last season: 21st
Key signings: Tommy Spurr (Sheffield Wednesday, £200,000), Kyle Bennett (Bury, undisclosed), James Baxendale (Leeds, free), Richard Naylor (Leeds, free), Chris Brown (Preston, free), Giles Barnes (West Brom).
Key departures: Wayne Thomas (released), Waide Fairhurst (Macclesfield, undisclosed).
Sean O'Driscoll is the division's longest-serving manager, a reflection of Doncaster's continued ability to punch above their weight. However, his team fell away badly at the end of last season and his summer dealings do not inspire confidence. Tough early fixtures could provide a sign of things to come.
Look out for Billy Sharp, whose eye for goal always gives his team hope.
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Title odds: 30-1
Last season: 11th
Key signings: Corry Evans (Manchester United, £500,000), Jack Hobbs (Leicester, undisclosed), Joe Dudgeon (Manchester United, £80,000), Dele Adebola (Nottingham Forest, free).
Key departures: Matt Duke (released), Nolberto Solano (Hartlepool, free).
Nigel Pearson, helped by assistant Steve Walsh's exceptional eye for talent, quickly turned Hull into a competitive Championship team despite having to slash the wage bill following relegation. Have further strengthened their squad but will need to improve on their home form.
Look out for Matty Fryatt, always a threat around the penalty area.
Prediction Play-off contenders and could even challenge for automatic promotion.
Manager: Paul Jewell
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 13th
Key signings: Michael Chopra (Cardiff, £1.5m), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Arsenal, undisclosed), Lee Bowyer (Birmingham, free), Ivar Ingimarsson (Reading, free).
Key departures: Connor Wickham (Sunderland, £8m) Gareth McAuley (West Brom, free).
The loss of Connor Wickham, their brightest prospect, and two experienced heads in Gareth McAuley and David Norris does not augur well despite Paul Jewell's solid start as manager. Lee Bowyer, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Michael Chopra could be good additions, but are Ipswich sound enough defensively?
Look out for Carlos Edwards, relishing his new role as an attacking full back.
Manager: Simon Grayson
Title odds: 22-1
Last season: 7th
Key signings: Michael Brown (Portsmouth, free), Andy Lonergan (Preston, undisclosed), Paul Rachubka (Blackpool, free).
Key departures: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester, £1.5m), Neil Kilkenny (Bristol City, free), Bradley Johnson (Norwich, free).
Expectations are high, but once again Simon Grayson has had limited scope to improve his squad. Only Norwich scored more Championship goals than Leeds last term, but they need to stem the flow at the other end of the pitch and the departure of Kasper Schmeichel is unlikely to help on that front.
Look out for Max Gradel, a flying winger with an eye for goal.
Prediction Mid-table, possibly challenging for the play-offs.
Manager: Sven-Goran Eriksson
Title odds: 5-1
Last season: 10th
Key signings: Matt Mills (Reading, est £4.5m), Kasper Schmeichel (Leeds, £1.5m), Lee Peltier (Huddersfield, £700,000), Neil Danns (Crystal Palace, free).
Key departures: Players out: Jack Hobbs (Hull, undisclosed), Michael Lamey (Wisla Krakow, free).
Middlesbrough showed last season that big spenders are never guaranteed success, but Sven-Goran Eriksson looks to have invested wisely in proven performers at this level, like Matt Mills and Neil Danns, who will strengthen what was already a useful squad.
Look out for Richie Wellens, a focal point in midfield.
Prediction Should challenge for automatic promotion.
Manager: Tony Mowbray (October 2010)
Title odds: 18-1
Last season: 12th
Key signings: Curtis Main (Darlington, free), Malaury Martin (Blackpool, free).
Key departures: Leroy Lita (Swansea, £1.75m), Kris Boyd (Eskisehirspor, free), Willo Flood (Dundee United, free), Andrew Taylor (Cardiff, free), Julio Arca (contract ended).
After Gordon Strachan's spending spree last year it has been a comparatively quite summer at the Riverside Stadium. Tony Mowbray steadily turned Boro's fortunes around last season and has a useful squad, blending youth and experience. Re-signing Julio Arca would be a bonus.
Look out for Scott McDonald, whose goals are crucial.
Prediction Mid-table, possible play-off contenders.
Manager: Kenny Jackett
Title odds: 70-1
Last season: 9th
Key signings: Hameur Bouazza (Arles-Avignon, £175,000), Darius Henderson (Sheffield United, undisclosed).
Key departures: Steve Morison (Norwich, £2.5m), Theo Robinson (Derby, undisclosed).
Millwall defied all predictions with an excellent return to the Championship last season, but things could be much tougher this time around. Steve Morison's goals were a big factor and he could be sorely missed. However, Kenny Jackett has already proved his ability to build a team on limited resources.
Look out for Tamika Mkandawire, a driving force in midfield.
Prediction Could be dragged into relegation struggle.
Manager: Steve McClaren
Title odds: 16-1
Last season: 6th
Key signings: Andy Reid (Blackpool, free), Jonathan Greening (Fulham, undisclosed), George Boateng (Xanthi)
Key departures: Nathan Tyson (Derby, free), Kelvin Wilson (Celtic, free), Dele Adebola (Hull, free).
Like Dave Jones at Cardiff, Billy Davies discovered in the summer that two successive appearances in the play-offs were not good enough. Steve McClaren, returning to English football, inherits a strong squad and has added bags of experience with Andy Reid, Jonathan Greening and George Boateng.
Look out for Lewis McGugan, a midfielder with a knack for scoring.
Prediction Play-offs and possible contenders for automatic promotion.
Manager: Darren Ferguson
Title odds: 150-1
Last season: 4th in League One
Key signings: Nicky Ajose (Manchester United, undisclosed), Ryan Tunnicliffe and Scott Wootton (both Manchester United, six-month loans), Paul Jones (Exeter, free).
Key departures: Chris Whelpdale (Gillingham, free), Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton, £3.25million).
The Posh came straight back down after promotion to the Championship two years ago and it would be no surprise if the same happens again, particularly after the loss of the prolific Craig Mackail-Smith. Darren Ferguson has taken advantage of his Manchester United connections for players.
Look out for George Boyd, whose goalscoring will be crucial.
Prediction Relegation contenders.
Manager: Steve Cotterill (June 2010)
Title odds: 45-1
Last season: 16th
Key signings: David Norris (Ipswich, free), Jason Pearce (Bournemouth, undisclosed), Luke Varney (Derby, undisclosed).
Key departures: David Nugent (Leicester, free), Michael Brown (Leeds), Richard Hughes (released).
Keeping Portsmouth in the Championship last season was a major achievement by Steve Cotterill after their financial meltdown. His team even challenged for the play-offs at one stage. This season could be tough, however, with the loss of David Nugent's goalscoring touch a potentially significant blow.
Look out for David Norris, a combative midfielder who leads by example.
Prediction Bottom half, but probably good enough to keep clear of trouble.
Manager: Brian McDermott Title odds 20-1
Last season: 5th
Key signings: Mikele Leigertwood (QPR, free), Bongani Khumalo (Tottenham, season-long loan).
Key departures: Matt Mills (Leicester, est £4.5m), Ivar Ingimarsson (Ipswich, free).
Ended last season in fine form but lost play-off final. Departure of Matt Mills does not improve their chances and it would be no surprise if Shane Long, one of the Championship's best strikers, also leaves soon. Suitable replacements could be crucial if they are to carry on where they left off.
Look out for Jimmy Kebe's surging runs down the wing.
Prediction With Long, candidates for automatic promotion; without him, no more than play-off contenders.
Manager: Nigel Adkins
Best odds: 20-1
Last season: 2nd in League One
Key signings: Jack Cork (Chelsea, undisclosed), Steve de Ridder (De Graafschap, undisclosed).
Key departures: Oscar Gobern (Huddersfield, tribunal).
With huge support and excellent facilities, the Saints make a welcome return to the Championship. Nigel Adkins made an immediate impact on his arrival from Scunthorpe and fans will be hoping Southampton can emulate Norwich City with successive promotions, but this season could be a time for consolidation in the Championship.
Look out for Rickie Lambert, a proven goalscorer.
Prediction Mid-table, possibly pushing towards the play-offs.
Manager: Sean Dyche
Title odds: 110-1
Last season: 14th
Key signings: Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, undisclosed), Craig Forsyth (Dundee, undisclosed), David Mirfin (Scunthorpe, free), Mark Yeates (Sheffield United, undisclosed), Prince Buaben (Dundee United, free).
Key departures: Danny Graham (Swansea, £3.5m), Will Buckley (Brighton, £1m).
The summer departures of Malky Mackay, the manager, and key players in Danny Graham, Will Buckley and Don Cowie could be a devastating blow. Mackay worked wonders on a shoestring budget to keep Watford in the Championship and Sean Dyche faces a major task in his first job.
Look out for Marvin Sordell, a young striker of undoubted potential.
Prediction Relegation candidates.
West Ham United
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Title odds: 5-1
Last season: 20th in Premier League
Key signing: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle, undisclosed), Abdoulaye Faye (Stoke, free), Matt Taylor (Bolton, undisclosed).
Key departures: Matthew Upson, Lars Jacobsen, Zavon Hines (all released), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham), Danny Gabbidon (QPR, free), Manuel Da Costa (Lokomotiv Moscow, £1.3m).
West Ham have lost a wealth of talent following their relegation. Scott Parker looks certain to join the exodus, though the squad is still strong. Sam Allardyce will hope that Kevin Nolan can show his team the way.
Look out for Abdoulaye Faye, a commanding presence at the back.
Prediction Play-off contenders who could also be in the mix for automatic promotion.
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