Class of 2007: The top 20 non-premiership players

Championship footballers are back in vogue, with clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and even Real Madrid taking an interest in players not appearing in the top division. As Premiership managers begin to flex their cheque-books in the January transfer window, Glenn Moore reveals The Independent's second annual survey of the top 20 outside the Premiership


1 DAVID NUGENT, Preston North End


Age: 21.
Position: Forward


Nationality: English (U21 int'l)


Value: £6m+

A smart, pacy striker who has played a lot of matches for his age, nearly 200, and will lead the England Under-21s' European Championship challenge in the Netherlands this summer. A regular goalscorer rather than a prolific one, the Premiership scouts are as attracted by his ability to create goals with his movement and running as by his finishing. Preston are reluctant to sell and it would take a substantial bid to persuade them. Expect him to leave in the summer if North End do not go up. An Evertonian who was released by Liverpool, he made his League debut for Bury as a 17-year-old moving to Preston for £100,000 in January 2005. Has shown he is a quick healer, a useful attribute for a striker.

Linked with Everton, Sheffield United, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough.

2 GARETH BALE, Southampton
Age: 17. Position: Left-back
Nationality: Welsh (full)
Value: £7m+

A glance at the suitors for this teenage talent underlines his potential. A sweet left foot has already garnered him a series of high-class goals from set-pieces but it is his defensive qualities which have scouts and pundits purring. "He is strong with good pace and he's comfortable on the ball," said the commentator Gavin Peacock. "I expect a big club to take him with a view to bringing him through."

Linked with Manchester Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle, Real Madrid, Tottenham

3 GARY MCSHEFFREY, Birmingham City
Age: 24. Position: Forward
Nationality: English (U20)
Value: £4m

Eyebrows were raised in August when Steve Bruce agreed to pay Coventry a fee which could rise to £4m but it seems money well spent. A clever, creative and versatile striker who is prog-ressing well. 'Sheffchenko' is currently being used primarily on the left flank but can also play in the centre. Made his debut at 16.

4 FREDDY EASTWOOD, Southend
Age: 23. Position: Forward
Nationality: English
Value: £3m

Prodigious goalscorer plucked from Conference club Grays Athletic two years ago. Fired successive promotions and knocked Manchester United out of the Carling Cup. Has consistently shown he has the necessary finishing skill, composure and belief to go further.

Linked with Aston Villa, Watford, Derby, Charlton, West Ham, Sheffield United, Fulham, Portsmouth

5 CURTIS DAVIES, West Bromwich Albion
Age: 21. Position: Centre-back
Nationality: English (U21)
Value: £7m

Albion rejected a £9m bid from Portsmouth in the summer for their captain and are unlikely to let him go lightly, or cheaply. Thrust into the Premiership last season when signed late in the August transfer window.

Linked with Tottenham, West Ham, Portsmouth, Arsenal, Newcastle, Aston Villa

6 GILES BARNES, Derby County
Age: 18. Position: Midfield
Nationality: English (U20)
Value: £3m+

Forced, in adversity, to blood youngsters Derby are now reaping a dividend with Barnes who is beginning to add goals. "He is a great offensive player," said one suitor, Newcastle's Glenn Roder.

Linked with Spurs, Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool, Middlesbrough

7 ROBERT EARNSHAW, Norwich City
Age: 25. Position: Forward
Nationality: Wales (full)
Value: £4.5m

Competent but no more in the Premiership for West Brom but this pacy Zambian-born striker is back to form. Struggling Norwich, may well sell. One caveat is that he tends to be an individualist.

Linked with Portsmouth, Watford, Sheffield United

8 JASON KOUMAS, West Bromwich Albion
Age: 27. Position: Midfield
Nationality: Wales (full)
Value: £2.5

Many judges regard him as the most naturally talented player in the division but consistency is an issue. Stephen Gerrard said: "Boot Jason early and he fades." Struggled in the Premiership last time out.

9 GRZEGORZ RASIAK, Southampton
Age: 27 (28 on 12.1.07) Position: Forward
Nationality: Polish (full)
Value: £2m

Strong in the air, a good hold-up player and a regular scorer. But lacks pace and failed to make the breakthrough at Spurs last season.

Could prove a Polish Dean Ashton for someone.

10 MATTHEW UPSON, Birmingham City
Age: 27. Position: Centre-back
Nationality: English (full)
Value: £7m

Only injuries denied him a Premiership return a year ago, and the chance to resurrect his international career. Returned in November after seven months out with a ruptured Achilles. Refusing to sign a new contract, so Birmingham will hope to provoke a price war.

Linked with Aston Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle, Reading, Tottenham, West Ham, Wigan, Portsmouth, Blackburn, Fulham, Sheff United

11 MICHAEL CHOPRA, Cardiff City
Age: 23. Position: Forward
Nationality: English (U21)
Value: £2.5m

Began the season in rampant form but then injured. So the jury remains out on whether, having escaped from the shadow of Alan Shearer, he will flourish long-term. Doubts over strength.

12 MATT MURRAY, Wolverhampton
Age: 25. Position: Goalkeeper
Nationality: English (U21)
Value: £1.5m

Finally overcome injury problems, he broke a foot in January 2005, which wiped out three years of his career to string together top class performances. May be sold if Wolves fail to win promotion this season.

13 DAVID DUNN, Birmingham City
Age: 27. Position: Midfield
Nationality: English (full)
Value: £1.5m

"On his day he is the best in the division," said a rival manager. The problem is, for various reasons including injury, those days do not come around often enough. A return to Ewood Park may help.

Linked with Blackburn,

14 ZOLTAN GERA, West Bromwich Albion
Age: 27. Position: Playmaker
Nationality: Hungary (full)
Value: £1.8m

A teenage drinker, drug user and gambler who reformed when he found God. Arrived in England in 2004 but Albion's weaknesses, and his own injuries, have prevented him showing his best form on a consistent basis until now.

Linked with Wigan, Portsmouth

15 GREG HALFORD, Colchester United
Age: 22. Position: Right-back
Nationality: English (U20)
Value: £1.5m

A classy footballer who caught the eye when Colchester worried Chelsea last season and almost moved in August. A significant figure in the U's improbable rise up from League One to the Championship's play-off places.

Linked with Aston Villa, Charlton, Reading, Sheffield U, Watford.

16 ANTHONY STOKES, Sunderland
Age: 18. Position: Striker
Nationality: Irish (U21)
Value: £2m

Came to prominence when scoring 16 goals in 18 games on loan to Falkirk from Arsenal this season. Roy Keane signed his countryman yesterday, despite competition from Charlton and Celtic.

17 TOM SOARES, Crystal Palace
Age: 20. Position: Midfield
Nationality: English (U21)
Value: £1.5m

Rangy and athletic he is able to play across the midfield but is usually used on the flank, possibly against his preference. Brother Louie plays for Aldershot. Gained Premiership experience in Palace's relegation season.

18 BOAZ MYHILL, Hull City
Age: 24. Position: Goalkeeper
Nationality: English (U-20)
Value: £1m

Californian-born but represented England at junior levels this brave, commanding goalkeeper is learning all the time. Four years at Villa Park without playing a match but rarely misses one for Hull.

Linked with Crystal Palace

19 LEE COOK, QPR
Age: 24. Position: Winger
Nationality: English
Value: £1.5m

Joined QPR from Watford in 2004. Beginning to overcome the inconsistency which bedevils many wide players. A tricky quick-footed player with a good cross. Spotted by Watford at Aylesbury but failed to gain a regular place. Now in fourth season at QPR.

Linked with Man City, Tottenham

20 BEN WATSON, Crystal Palace
Age: 21. Position: Midfield
Nationality: English (U21)
Value: £1m

One of those considered more likely to prosper in the Premiership than in the Champ-ionship where passing midfield players are rarely given time to play. Showed plenty of promise in Palace's relegation season and now maturing.

Linked with Sheffield United, Wigan, Bolton

The Best of the Rest

* LEAGUE ONE: BEST

1 Billy Sharp (Scunthorpe)

2 Lee Trundle (Swansea)

3 Matt Jarvis (Gillingham)

* LEAGUE TWO: BEST

1 Izale MacLeod (MK Dons)

2 Jermaine Easter (Wycombe)

3 Ian Roper (Walsall)

* BEST LOAN PLAYERS

1 Lee Hendrie (Aston Villa, on loan to Stoke)

2 Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal, on loan to Birmingham)

3 Jimmy Smith (Chelsea, on loan to QPR)

* BEST VETERANS (30+)

1 Jamie Cureton (Colchester United) 31

2 Graham Alexander (Preston North End) 35

3 Maik Taylor (Birmingham City) 35

The Rules

The list was drawn up following a poll of past and present managers, players and pundits. Only players under the age of 30, who are registered with English or Welsh non-Premiership clubs were considered. Matthew Kilgallon, of Leeds, was on the list, at No 10, but moved into the Premiership with Sheffield United yesterday. Anthony Stokes qualified when he left Arsenal for Sunderland yesterday. More than 70 names were suggested, but the top three were clear winners.

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