I believe this season the Championship will be the most wide open league of any for many years. One reason is I don't think we've ever had such a high calibre of managers at this level as now. Another is Blackpool's promotion. It was a remarkable feat which has every team hoping that this year they can get to the promised land. That should lead to more attacking football with sides copying Blackpool's attacking outlook. It should certainly be better to watch than the World Cup, which, let's be honest, was pretty boring at times. I know I'm much more inclined to work out how to win games rather than how to avoid defeat and I'm really looking forward to the challenge of the season.
Middlesbrough are the obvious favourites because of the millions Gordon Strachan has spent on new players from Scotland. You have to score goals to win anything and in Kris Boyd they have a proven goalscorer. Once again Steve Gibson deserves tremendous credit for supporting another manager in his quest to put what's really an unfashionable club among the big fish in the Premier League.
The three clubs coming down have all got possibilities even though they have had to sell players and worse in Portsmouth's case. Despite that, they do get the parachute payments and I am aware all three have offered top wages to bring players in, so I expect them all to be among the contenders.
I am pleased Burnley stood by Brian Laws; the others have got new managers in: Nigel Pearson at Hull City and Steve Cotterill at Portsmouth. Nigel was close to being Manager of the Year last season for what he did at Leicester City and I have big hopes for him.
Leicester will be looking to build on their appearance in the play-offs which means much will be expected of their new manager Paulo Sousa. I see Paulo has said he will make Leicester a Premier League club in two years. How I regret making a similar pledge at Burton, one of my first jobs. I promised we would win something in two years. Midway through our second season I was really feeling the pressure – fortunately we won the cup – but I learned a lesson and have never made such a pledge since.
Of the other teams to make the play-offs, Nottingham Forest have an excellent squad and will be looking to improve on the super season they had last year but Cardiff City might find it difficult to make the top six again with all the financial problems they have at the moment.
There will be big expectations at Ipswich Town where I am sure Roy Keane sets himself his own targets. He will be doing everything to be up there this year. Roy's old Forest team-mate, Nigel Clough, has been able to get his own squad together this season so Derby County should be stronger. So will Doncaster Rovers after spending all of £1m on Billy Sharp. I bet their supporters are still pinching themselves and thinking back to being in the non-League not so long ago. Then John Ryan rode in on his white charger saying things like, "I'll take us to the Premier League." What did everyone think then? That he had a few screws missing? But what great support he has provided the club, and what wonderful football Sean O'Driscoll has the team playing.
Elsewhere in South Yorkshire another excellent young manager Mark Robins has begun well at Barnsley. He has gone about his job in a quiet and calm way and they have some exciting players. I'll be seeing Mark tomorrow as his team are our first opponents.
My team, QPR, were supposed to be the big spenders. I have been trying but, at the time of writing I have signed as many players on a Bosman free transfer as I have paid money for. So far I've brought in eight. I'm trying to build a team spirit so I hope the lads can settle in quickly. That's why I've gone for permanent signings rather than look to loan players – of which we had eight last year – but I may have to dip into the loan market to top the squad up. In particular, like most managers, I'm still searching for another couple of strikers.
Reading, according to my scouts, have picked up where they left off at the second half of last season and are playing well. I think they will be a force to be reckoned with. It is good to see their former manager Brendan Rodgers back in the game down the M4 at Swansea City. He'll love the challenge but Sousa's a difficult act to follow. Aidy Boothroyd, who is similar to Brendan in that he is an excellent coach and real enthusiast, is also back in the division and he'll be desperate to have a good season at Coventry City.
There's also a new manager at my old club, Crystal Palace. After their dramatic last-day escape from relegation, and the trauma of going into administration last season, I'm delighted that Palace have secured their immediate future with the 2010 Consortium confirmed as owners. I'm pleased for everyone at the club as the fans deserve some stability after the last six months. With George Burley having been able to hang on to most of the squad, especially Paddy McCarthy, Darren Ambrose and Julian Speroni, they have the nucleus of a very good side.
My other old club, Sheffield United, will also be looking to do well. Kevin Blackwell has brought in several new players including Leon Britton from Swansea on a free transfer which I think is a great move. At Preston North End. Darren Ferguson will be hoping to stabilise the club and use his contacts to make sure Deepdale will once again be a difficult place to go.
One of the things which will make this division tighter than ever is that the three clubs coming up will all have aspirations. Leeds United will have 30,000-plus gates every week, Norwich City have sold 20,000 season tickets, and Millwall have a tremendous team spirit, and fervent support at the New Den. I expect all three to make an impact.
Which brings us to the big move of the summer. David James's signing for Bristol City surprised everyone. He is still one of the best in the country and most people expected him to stay in the top flight, but with a house in the West Country myself I know more than anyone why David has put his family first. He'll enjoy playing for the top side in the West Country, it's a super city and only a relatively short drive from his house.
I have nothing but respect for such a decision. In the South-west it is difficult to get exactly what you want in a work situation without foregoing something. I've never met so many qualified people with degrees and the like working as a postman or similar in Cornwall just to live down there and enjoy the way of life. David will be thinking, "I can't put a price on what I have at home", and if I am honest you can't.
Neither Scunthorpe United nor Watford have been given a chance with the bookies, but they have excellent managers and I am sure both Nigel Adkins and Malky Mackay will pin a picture of Blackpool up on the dressing-room wall alongside their odds this time last year, to remind everyone of what can be done.
My promotion tip
Middlesbrough plus a couple of the teams that have come down.
Outside bet: Reading.
Neil Warnock is the manager of Championship side Queen's Park Rangers and writes a regular Saturday column for 'The Independent' which returns tomorrowReuse content