The English second tier has been widely regarded as one of the most difficult leagues in world football.
The 46 games played in a Championship season are dramatic to say the least and all of the highs and lows a club experiences are unrivalled. But why do so many clubs struggle to get out of this division?
Former Championship manager Neil Warnock stated:
There’s no other league in the world where the bottom club can beat the top club on a regular basis.
Warnock continued – “In most leagues now, you pretty much know who the top two are going to be. But in the Championship, you really haven’t a clue”. Gus Poyet labelled the Championship as the “toughest league in England”, while Daniel Farke said “The Championship, without any doubt, is the toughest league in the world”.
There are currently over 10 teams that have not returned to the Premier League since their respective relegation to the Championship, not including the three that were relegated last season. Clubs like Sunderland, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers are in the depths of League One with all three having combined stadium capacities of over 100,000. Bradford City and Oldham Athletic are both in League Two with the latter facing relegation which would make them the first club to be relegated out of the Football League who have played in the Premier League.
This emphasises the hypothesis that the Championship is the most difficult league in world football. For some clubs, relegation causes many problems like with the clubs mentioned. However, some come straight back up, with the power of parachute payments which are paid out to the relegated sides from the Premier League to help them with the loss of revenue. Parachute payments have slightly deteriorated the quality of the Championship making the teams recently relegated from the first tier even stronger because they have more financial pulling power.
The Championship’s unpredictably was yet again shown last campaign. Barnsley were struggling at the bottom of the Championship with then manager Adam Murray until former Strasbourg and Bayern Munich defender Valèrian Ismaël replaced him at Oakwell.
Despite only previously having experience managing in Germany, Greece and Austria, the Frenchman propelled the Tykes all the way up to fifth and were narrowly knocked out in the play-off semi-final to Swansea City to deny them only their second ever stint in the top flight. This shows that despite only half of the current season played, a run of winning results can shoot teams straight up into contention for promotion to make their ultimate dream of Premier League football a possible reality.
The competitiveness of the Championship is there for everybody to see. There are not many countries where you see a lot of teams in the top division look into the league below to find ready-made first team players. Eberechi Eze has shone at Selhurst Park for Crystal Palace and Jarrod Bowen has been in contention for the England set up recently since leaving Hull City.
There is a case to be made for around ten teams in the second tier in terms of promotion and if you experience a losing streak, you know for certain that team will slide down the table very quickly. Also, there are a handful of reputable internationals in the league, including Ben Brereton Díaz of Blackburn Rovers, Jefferson Lerma of Bournemouth and Aleksandar Mitrović of Fulham who play for Chile, Columbia and Serbia respectively.
At the commencement of a Championship season, it is easy to predict the outcome of the table. However, very quickly that can change with some clubs not previously being mentioned for promotion becoming strong contenders to have a successful season. This though all boil downs to the question: why is the Championship the toughest league in world football?