They say a week is a long time in politics. Of more importance, a season is a hell of a long time in football. It might only be ten months since we were in the Championship, but it has changed a lot.
Two years ago, there were definite signs that the goal posts had been moved as a result of the massive increase in Premier League money, and that continued apace last season.
A combination of factors has made it more competitive than ever, including the fact that that teams are still riding the wave of parachute payments and owners are risking everything—and throwing money around—in a desperate attempt to dine at football’s top table.
This article will look at the makeup of next season’s league and predict where we will likely sit amongst it all.
In the EPL, there are as few as eight teams whose main ambition at the start of the season is merely to stay in the league; however, the Championship is the other way around.
The vast majority of teams will start in August with the hopes of getting into the play-offs, at worst. Consolidation is not a word you hear bandied around many boardrooms in the English second tier.
Looking at the sums of money spent last season (much to no avail), it just goes to show how far the Championship has moved along. Those figures were what we were seeing in the EPL only a handful of years ago.
All three clubs dropping down look like they will be better prepared and in a far better position than Sunderland, and all will have realistic expectations of at least a top six finish.
Then, of course, you have those that finished in the top six but missed out in the play-off lottery this season. If Villa miss out, you have to ask if there will be one more roll of the dice or if finances will start to be reeled in.
After yet another failed attempt to limp over the line, Derby are also in a position where they might start to fall towards being a mid-table side. It is the next group of teams that is the largest and hardest to predict—the likes of QPR, Forest, Ipswich, Hull, Leeds and others. There are number of teams with glittering pasts, recent EPL experience, and a board and fanbase clamouring for a return.
There are as many as twelve teams in that category, and at this stage it is neigh on impossible to predict which will capitulate and which will make strides and break into the top half dozen. One shrewd managerial appointment, or a couple of canny moves in the transfer, can be the difference between languishing in 15th or sneaking into 6th place.
Cardiff showed that you don’t have to be the biggest spenders to achieve success in the division. Paul Cook has also shown that he can manufacture the kind of character and team spirit that can achieve results greater than the sum of their parts.
That said, whoever comes up with us and Blackburn are likely to be in a small group of teams looking down, not up. Bolton, Reading and Birmingham survived by the skin of their teeth, and it is hard to see dramatic changes at those clubs over the summer.
Norwich appear to be in a state of decline, with no funds to get them out of their tailspin. There will also be another one or two surprise teams who will drop into that group.
Realistically, those are the clubs we will be fighting against to retain our Championship status. Before we get ready for the rigours of another long, exciting, and (hopefully) ultimately rewarding season, there is, of course, the drama of the World Cup to enjoy.
The tournament is a betting man’s dream, and if any Latic fan does win big in the £100 million challenge, I’m sure Paul Cook would be grateful for any funds they would send his way.
We aren’t going to be able to compete financially with the vast majority of clubs in the Championship, but things like momentum, team spirit and the aforementioned character are things that cannot be bought. These are also things that go a long way in football, particularly in a league as gruelling and testing as the one we are now in.
We also have a man in Paul Cook who has proved that he is more than capable of achieving success against the odds. Keeping him will be the most important strategy for this club’s future.
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