The regular Championship season is done and dusted, with just the playoffs to come. Reading and Southampton are celebrating successful returns to the Premiership, while West Ham, Birmingham, Blackpool and Cardiff are looking to join them. England’s second division is always a hotbed for talent though and any Premiership side willing to take a punt could have a potential star on their hands. With a busy summer of transfer activity expected, here are ten players in the Championship who could make the step up this summer:
1. Robert Snodgrass
Despite Leeds’s dreadful season, the Scottish winger impressed everybody with his displays in the white shirt. He won both the Player of the Year and Fans Player of the Year awards at Elland Road, recognition for his consistent form. Snodgrass has been the best player at Leeds for a couple of seasons now and earned a call up to the Scotland squad in 2011. Norwich offered £5 million for his services last summer and with Leeds failing to win promotion once again, Snodgrass could well try his hand in England’s highest division to further his international career.
2. Marvin Emnes
The Dutch winger initially joined Middlesbrough in 2008 for £3.2 million from Sparta Rotterdam while the Boro were still in the Premiership. He proved disappointing to start with and was used mainly as a substitute under Gordon Strachan. However, a loan move to Swansea kickstarted his career and Tony Mowbray put his faith in Emnes when he came back to the Riverside. 18 goals in all competitions proved a decent return and with Middlesbrough just missing out on the playoffs, Emnes could be set to move up a level. Swansea could be interested again.
3. Jay Rodriguez
Although Burnley were mediocre in the Championship, consolidating and rebuilding under new boss Eddie Howe, striker Jay Rodriguez proved one of the highlights of the season. 15 league goals and 21 in all competitions earned the frontman an England U21 call-up whilst catching the eyes of Premiership scouts. Burnley are keen to hang onto their latest star, but any substantial bid could see Rodriguez plying his trade amongst the big boys next year.
4. Jacob Butterfield
Barnsley just avoided the drop, missing the trapdoor thanks in part to Portsmouth’s point deduction. However, the Tykes were in decent form in the early part of the season, undoubtedly due to Butterfield’s presence in the centre of their midfield. He became the club’s youngest ever captain and some superb displays saw him linked with a January move to Aston Villa. Unfortunately, he suffered a season ending injury on New Year’s Eve that contributed to Barnsley’s demise and manager Keith Hill expects him to move on to better things in the summer.
5. Peter Whittingham
Although Whittingham tasted Premier League experience during his younger days with Aston Villa, the midfielder has been a victim of Cardiff’s failure to get out of the playoffs year in, year out. His loyalty has seen him stay in Wales for five years and eleven goals this year has again proved his ability at this level. If the Bluebirds fail to get promoted out of the playoffs this year, it could well be that Whittingham makes the switch into the top flight, as there will be no shortage of suitors for a man of his talents.
6. Wilfried Zaha
The Crystal Palace youngster has attracted significant interest already, with Bolton rumoured to have offered £5 million for him in January. Although the 19-year-old is still raw, he has a star quality about him that makes him a notch above the rest in the Championship. Nine goals in all competitions is a good start and he is sure to improve on that figure next year if he chooses to stay at Selhurst Park. Rumours emerged that Barcelona and Bayern Munich were keeping tabs on Zaha, but it is more likely the player will stay in England and he could be one of the most contested signings of the summer.
7. Nathaniel Clyne
The second of Palace’s starlets Nathaniel Clyne, unlike Zaha, has proven himself to be a consistent performer in the Championship. The right back is a regular in the Eagles’ side and he was strongly linked with Manchester United in the last transfer window. It is unclear whether the Red Devils will come back in for Clyne in the summer, but Palace will have to stave off serious interest as Clyne is seen as one of the hottest properties around.
8. Matt Phillips
Ian Holloway faces the tough task of battling through the playoffs to get back into the Premiership, but if he fails, he will face the tough task of hanging onto Blackpool’s brightest star. Phillips initially signed last year from Wycombe, but didn’t feature much in the Tangerines’ top flight campaign and went out on loan at Sheffield United in October. Five goals in six goals propelled him into Ollie’s plans and he hasn’t looked back since. He went on to bag another seven at Bloomfield Road and Cardiff looked to sign him in January. Several Premier League sides are reported to be interested and Blackpool could struggle to hang on to Phillips come June.
9. Kasper Schmeichel
He may not be as famous as his dad but Kasper is making a decent fist at his own career. Everyone was surprised when Leeds sold him to Leicester last summer as the 25-year-old impressed between the sticks at Elland Road. He carried on in a similar vein for the Foxes as well despite their disappointing season and Harry Redknapp is eying Schmeichel as Brad Friedel’s long-term replacement at Tottenham. The American can’t go on forever and Spurs may poach Kasper this summer to prepare him for the rigours of the Premier League.
10. Chris Gunter
The Welsh right back has already earned a big money move to the Premier League before in his career after he left Cardiff City to join Tottenham to 2008. He only made five appearances at White Hart Lane though and he failed to make his mark on the first team. A move to Nottingham Forest followed and Gunter has slowly, but surely rebuilt his reputation. He is now dependable on both flanks and would be a good bet for any Premier League manager looking to bolster his squad. Since Forest endured a miserable campaign last time around, Gunter could be prepared to move on and return to the Premier League a more confident player.