When it comes to early season predictions, the bookmaker’s odds tend to be a solid indication of how the season will pan out. It’s obvious as for who will challenge for the title in the Spanish, English and German leagues.
Lionel Messi, Harry Kane and Robert Lewandowski are always going to be in contention for the Golden Boot. Yet, as any EFL fan will tell you, the Championship is arguably the most unpredictable league in the world. To thrive in this league is trickier than expected, but here are 10 players who did.
2017/18: Ryan Sessegnon
In the presence of arguably the most talented player to ever grace England’s second tier – Ruben Neves, the man who captained FC Porto in the Champions League as a teenager, it was Ryan Sessegnon who prevailed with the best player award. The 17-year-old wunderkind drew plaudits week-in-week-out in the Championship and was even touted by some for a place in England’s World Cup squad. Fulham have managed to fend off any interest from top clubs for the teenager thus far, in the hopes he will replicate his scintillating form from last year.
2016/17: Anthony Knockaert
The 2016/17 season was one of the most interesting and unpredictable seasons in years. Huddersfield Town won promotion to the Premier League for the first time, Leeds United fans enjoyed their best season in years, up until matchday 39 and Brighton and Hove Albion somehow managed to lose the Championship title on the final day. With all the drama that year, it Was Anthony Knockaert who won the award, helping Brighton to the Premier League for the first time. The Frenchman remains a seagull and more importantly, a Premier League player as Brighton defied the odds in surviving relegation.
2015/16: Andre Gray
The future looked bright for Andre Gray, with the explosive striker’s consistent dominance for Luton, Brentford and eventually Burnley, the EFL had proven too easy for the former non-league man. Gray netted 25 league goals for Champions Burnley and his career didn’t stall there, his form transpired to the Premier League, where his nine league goals helped Burnley avoid the drop. Now at Watford, the striker struggled in his first season for the Hornets, netting just five times. Gray has already managed three in six this season, with his and Watford’s fortunes looking to be on the up.
2014/15: Patrick Bamford
The 2014/15 season looked like it would play host to one of England’s future talents, the 21-year-old bagged 17 league goals for Middlesbrough that year, as they narrowly missed out on promotion being beaten in the final by Norwich. Bamford’s exceptional form that year convinced Chelsea that he could be a valuable squad player, starting the year as a blue, he was eventually loaned out to Crystal Palace, then Norwich in January. Bamford made 16 appearances in all competitions in the 2015/16 season and then just six the following year. Now a Leeds United player, the £10m man had his Leeds career halted, following a knee injury after just two starts.
2013/14: Danny Ings
A player who could very well be a regular England international by now, the Burnley man first broke onto the scene following his 21 goal campaign that helped Sean Dyche to his first promotion with Burnley. He went on to score a further 11 league goals the following year, but after Burnley’s relegation, the former Dorchester Town man earned himself a move to Liverpool. 14 League appearances and two Anterior cruciate ligament injury’s later and Reds fans were left wondering what could have been. The striker is a fan favourite at Anfield and with the unwavering support of Jurgen Klopp and the fans, the forward has given Southampton and himself a much-needed confidence booster so far this season.
2012/13: Matej Vydra
A proven threat at Championship level, the Czech Republic international netted 20 times for Watford in the 2012/13 campaign, having spent the season on loan from Udinese, the forward became a fan favourite at Vicarage road, and even earned himself a move to the Premier League the following season with West Brom. Another fantastic Championship campaign last season, finishing as top scorer for Derby earned him yet another shot at England’s top flight with Europa League side Burnley. Vydra recorded his first Premier League goal since his 2014 against Bournemouth at the weekend and both the player and club will be hoping it is the first of many.
2011/12: Rickie Lambert
One of English football’s great success story’s, Rickie Lambert’s career took off at the age of 30. The striker scored 27 league goals as Southampton won promotion to the Premier League in 2012. The forward then went on to win a move to Liverpool at the age of 32, 11 England caps, as well as scoring in his first two appearances and even made England’s 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil. Lambert retired in 2017 and was named in the EFL Team of the decade in 2015, as well as receiving the Sir Tom Finney award in 2018 for his exceptional career.
2010/11: Adel Taarabt
Rickie Lambert may have been one of football’s best, feel-good stories in recent memory, but Adel Taarabt’s is quite the opposite. Tipped to be a world-beater following his unstoppable form at QPR, as the London club secured the Championship title in 2011. The 22-year-old was being watched by clubs all across Europe, The Moroccan Messi scored 19 goals in the league that year for QPR and continued his exceptional form for the next two years in the Premier League for QPR, before seemingly losing the will to play. Taarabt’s attitude deteriorated and he fell from stardom quickly. Failed loan spells at Fulham in 2013 and Milan in 2014 resulted in the players’ release. In 2015 he signed for Portueges giants Benfica, where he is yet to make a first-team appearance. The playmaker made 28 appearances in Serie A last term for Genoa, scoring two in what looked to be a change in fortunes for the former Tottenham youth star. Now back in Portugal, Taarabt will be desperate to escape his Benfica nightmare.
2009/10: Kevin Nolan
The relegation of Newcastle United from the Premier League in 2009 came as a huge shock in English football, the infamous St. James’ Park hosting the likes of current League One mainstays Scunthorpe and Peterborough United was daunting to the elitist Magpie fans. For many newly relegated clubs, the Championship proves to be tougher than expected and failure to bounce straight back can have serious financial repercussions for many sides. Newcastle’s ability to keep hold of their key players played a big part in their immediate return, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini and Joey Barton all pledged their allegiance to Tyneside, but it was Kevin Nolan who would prove to be the star man. His 17 goals in the Championship earned him the player of the year award. Now retired, Nolan has stuck himself straight into management and guided Notts County to the Playoffs in 2018 after finishing fifth. It wasn’t to be for Nolan unfortunately, as his side was beaten by eventual winners Coventry in the Semi-Final. Nolan is currently unemployed after a disastrous start to the 2018/19 campaign.
2008/09: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Back in the mid to late 2000s, the name Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was one to be feared, he was a back-to-back Championship top goalscorer at this point, the 2008/09 campaign saw him net 25 league goals for Wolves, beating his 23 the year before. After helping Wolves secure the league title, he looked destined to shine in the Premier League, but just 10 goals in 76 top flight appearances had hindered his reputation. He departed Wolves in 2013, he has since played for six clubs in five years, including non-league sides Telford United and Halesowen Town, the latter being his current side at the age of 32, in the Southern Football League.