The 2014/15 Sky Bet Championship season has already got off to an enthralling start, with plenty of goals, moments of magic and controversies ensuring that fans have had plenty to get excited about.
During recent years, more people have started following England’s second tier as the quality of the teams involved has increased significantly.
The introduction of parachute payments and more lucrative sponsorship deals has meant that the Championship in general has seen a huge increase in revenue, resulting in teams paying bigger transfer fees for players and academies receiving more funding.
Consequently, this means that there are now many quality players in the Championship, even ones who should arguably be playing in the Premier League. Here we look at five Championship stars who may soon be plying their trade in the English top-flight.
5) Michael Mancienne (Nottingham Forest)
Signed from Hamburg for a £1 million fee, the former Chelsea graduate brings plenty of experience with him after loan spells with QPR and Wolves before joining the Bundesliga side.
The 26-year-old made 49 appearances for Hamburg in total, meaning that Mancienne has gained valuable experience playing overseas whilst improving with game time.
Highly-regarded and once heralded as one of England’s brightest defensive prospects, it is clear that the centre-back has plenty of talent as well as experience to offer. This could see him move to a Premier League club if Nottingham Forest end up failing to earn promotion.
4) Bakary Sako (Wolves)
Last season, when Wolves were fighting to get out of England’s third tier, the powerful French winger asserted himself as the team’s key player.
Brought in two years ago from French side Saint-Étienne, he was part of the Wolves side with saw back-to-back relegations from the Premier League and the Championship - far from what he imagined would happen.
However, this was where the tricky winger caught the eye, showcasing his eye for goal, power and technical skill. At the time, he impressed so much that Fulham (who were the in the Premier League) came close to signing Sako.
Still only 26 and already performing well in the Championship, it is likely that Sako will find himself in England’s top-flight shortly.
3) Sam Byram (Leeds)
In spite of his 21st birthday only being yesterday, the versatile right-back has already established himself as a regular for Leeds and the England U20 side. Therefore, he is widely regarded as one of the best young defenders outside of the Premier League.
Comfortable performing at right-back or as a winger, the attack-minded Englishman is destined to play at the highest level and will surely command a hefty transfer fee. After all, it was only a month ago that Southampton manager Ronald Koeman confirmed that they had a £4.5 million bid rejected for Byram.
Standing at 6ft tall, the right-back also has the energy and pace required to potentially cope with the ferocity of the Premier League. Also, he has shown a knack for scoring wonderful goals, such as the one against Oxford United.
If Byram continues to progress like he has done, it will not be a case of will he become a Premier League player, but when…
2) Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn)
In August 2012, the Scotland international became the Football League’s most expensive player when Blackburn signed him for £8 million.
However, despite his cost, his 55 goals in 95 games for the Lancashire side has actually made him look like a bargain.
Prior to his move, the goal-machine spent time at Oxford United, Rochdale, Brentford and Huddersfield. As a result, Rhodes has risen up the football pyramid whilst enhancing his footballing education, helping to forge his reputation as a strong player with frightening poaching skills and a good level of consistency.
Although Rhodes signed a contract extension just two months ago, there is little Blackburn can do to stop the powerful frontman getting his deserved move to a Premier League side if he wishes to finally seek a transfer.
1) Will Hughes (Derby)
At the ripe age of just 19, the athletic central midfielder has been progressing at an unbelievable rate, becoming the heart of the Derby starting XI and getting promoted straight from the England U17s to the U21s in the same year.
Already blessed with height, good passing range, composure, power and incredible stamina, the young player was at the forefront of Derby’s promotion chase last season. He has already been credited with serious interest from some of England’s top clubs, like Liverpool and Manchester United, as they believe he has immense potential.
Yet, he is another talented player who has recently signed a contract extension, despite Premier League interest. However, it is inevitable that Hughes will outgrow the Championship, and would probably seek a move elsewhere… unless Steve McClaren can get Derby promoted soon.
Having been named in the PFA’s Championship team of the season for the 2013/14 campaign, he has only shown his sublime talent and potential even more – strengthening the case for Premier League clubs to fork out big money for the prodigy.