Mitrovic, Knockaert, Gayle: 11 Championship stars who struggled in the Premier League

It doesn’t matter how well you perform in the Championship. To many fans who don’t watch the English second tier, those performances mean nothing until they’re replicated in the Premier League.

While that is a pretty narrow minded outlook, there is a hidden truth underneath it. Not every player who rips it up in the Championship is capable of translating those heroic performances to the top flight. It’s an entirely different beast.

The most unassuming are more likely to make the leap from Championship to Premier League with greater success, perhaps because the focus isn’t on them to hit the ground running and deliver.

Be it impressing in the Championship and being poached by a Premier League side, or leading the charge and taking a team up to the top flight, it doesn’t always work out as planned after reaching the summit of English football.

That results in a strange grey area having emerged over time. A grey area that sees a bunch of players fall into the endlessly frustrating gap of ‘too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League’.

Be it a yard of pace, a shot that isn’t quite hard enough, or a step or two of movement for those marginal gains of space on the pitch, it’s these intricacies that can condemn players to a life stuck in the train station of nowhere, between Championship and Premier League, waiting for the trainman to grant them access to top flight stardom.

Right, dodgy analogy from The Matrix done. GIVEMESPORT has compiled a list of 11 unlucky Championship ballers who just couldn’t cut the mustard in the Premier League, despite tearing up the second tier.

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11. Billy Sharp

Famed for his Mankind-inspired celebration and his exploits as Sheffield United talisman, Sharp is the all-time top scorer in the Championship with a remarkable 128 strikes and counting.

The veteran forward managed just six goals over the two seasons the Blades spent in the top flight from 2019 to 2021, before finding goal scoring prowess once again, as soon as they were back in the Championship.

Sharp loves the Championship
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND – AUGUST 19: Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates after scoring during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield United and Barnsley at Bramall Lane on August 19, 2017 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

10. Alex Pritchard

Pritchard first starred in the Championship on loan with Brentford in 2014/15, and did the same again when moving permanently to Norwich in 2016. Whenever he’s been given the chance to strut his stuff n the Premier League, though, he just hasn’t been able to step up.

His only top flight goals came in an ill-fated spell with Huddersfield where he underwhelmed.

Alex Pritchard struggled in the Premier League
DERBY, ENGLAND- November 26: Alex Pritchard of Norwich City in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Norwich City at iPro Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

9. David Nugent

Having now been surpassed by Sharp, Nugent sits second in the all-time Championship top scorer rankings with his 121 second tier strikes.

The English striker is one the finest to have played in the Championship, but it took him 18 months to score his first Premier League goal after signing for Portsmouth in 2007, which tells you all you need to know about his struggles to translate his fire rate over to the top flight.

Nugent is the second top scorer in the Championship of all time
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 21: David Nugent of Leiester City chases a squirrel off the pitch after play was delayed during the Sky Bet Championship match between Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City at Loftus Road on December 21, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

8. Matej Vydra

Maybe it’s a little unfair to include Vydra in this list, considering he’s now been a Premier League player with Burnley since 2018, meaning they must value him as a rotation arm.

The frustration, though, is that he could’ve been much more than that. Seriously. This is the guy that won the Championship Player of the Season award in his first season in England in 2012/13. Sixty-five goals and 22 assists in the second tier has so far translated to a measly 11 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League. Put him back down there now and we guarantee he’d bag for fun.

Vydra was prolific in the Championship
DERBY, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 15: Matej Vydra of Derby celebrates during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Nottingham Forest at iPro Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

7. Neal Maupay

Another one that might appear harsh to many, considering Maupay’s rampant form for Brentford in the Championship, his Premier League tenure with Brighton has left a lot to be desired.

Maupay was a machine in front of goal in the second tier, but simply can’t find a consistent goal scoring vein in the Premier League, despite being so technically sound. We know for a fact that if he dropped back down there, he’d put up insane numbers.

Neal Maupay was electric for Brentford
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 15: Neal Maupay of Brentford celebrates scoring the 2nd brentford goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Wigan on September 15, 2018 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

6. Tom Cairney

Cairney and Fulham really do go hand in hand. Since signing for the club in 2015, the midfielder has developed into a leader and captain, with instrumental performances in the Championship year after year.

But for every massively impressive season in the second tier that leads to promotion, is an equally as underwhelming campaign in the Premier League, where Cairney looks out of his depth. It’s a cycle with no end.

Cairney scores for Fulham
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 17: Tom Cairney of Fulham celebrates scoring his side’s first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Queens Park Rangers at Craven Cottage on March 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

5. Graham Dorrans

Ah yes, the Glaswegian, Championship Zidane. The streets can never forget Dorrans’ frightening 2009/10 campaign for West Brom that pulled them back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.

13 goals and 18 assists from midfield saw him named in the Championship Team of the Year. It’s unsurprising to find out he never took that form into the Premier League. Upon signing for Norwich in 2014, he was at it again, dominating Championship midfields and leading them back to the top flight.

Dorrans was a force in the Championship
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 28: WBA goalscorer Graham Dorrans (l) celebrates his goal with Saido Berahino during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Burnley at The Hawthorns on September 28, 2014 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

4. Dwight Gayle

Despite being strangely prolific as a squad player at Crystal Palace, Gayle turned it up another level when signing for relegated Newcastle in 2016.

Firing them to the title as the side’s talisman, he again failed to impress when they returned to the top flight and was loaned to West Brom in the Championship in 2018. He fired them to the play-offs. 59 goals and 16 assists from 100 Championship games says it all. Obscene record.

Gayle's Championship record is insane
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – MARCH 29: Dwight Gayle of WBA celebrates scoring to make it 1-1 during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City at The Hawthorns on March 29, 2019 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

3. Anthony Knockaert

You think of Championship, you think of Knockaert. Bombing it down the wing, leaving defenders for dead with his footwork, and pinging in killer balls in the chaotic English second tier. The Frenchman starred for Leicester before their Premier League promotion, where he immediately looked like a fish out of water.

Fast forward a few years and Knockaert looked rejuvenated in with Brighton, pulling out all the old tricks once again in the Championship, before stagnating in the Premier League. Hall of famer.

Knockaert tore it up in the Championship
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND- APRIL 14: Anthony Knockaert of Brighton & Hove Albion celebrates after scoring during the Sky Bet Championship match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brighton & Hove Albion at Molineux Stadium on April 14, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

2. Adel Taarabt

Taarabt headed to Queens Park Rangers on loan from Tottenham in 2009, and his talent was apparent immediately. Slicing up Championship defences with an unapologetic flair and swagger having made the move permanent a year later, Taarabt was crowned 2010/11 Championship Player of the Year having helped QPR to the Premier League in spellbinding style.

That form completely nosedived in the Premier League, though, as the Moroccan struggled to show his skill over a consistent spell. We’ll always have the Twitter compilations, at least.

Adel Taarabt ripped the Championship apart
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 27: Adel Taarabt of QPR gestures during the npower Championship match between Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City at Loftus Road on November 27, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

1. Aleksandar Mitrovic

Simply put, this list doesn’t exist without Mitrovic. The Serbian should just bin off trying to fix his Premier League curse, and go out all guns blazing to become the Championship’s greatest ever player.

Now at the peak of his powers, the 2021/22 season has seen Mitrovic score a record breaking 43 Championship goals in one season, still with two games to play. No doubt he’ll struggle to make double figures upon his return to the top flight.

Mitrovic has made Championship history
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 02: Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham lifts the Sky Bet Championship Trophy as Players of Fulham celebrate winning the Sky Bet Championship and promotion to the Premier League after the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Luton Town at Craven Cottage on May 02, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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