Wales 0 England 2: In Defence of the Championship
Anticipation. Excitement. Demoralising disappointment. Eventually, resigned acceptance. Not just the emotions of Welsh football supporters on a thoroughly miserable afternoon at the Millennium Stadium, but the feelings of one supporter of a Championship club upon watching events unfold in the principality. Premier League fans queued up to pour scorn on the Wales performance and Championship players were widely criticised.
The Welsh lineup read much like a Championship representative side, with star second-tier performers such as Swansea City’s Ashley Williams, Norwich City’s Andrew Crofts and Leicester City’s Andy King all included. Add arguably the best right-back in the division, Nottingham Forest’s Chris Gunter, one of its most impressive forwards, Millwall’s Steve Morison, and Cardiff City’s loan star Craig Bellamy, and there was a vague sense that this was a game between the Premier League and the Championship.
Wales were overwhelmed, with the likes of Ashley Young, Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere all far too accomplished for their less-heralded opponents. All in all, the game rammed home the true chasm between the top flight’s elite and the best players in the division below. This will not be news to many people, but we make heroes of these men. Williams, in particular, often looks a tremendous player for Swansea, but he looked light years away from his usual reliable standard in a first half that exposed the Welsh lack of top-level experience.
So how do you defend the Championship’s best against those who will write off their quality after watching such a high-profile game? Many detractors quickly pointed out that not enough Welsh players were drawn from the Premier League. By its very nature, we all know that you will find very few players of the highest quality in the Championship. But it is still interesting to identify the cream of the crop at any level.
There are definite trends. Last season, the goalscoring midfielder was king – all three promoted sides had one: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United, Graham Dorrans of West Bromwich Albion and the now ubiquitous Charlie Adam of Blackpool. This season, it is the physical, hard-working centre-forward: Morison has 13 goals, while Grant Holt and Luciano Becchio both have 16 and Danny Graham has five more than anyone else with 23. Mercurial talents also account for a number of the spots in the Championship’s top scorers chart – Scott Sinclair, Jay Bothroyd, Max Gradel and, of course, Adel Taarabt.
The best thing about this list? It will be completely different next season. The Premier League’s top goalscorers? Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez. Yawn. There will be other names there in the next campaign, but the clubs will be the same and the crushing inevitability of the teams at the top will be the same. With the Championship, there’s no telling which teams will make up the top six next season. Even this season, with just eight games remaining, that play-off picture is far from secure.
The most effective way of enthusing about the Championship is to live in glorious isolated denial. At least it is a far cry from the bone-thuddingly dull arguments about whether the Premier League is better than La Liga or the continuing decline of Fernando Torres. You may be able to read about those in one or two other places.
Who cares if there are better players in the division above? Could any of them manage a better solo goal than Scott Sinclair scored against Nottingham Forest last weekend? Do any of them inspire more hero worship than Grant Holt gleans from the Carrow Road faithful? No. They’re just better players at more popular clubs. It is the same in League One and League Two. Watching Peterborough United and Chesterfield recently proved that point. George Boyd is brilliant. Jack Lester is illustrious.
It is understandable that international level takes no prisoners and that Championship players will often come up short. One day soon, though, one or two will get there and watching them along the way is a brilliant experience. Charlie Adam is perhaps the best current example of that glorious progression from Championship talent to widely-admired top flight performer. And don’t forget it’s that time of year again. The play-off system will soon ignite even the most Premier League-focused fans in the country to become interested in the second tier.
Arrive early. Eight games left. So many exciting players to watch. The Championship Select XI may have succumbed to defeat at the hands of the big, bad Premier League yesterday, but the real fun down here is just beginning. Time to get involved.