The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 10 of 25
Leeds United don’t spend much on players, so when they do put a few quid in another Championship club’s coffers it has to be worth it. As Joe Harrison explains, Simon Grayson shelled out a low six-figure fee less than 18 months ago for a player now valued well into the seven-figure bracket as one of the best strikers in the division.
Ross McCormack (Leeds United)
It’s hard to argue against the assertion that Ross McCormack’s Championship career to this point is marked by its dramatic inconsistency. What’s also hard to dispute is that when in form, few at this level can match the peaks he has reached. For both current side Leeds and former club Cardiff, McCormack has proven that he is capable of scoring both the scruffy and the spectacular. This makes him one of the Championship’s most feared forwards.
As so many Scottish players do, McCormack started his career in Glasgow with one of the Old Firm. Despite growing up a Celtic fan, it was Rangers who took him on as a youngster and he made his debut as a 17 year-old in 2004. Despite a dramatic late equaliser in a Champions League game at Ibrox against FC Porto, McCormack was never able to command a regular place in the Rangers first team and despite a reasonably successful loan spell at Doncaster in League One, McCormack was released in 2006. He was then signed by Motherwell and though he struggled with injuries during his first season there, his second yielded much improvement and 11 goals in all competitions.
McCormack was once again out of contract, but this time plenty of teams were interested. A move to Premier League Wigan came particularly close but when that fell through, Dave Jones and Cardiff stepped in front of a number of other interested parties to bring him to South Wales for what would eventually be worked out as £120,000 in compensation.
This fee quickly looked a bargain as McCormack exploded into his first Championship season, propelling Cardiff agonisingly close to the play-offs with 21 league goals. Equally impressive was the variety of his goals: penalties (plenty of them), free kicks, poacher’s six-yard box finishes, virtuoso efforts. This superb debut season unsurprisingly attracted a lot of attention and it was reported that a £5million summer bid from Premier League Hull was turned down. After signing a new contract going into the next season, however, McCormack’s form dipped. This was partly down to injuries and also due to Cardiff re-signing Michael Chopra on loan (twice) that season. Chopra’s arrival pushed McCormack onto the wing and then eventually out of the team as he failed to hit the heights of the previous campaign.
With Chopra’s move made permanent the following summer, it was unsurprising that McCormack was considering pastures new and that Cardiff would be willing to let someone on relatively high wages leave. What was a surprise was that he was eventually sold to Championship rivals Leeds for a fee believed to be as little as £350,000. McCormack’s first season at Leeds was a struggle, managing only two goals. Though, as Leeds fan David Wilkinson of The Scratching Shed explains, his opportunities were limited because “Ross needed to be deployed in a two man strike force, but with Luciano Becchio firing on all cylinders in the 4-5-1 we were using, Ross rarely got a look in.”
However, an injury to Becchio handed McCormack his chance at the start of the current season. To say he has taken it would be an understatement, having already reached double figures for the season. David points to Andy Keogh’s role in McCormack’s transformation, saying: “Playing alongside Keogh, a formidable partnership was formed built upon Ross’s natural goalscoring ability, hard work and his talent for finding space in dangerous positions and with Keogh’s assistance, he’s looked every bit the striker I was hoping for”.
McCormack’s resurgence this term certainly seems to sustain the tired clichà© that “class is permanent” — given a partner happy to play more of a supporting role (Bothroyd at Cardiff, Keogh at Leeds) and the faith of a manager, he has proven to be as effective a weapon as any on display in the Championship. His goals, effort and tendency for the spectacular have made him a popular figure in both the Welsh capital and west Yorkshire — if he keeps his early season form up, Ross McCormack should be even more popular in the latter by April.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.