The 25 Best Players in the Championship — as voted for by you: Part 2 of 25
For the second of our 25 best players in the Championship as voted for by you, we’re off to the sunny south coast and the story of a Scottish international who made a surprise move to the Seagulls in the summer – over to John Verrall.
Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton and Hove Albion)
“I tackled Dani Alves, it was my only touch but at least I got to play against Brazil.”
He’s done more than tackle Dani Alves now. Craig Mackail-Smith has caused problems for Gerard Pique, he has made a £3million transfer and he has an international goal to his name. Four years ago, he was playing in non-league for Dagenham and Redbridge.
Mackail-Smith’s rapid rise has been an incredible one. It has been one that every non-league footballer will aspire to re-create. No longer does he ply his trade in front of less than a thousand people – he now competes against the best players in the world for his national team.
On the club front, many were surprised when Mackail-Smith opted to join Brighton ahead of West Ham and Leicester during the summer after Peterborough United accepted offers from all three teams. On the face of it the transfer looked an underwhelming move as talk had always been that he was heading to the Premier League. Indeed, had Posh accepted Norwich’s offer in January he may well have been playing in England’s top division.
However, Mackail-Smith pointed towards Brighton’s ambition, their style of play and their manager. Combined, he felt that the Seagulls were the club at which he had the best chance of progressing as a player. Not that he had too much progressing to do.
After accumulating 99 goals for Posh over three-and-a-half seasons the jet-heeled striker had an enviable goal-scoring record but it was in his final season at London Road that he really began to turn heads. After scoring 35 goals and establishing himself as League One Player of the Year, bigger and better clubs started to take an interest. His time at Posh was over.
Peterborough United had gone through a tumultuous season last time they were at this level: bottom of the league, relegated in April, it had been a long-season. Yet, Mackail-Smith learnt more than most during this campaign.
“”The year in the Championship gave me an insight into what you have to be like at that level and how you need to play if you want to reach the top”, he says. “I then went away in the summer and worked on what I had to do in order to be good enough in the second tier and maybe even the Premier League. I feel that it has all come together”.
It did more than come together. Mackail-Smith turned himself from a hard-working striker to an equally clinical one. He turned himself from a player that relied on pace to one with strength and skill. He turned himself from a Posh fan’s favourite to a Peterborough United legend.
It is not taking him long to do the same at Brighton either. Despite a goal-scoring record that is decent, if not quite as good as what would have been expected from his new club’s record signing, Sam from the Brighton blog The Seagull Love Review says: “CMS is the Albion poster boy. Universally popular for his work rate, assists, hair cut and occasional goals he’s probably become the first name on the team sheet even though he hasn’t been prolific.”
Two goals in his last two games have suggested an up-turn in the striker’s form too. Before-hand he hadn’t scored in ten matches. You could not have said this too many times during Mackail-Smith’s career.
It’s fair to say that Mackail-Smith is still regarded as the crà¨me de la crà¨me in the Football League by most fans and it is unlikely that his rapid rise up the football ladder will have reached its ascent just yet.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.