Splash £15m on players, declare yourself promotion candidates, get a former England manager running your side and re-brand the stadium and you are a sure bet to get promoted from the Championship…..unfortunately not it seems.
As a Leicester City supporter the above applies. So what makes for a good championship side? How do you get a team over the course of 46 games out of one of the tightest leagues in Europe?
One vital aspect is consistency. Everyone beats everyone in this division. Only the other day, then bottom of the league Doncaster turned over the top of the table side Southampton. You need to have a solid, much organised and mentally tough squad, that do the basics right, sprinkled of course with a bit of quality. Consistency also spreads to the squad and who plays within it. Sides that have made wholesale changes to their numbers have not generally had the success of those who have only made subtle changes. Finally my final ingredient is momentum. Confidence can take you a long way in this league. If you do manage to go four or five games unbeaten, it is possible to extend a run on confidence alone.
If you look at last years promoted sides, QPR, Norwich and Swansea all three had demonstrated the above in abundance. The year previous to that, Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool the same. QPR won the league at a canter last year, but many people saw the team sheet and were not overored. But they had a strong and resolute defence, a solid goalkeeper in Paddy Kenny and that sprinkle of quality in Taarabt. Norwich was pure momentum and again unfancied at the start of the year. But confidence was flowing through them. Winning is a habit and they took their league one success straight through the league. Finally Swansea showed faith in the players that had just missed out on the playoffs twice. They had just lost their manager Paulo Sousa at the time, but continued under unfancied Brendan Rodgers, playing an attractive brand of football and with one or two subtle additions, made their way in to the promised land.
If you look at fancied teams that have underperformed over the past couple of seasons, such as Leicester, Cardiff and Ipswich, they have gone for big names. Getting big names to gel at this level is a difficult task. Craig Bellamy certainly didn’t pull up any trees last year, but now finds himself back in the Premier League with a big club like Liverpool. Ipswich had a big name manager in Roy Keane, who had achieved greatness as a player, but he couldn’t get Ipswich playing. Last season and this, Leicester has used their wealth to bring names to the club from the Premier League. For example Yakubu was recruited on-loan along with bright Chelsea youngsters Jeff Bruma and Patrick Van Aanholt. They had premier class; however they just couldn’t settle game in game out in the Championship.
Leicester of course has since recruited the last manager to bring some success to the club in Nigel Pearson back from Hull City. Long term, I think that he will get a settled squad and Leicester will rise up the league, based on getting the above recipe right, but more than likely it will be 2012/13.
So who will get it right this year? Well for me I think distance out siders will be Reading. They have a very good manager in Brian McDermott, who has a settled squad, which has actually profited well from the sale of Mills and Long for big money and replaced them well, with Kaspars Gorkks coming in from QPR and Adam Le Fondre recruited from Rotherham. I expect them to strengthen in January and I think they will be strong play off candidates. I think that West Ham will be too strong and don’t rule out Hull City. They have some excellent young players, are resolute and very hard to break down.