The Championship - is it worth gambling on a club's future to reach the Premiership?
Of all the second-tier football league's around the World, it is the English Championship that remains the most competitive, the hardest to get out of, and a potential footballing graveyard to an array of huge clubs with great potential.
The reason? It's pretty obvious — the Championship remains the gateway to the promised land that is the Premiership, and the potential untold riches that promoted clubs expect they can make if they reach there. And herein lies the problem for many clubs who have now tried, and failed, to reach the Premiership. Clubs who have gambled on spending money that has been on the very borders of the FFP rule book, in the hope that they can get promotion before exceeding the FFP rules and suddenly get the cash injection that the Premiership TV and sponsorship deals can immediately bring.
So who are these clubs? Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County are the two most obvious clubs. Two historic clubs with great support and fantastic potential. In recent years both clubs splashed the cash under their respective mega-wealthy owners Dejphon Chansiri and Mel Morris. Wednesday spent big money on the likes of Fernando Forestieri, Gary Hooper, Adam Reach and Almen Abdi, whilst Derby spent big on Bradley Johnson, Tom Ince and Jacob Butterfield. The investments looked like they might pay off as both clubs made play-off finals to get within touching distance, only to agonisingly lose in the final by single goals to Hull City and Aston Villa respectively. Wednesday came close a year later after their final defeat but lost out in the play-off semi-finals, and the descent down the slippery financial slope had begun. Despite having numerous forward players at the club they spent a huge fee on Middlesborough forward Jordan Rhodes in the transfer window, and ever since then they have apparently been teetering right on the limits of FFP. Derby County have been in exactly the same situation. Obviously the temptation for clubs like these when they know that they're so close to going up is to try and keep hold of their squad and hope they can make it to the Premiership. But the longer it goes on without getting there, the worse their financial situation gets surrounding FFP. Both clubs have both been investigated by the League for selling their Hillsborough and Pride Park grounds to their owners in a bid to offset that against FFP. At some stage the cycle has to end, either by reining in their spending and selling players, or, the worst case scenario a club gets a points deduction and a transfer embargo for breaching rules, like Birmingham City did in March 2019.
This season's Championship has seen Wednesday in and out of the play-off spots under new boss Garry Monk, whilst Derby County initially struggled under their new manager Philip Cocu, but have picked up considerably since the signing of Wayne Rooney. With a large passionate fan base behind both clubs, you wouldn't completely bet against them to mount a late charge into the playoff spots, but you would have to ask yourself if either team are currently equipped to survive in the Premiership against the spread if either was to get somehow get promoted via the playoffs. The relegated clubs still get the hugely unfair Premiership parachute payments, which seems to automatically give them a huge financial advantage over other Championship clubs. So the likes of West Brom and Fulham, who are battling it out at the top of the Championship and are amongst the strong favourites to go up along with Leeds (WBA and Leeds are both joint favourites at odds of 6/4 whilst Fulham are 8/1), have both been able to bring players in using the parachute payments that the likes of Wednesday and Derby can no longer afford. The danger will be that if West Brom, Fulham and Leeds don't go up this year then they could find themselves in the financial cycle that the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County and Birmingham City now find themselves in.