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Friday, 22 February 2013

The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On (Final Part)

When the Top 25 players in the Championship were named a year ago on The Seventy Two, it was a one time view of players at the time.  Nearly half of the list are now at Premier League clubs which indicates some level of accuracy in the view.  This week's review finishes here with a look at the final five names on the original list - with perhaps the biggest star wrapping things up.

Leeds United have had some very good players over the past two or three years - and most of them now play for Norwich City.  It has been a curious sideshow to the Ken Bates era but one which the Canaries have benefited greatly from, particularly with this player's signing.  I enlisted the help of Little Norwich to give me a view on the latest player to meander down the well-trodden path.

Robert Snodgrass:  Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Leeds United 
Club now:  Norwich City
Progress made?  Moved to the Premier League

In his first season as Norwich manager Chris Hughton has earned praise and criticism in equal measure from what has become quite a divided fan base. Despite this, one area where all fans can agree the new manager has excelled is player recruitment. Hughton’s signings have been largely successful.  Along with Sebastien Bassong, Robert Snodgrass has been the pick of these signings.

Snodgrass was our third signing from Leeds in the space of a year and coming to a club with familiar faces may have been the reason for the positive start to his Norwich career. In his performances this season he has been one of Norwich’s most constant threats, with his dead ball delivery troubling some of the league’s best defences.

Snodgrass is currently Norwich’s top scorer in all competitions this season. This probably says more about Hughton’s cautious approach than anything else but what is clear is that without Snodgrass’ goals, especially the three free kicks in consecutive away games before Christmas, Norwich would be in a very different position. He has looked every inch the Premier League player, and still has lots of time to improve further. 

John Verrall now picks up the reins to check out a former Manchester United youngster at the heart of a promotion charge.

James Chester: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Hull City
Club now:  Hull City
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (2nd)

With Hull’s promotion push in full-flow now, James Chester will hope to be a Premier League player this time next year. The signs are there that he is perfectly capable of being one too.

Chester has been a virtual ever-present since joining ‘The Tigers’ from Manchester United. The centre-half was runner-up in the player of the season vote last year and is now proving to be a major reason for their good form under Steve Bruce so far this campaign.

Now playing in a three-man defence, in a 3-5-2 formation that Bruce has generally deployed, Chester has shown his adaptability and his tactical astuteness – the sort of attributes that come with learning your trade at Manchester United – and he plays with a wise head for young shoulders.

If Hull are to get promoted they will need Chester to maintain his rock-solid form.

I now drift up the M1 and take a look at a player who might perhaps slip under the radar of many Championship followers

Marvin Emnes: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Middlesbrough
Club now:  Middlesbrough
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (6th)

Although this will probably result in scorn from my friends in the North East, Emnes is probably one of the names on the list to pass people by the most.  That's partly because, aside from last season, Emnes hasn't been by any means a regular starter, playing in fewer than half of all games across six seasons.

His inclusion in this list was based on a streak of form unmatched at any other time in his stop-start career to date.  Ten goals in the first 18 games made him an automatic choice and one of the leading scorers at the time of the compilation of our vote.  The second half of the season was less profitable, although returned a none-too-shoddy eight goals all the same.

This season Emnes endured a rather strange start, with fans at the Riverside presumably wondering if he was becoming a bit of a mystery man.  Injury and a family illness in Surinam contributing to a bizarre run where his first nine games of the season were all away from home.  Emnes managed a decent return of four goals in this period, but a solitary goal since mid-October has loosened Emnes' grip on a regular first team shirt and a return to top form currently appears some way off.

Joe Harrison's final review takes a look at one Leeds United player not to leave Elland Road in the past 18 months

Ross McCormack: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Leeds United
Club now:  Leeds United
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (12th)

Our original article on McCormack described his Championship career to that point as one defined by peaks and troughs in form, a pattern which has continued in the intervening months. 

The Scot was superb for Leeds United last season, firing 18 league goals and once again proving himself as one of the division’s most gifted players. However, history (or at least his inconsistency) seems to be repeating itself, with McCormack having only registered 2 Championship goals for the Whites this season.

There are mitigating factors behind this apparent slump though, ones which again draw parallels to events earlier in his career, at Cardiff. 

Having had an excellent season last time out as Leeds’ main attacking threat, McCormack spent much of the first half of the season shifted wide to accommodate his manager’s preferred focal point – for Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd in South Wales, read Luciano Becchio in Yorkshire. However, Becchio’s deadline day departure to Norwich City may yet provide McCormack with a route back to Elland Road prominence and goal-scoring form once more, and given his career to date, it would be unwise to bet against that happening.

And so to the end and it's very much a case of 'last but not least', as I head back to South London to check on the progress made by one Wilf Zaha.

Wilfried Zaha: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Crystal Palace
Club now:  Manchester United (Crystal Palace on loan)
Progress made?  Moved to the Premier League

The undoubted star of the list - indeed the Championship as a whole - one year on, Zaha's improved consistency and ever-more-evident raw talent has earned the young man from the Ivory Coast (yes, he's eligible for England) the archetypal schoolboy's dream transfer, to the biggest and most successful side in domestic football, Manchester United.

Zaha will attempt to emulate the likes of Best, Giggs and Ronaldo by bringing his significant skills to the Old Trafford touchlines, whilst also pressing his claims for a regular spot in the national squad.

Zaha finished last season as he had started it, being named Palace's young player of the year for the second season in a row.  Expected by many to be middle of the road at best, Palace made a scintillating start to the season with Zaha inspiring a flood of goals alongside Yannick Bolasie and Glenn Murray and earning a call up to the full England squad for the friendly against Sweden in November.

But all good things must come to an end and the inevitable transfer - a massive £15m+ one at that - was quietly and quickly sealed by the 19-times Champions in the January transfer window.

For now fans of the football league get to enjoy Zaha's sublime and dazzling skills for a few weeks more and many will be eagerly anticipating the impact he can have at the Theatre of Dreams

So that's that.  Reflecting back again the list looks like it was in pretty good shape, with so many now in the Premier League and a clutch more soon to join them.  The folly of attempting to produce such a list has perhaps been shown up most pertinently by the exclusion of Tom Ince, in great form ever since this was produced and seemingly destined for a big summer move, whilst Everton's latest recruit John Stones hadn't even made a first team appearance for Barnsley at this time last year.  

There were perhaps some players named who in retrospect are decent performers but not potential stars, and the vote was perhaps skewed by form at the time rather than a longer-term view.  Emnes is mentioned above perhaps in this bracket, whilst as a Bristol City fan although I rate both Maynard and Adomah highly, I acknowledge the superb run of (short-term) form City were on at the time under then-new boss Derek McInnes perhaps contributed to their inclusion, although that could yet be justified as both could conceivably be performing in the Premier League next season. 

Many thanks to Joe and John for their contributions, it was fun putting such an extensive programme of writing together a year ago and without their help I couldn't have delivered a review on the entire list alone.  

To view the review of the other 20 players please click below.  Thanks for reading!
Read Part 1 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'
Read Part 2 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'
Read Part 3 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'
Read Part 4 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'

The Exiled Robin

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