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Great In The Championship, Not So Much In The Premier League
Seeing a player climb up the league ladder to become a genuine Premier League superstar is arguably one of the greatest aspects of modern football, especially when you noticed the player years before they hit the big time.
However, it’s safe to say that more than a fair share of Championship level players find that the Premier League is either a step too far or pushes them to the very limit. Here, we’ve picked a team of footballers who have starred in the second tier but struggled to replicate that form in the top flight.
That’s not to say they should all be labelled Premier League flops as some of them have performed fairly well on the big stage. Nevertheless, compared to their success in the division below, it’s fair to say that their top flight endeavours fell a little flat.
Kelvin Davis has undeniably been one of the Football League’s better goalkeepers of the 21st century and was touted as a Premier League custodian at several stages throughout his career. For one reason or another, however, he never capitalised on those chances when they arrived.
Wimbledon’s relegation to the old First Division in 1999-00 offered the Bedford-born goalkeeper a chance to establish himself, which he did with authority over the next five seasons (three with the Dons and two with Ipswich Town), leading to his first genuine shot at the top flight in 2005-06 at Sunderland. While he did play most games, the Black Cats were relegated, conceding 69 times in the process.
After moving to Southampton, he enjoyed six productive seasons in the Football League, becoming club captain and being named in the League One Team of the Year twice as well as making it into the Championship’s Team of the Year as the Saints gained promotion to the Premier League. However, he was soon demoted to the subs bench, making just 20 appearances in four years leading to retirement.
Being the son of such a colossal defender as Steve Bruce has seen Alex Bruce intensely scrutinised throughout his professional career and, sadly, that has often hindered his progress in the top flight. However, it should not be forgotten that the Hull City man has often excelled in the second tier.
Bruce’s Premier League introduction was probably a little premature at Birmingham City, but he established himself as a very solid Championship level defender over the next seven years, culminating in promotion with Hull.
The defender never truly looked comfortable back in the Premier League before Hull’s relegation in 2014-15. Unfortunately, injury has prevented any sort of contribution this time around following last year’s promotion. Even if he does get back to fitness, it’s difficult to picture the 32-year-old establishing himself as a force.
Throughout the late 1990s and most of the 2000s, Darren Moore was the archetypal defender to bounce between the top two divisions. Whilst he enjoyed great success in the second tier, his time in the top flight wasn’t always so productive.
Moore helped four teams gain promotion from the second tier, making the division’s PFA Team of the Year on three occasions to cement his place as one of the most formidable defenders at that level.
Conversely, seasons in the Premier League ended in relegation or a transfer back to the Football League. He was named club player of the year in 2007-08 — unfortunately, that team was the Derby County side that registered the division’s worst ever points tally, so he’ll probably take that with a pinch of salt.
As a defender in the third tier, Fitz Hall was named in the PFA Team of the Year. As a defender in the second tier, he was often a dependable force at the heart of defence. In the Premier League, however, he was regularly found wanting.
Hall was a part of QPR’s Championship winning team of 2010-11, forming a central figure in a defence that registered a record number of clean sheets. One year earlier, he’d played a small part in helping Newcastle United achieve promotion too, although his loan spell was hindered by injury.
Unfortunately, the Premier League was a lot tougher. In addition to losing his place at Loftus Road before being sold after one year in the top flight, Hall had previously endured the embarrassment of losing the Crystal Palace captain’s armband back in 2005-06 due to poor performances. Meanwhile, his spell at Wigan Athletic included a number of unenviable incidents too.
On a personal note, Jason Koumas enjoyed a pleasing maiden Premier League season after making the step up in 2002-03 by joining West Bromwich Albion. After that, though, he’s always looked more like a great Championship player rather than a quality Premier League one.
Koumas was named in the PFA’s Championship Team of the Year on three occasions, scooping the division’s Player of the Year award in 2006-07 too. The Welsh international gained promotion to the Premier League several times and did enjoy occasional moments of brilliance in the top flight. On the whole, though, he simply couldn’t replicate that level of consistency against stronger opponents.
Some have suggested that those struggles were down to mentality rather than technical limitations. Either way, a brilliant Championship level player could only ever be considered average at best in the top league.
With over 200 Premier League appearances to his name, Joey Barton’s inclusion may be a little controversial. But the fact that his most memorable top flight moments are pulling his shorts down at Everton, assaulting Ousmane Dabo, and going crazy following a red card at the Eithad speaks volumes.
In comparison, each of Barton’s three seasons in the Championship have ended in promotion while the midfielder was additionally named in the PFA Team of the Year for 2015-16. That’s not to say the one-time England international hasn’t performed well at times in the Premier League, and it would be inaccurate to suggest he was out of his depth
Nevertheless, as a player who looked a cut above in the Championship, Barton will probably be slightly disappointed with his Premier League returns — at least in the second half of his career.
Excitement surrounding then-Aston Villa midfielder Barry Bannan had been building for a couple of years prior to his senior debut as the Scotsman played a starring role for Villa’s youth and reserve teams. And when he enjoyed productive loan spells at Championship sides Derby and Blackpool whilst still a youngster, many predicted that he would evolve into a Premier League star.
Despite amassing a total of 64 league appearances at Villa Park, it would be hard to argue that Bannan was anything more than a distinctly average top flight player. Those sentiments were echoed during a two-year stint at Crystal Palace, which brought only 22 league appearances before being sent back to the Championship on loan with Bolton Wanderers.
Bannan made a permanent switch to the second tier in 2015-16, joining Sheffield Wednesday, and has enjoyed far greater success at Hillsbrough. At 27, thoughts of becoming a star attraction in the Premier League appear dead and buried.
Like Barry Bannan, Cardiff City midfielder Peter Whittingham is a graduate of Aston Villa’s youth academy. Also like Bannan, the 32-year-old couldn’t quite make the grade at the top level despite proving himself to be an excellent player in the Championship.
After dipping his toes into the water during the previous campaign, Whittingham played 32 times in 2003-04 but then quickly faded into the peripherals at Villa Park before being sold to Cardiff following prior loan spells at Championship sides Burnley and Derby.
Whittingham has thrived in Wales, being named in the PFA’s Championship Team of the Year on three occasions while finishing 2009-10 as top scorer from the left-wing and landing a spot in the Football League Team of the Decade for 2005-15 . After scoring 51 in the four seasons previous, he scored just three times in Cardiff’s solitary Premier League season, which also ended in relegation.
Judging a striker solely on goals doesn’t always tell the full story. In the case of Clinton Morrison, however, his goal record paints a very clear image indeed.
The England-born Republic of Ireland striker spent nine seasons in the second tier, hitting double figures in every single campaign. Compare that to his Premier League tally of 15 across the duration of three full seasons and two cameo appearances, and it doesn’t take a genius to draw the necessary conclusion.
Those feelings are highlighted further still by the fact that none of his nine international goals came against high-quality opposition.
Pierre van Hooijdonk
Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk was one of the most recognisable players on the planet at one stage. He excelled in Scotland, Portugal, and his homeland, but he couldn’t emulate that success in England — at least in the Premier League.
Van Hooijdonk couldn’t save Nottingham Forest from relegation after joining the sinking ship in March 1997, and scored just once in eight appearances. When he returned to the Premier League in 1998-99, he managed just six in the entire season.
Those seasons sandwiched a one-year stay in the second tier in which the striker was phenomenal. His goals not only fired Forest to promotion, but they also landed him the division’s top scorer award and a place in the PFA Division One Team of the Year. There are a number of factors contributing to his underwhelming return in 1998-99, including a fall out with manager Ron Atkinson. Nonetheless, for a player with such a huge reputation, his time in the Premier League was more than a little underwhelming.
For over a decade now, David Nugent has been trapped in an endless battle to progress from cerebral Championship marksmen to bonafide Premier League goal-getter. At 31, time is fast running out for a man who is yet to score a league goal for Middlesbrough this season.
Since 2004-05, Nugent has spent eight seasons in the Championship, and is currently in his fifth Premier League campaign. During this period, he has hit over a century of goals in the second tier; in the top flight, however, his tally stands at 14.
As a member of England’s one cap club too, little else needs to be said.