AAt a time when some of the Premier League’s biggest names are dotted around the world, with Arsenal and Newcastle opting for warm-weather training camps in the Middle East while other players, often towing graphite suitcases obscenely large, escaped to exotic destinations such as the Bahamas and the Maldives, the English Football League continues.

Twins ready Bernardo Silva spotted elephants and leopards while on safari in Sri Lanka and Brentford head coach Thomas Frank is using the break to zigzag across the ski slopes in Switzerland. But for the Championship it’s full steam ahead, the division ready to savor its moment in the sun.

Just because there’s no top-flight football this weekend doesn’t mean there’s nothing to watch. Far from it, given that for the next generation of players, the Championship represents a kind of Premier League waiting room. For many, the secret has already been revealed.

Middlesbrough celebrate after scoring against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day in front of the biggest Championship crowd of the season. Photography: Greig Cowie/Shutterstock

Brentford have seen several bids rejected for exciting Nottingham Forest winger Brennan Johnson and the rise of Blackburn striker Ben Brereton Díaz hasn’t gone unnoticed either (he scored for Chile again on Friday and remains in the national squad). international). Among those who look capable of playing at a higher level are Bristol City striker Antoine Semenyo, Hull centre-back Jacob Greaves, Huddersfield pair Sorba Thomas and Lewis O’Brien and Middlesbrough full-back on loan from Forest Djed Spence, released by Fulham in 2018. Luke Southwood and Nathan Baxter are goalkeepers getting their first taste of the second tier at Reading and Hull respectively, the latter on loan from Chelsea.

Millions of fans need no convincing, with combined second-tier attendances totaling over 5.1million in 2021-22 – the biggest crowd, 29,832, coming to Middlesbrough against Forest the day after Christmas. But the Premier League is where almost all of the 24 teams in the Championship aspire to be and, such is the unpredictability of the division, more than half will always be keen to claim one of the three promotion spots.

If anything characterizes the erratic nature of it all, it’s confirmation this week that new Hull owner Acun Ilicali revealed his £30m takeover was happening as he presented in live on television a Turkish adaptation of The Voice, had sacked Grant McCann despite successive victories over Blackburn and Bournemouth, who are respectively second and third. Former Rangers striker Shota Arveladze, whose last job was in Uzbekistan with Pakhtakor Tashkent, is the new manager.

Bristol City fans turned out on Kenilworth Road in Luton last Tuesday
Bristol City fans turned out on Kenilworth Road in Luton last Tuesday. Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

On Saturday Blackburn, this season’s surprise package under wily Tony Mowbray, visit creaky Kenilworth Road, home to Luton for 117 years. Mowbray is the definition of a cool head, but even he let his guard down on Monday, punching the air after beating Boro, one of his former clubs. More than 1,000 fans outside will tinkle through the turnstiles, via a gate nestled among terraced houses on Oak Road, making the pilgrimage up a steel stairwell that overlooks the rear gardens and front clotheslines of get their first glimpse of the terrain. For Blackburn it marks the 31st game of a marathon season, but others are struggling more, with League One’s Wigan and Cambridge and League Two’s Hartlepool in line to play at least 59 games each due to their progress in the FA Cup and EFL. Trophy.

The Championship leaders are a Fulham yo-yo and free-scorer who, given how easily they have dispatched opponents of late (they have scored 22 goals in their last four matches and recorded two 7-0 wins away in three months), could be forgiven for already thinking about how to ensure they are at least the 17th best team in England next season. Aleksandar Mitrovic is Fulham’s point guard (he has scored 30 goals in 31 games for club and country this season), but others including Harry Wilson and Lisbon-born teenager Fabio Carvalho, who has contributed in seven of Fulham’s 73 league goals from attacking midfield, also blossomed.

England are preparing to return home after their game in San Marino last November
England are preparing to return home after their game in San Marino last November. Sixteen of the team’s players have played in the EFL. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/The FA/Getty Images

Carvalho, who joined Fulham from Balham amid interest from Chelsea and Manchester United eight years ago, is the kind of talent worth listening to and another example of a player who looks ready counting the championship as a key rung on the ladder to a career fine. Last season Ivan Toney and Michael Olise excelled for Brentford and Reading respectively, and have since thrived in the top flight, the latter for Crystal Palace. Jarrod Bowen, who started his career at Hereford United, joined West Ham from Hull midway through the 2019-20 season, while Ollie Watkins and Eberechi Eze moved to Aston Villa and Palace for the following campaign.

The four midfielders who ended up in England’s last squad after withdrawals and substitutions – Conor Gallagher, Jude Bellingham, Emile Smith Rowe and Kalvin Phillips – have played in the Championship for the past two years and in all 16 earned their stripes at EFL clubs, including Reece James, who played on loan at Wigan from Chelsea. Gallagher made his league debut for Charlton in the Championship before joining Swansea and Smith Rowe spent the second half of the 2019-20 campaign at Huddersfield. Phillips had six seasons at the second tier with Leeds, playing in a variety of positions for a mix of managers.

These trips are an obvious source of inspiration, but for some teams, expectations have had to be realigned and any idea of ​​personal distinction put on the back burner. Surviving the season would spell success for a Derby side weighed down by a 21-point deduction and the threat of liquidation amid protracted takeover talks, while Reading are in the midst of a worrying fall that has left them reeling above the relegation zone, with six points deducted, and Barnsley, last and winless in the league since November 3, looks doomed.

The race for the play-offs, as always, is most intriguing, with several teams, including Coventry and Sheffield United, armed with fewer games. Seventh-placed Forest are the flavor of the month, however – four consecutive wins in January, including against Arsenal in the FA Cup, showed their credentials under Steve Cooper, a young manager with a budding reputation. His side travel to struggling Cardiff on Sunday, where the former Swansea manager is guaranteed a cold reception, despite his father, Keith, a former referee, being a Cardiff fan at heart. Forest are formidable opponents and have lost only once on the road since August 21, when they were bottom of the pack. In the league, it’s wise to expect the unexpected.