When it comes to transfers, football fans can get quite snobbish. They want the big shiny name. They want players that make other clubs jealous. The often overlook the value that can be had in the lower leagues, but in recent years we’ve seen a number of quality players purchased from Championship clubs, or even League One and League Two clubs.
We have seen plenty of players who have spent there careers in the Championship gain promotion to the Premier League and excel at that level. Almost the entire Sheffield United team that enjoyed a brilliant first season back in the top flight had been Championship players to that point. Lewis Dunk came through Brighton’s academy and toiled in the Championship for four seasons before helping his side to promotion, now he’s a target for top 8 clubs.
Last season saw players like Ezri Konsa and James Justin make the jump from the lower leagues to the Premier League. Konsa joined Aston Villa from Championship side Brentford, and became a regular starter. Justin gave a good account of himself having joined Leicester after spending the previous two years in League Two and League One helping Luton secure back to back promotions.
The season before James Maddison moved from Championship side Norwich to Premier League side Leicester, and took to the top flight effortlessly
Joe Gomez is first choice at Champions Liverpool having been signed from League One Charlton.
Mason Holgate is arguably Everton’s best defender and followed the path of his former team-mate Jon Stones from Barnsley to Everton. Stones went on to secure a £49million move to Manchester City.
And let’s not forget Dele Alli who, after making the jump from League One side MK Dons to Spurs, rattled off three consecutive seasons with double figures goals in all competitions. He’d likely have managed five consecutive seasons if not for injuries the past two years.
I could go on, but you get the picture. There’s talent to be found in the lower leagues, clubs just need to be willing to take the risk.
Already this summer we’ve seen Jude Bellingham leave Birmingham City for Borussia Dortmund and he won’t be the last Championship player picked up by a top flight club.
Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford are all Championship clubs now, and all have four or five players who are more than good enough to stay in the Premier League, I won’t list them here because everyone knows who they are. Their names will be linked with Premier League sides regularly for the entire transfer window.
Instead I thought I’d take a look at ten players who spent last season in the lower leagues but would represent savvy purchases for Premier League sides this summer.
Brentford have a number of players who could be options here, the obvious ones being their BMW front line. Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins will almost certainly play in the Premier League next season. Bryan Mbeumo will get consideration as well but he probably needs one more season of development in the Championship.
Rico Henry is a bit more under the radar, though he has been linked with West Ham in recent days.
Henry is an excellent left back coming off the best season of his career. A product of the Walsall academy, he moved to the London club in 2016 but experienced a very frustrating first three seasons with The Bees. Injuries kept him out of the team, and when he did get gametime he struggled to shake off the rust and find his best form. 2019/20 saw him live up to the high expectations many held for him during his excellent 2015/16 season at Walsall though.
Henry is a good defender and a really good outlet going forward. He’s very quick and an intelligent player who picks, and times, his runs excellently, knowing when to overlap and when to underlap. Good with the ball at his feet, he can produce quality service for his attackers. Henry is more than capable of starting for a number of Premier League clubs or if a club like Liverpool, for example, wanted a quality back-up player, then Henry could be perfect.
Club: Nottingham Forest
For any team in the market for an attack minded right-back, look no further than Matty Cash. A product of Forest’s academy, he was originally a winger who has dropped back to right back and taken a massive leap forward in his development.
Cash is a powerful athlete with good pace who can run all day. Three goals and five assists represented a good return for him last season and with Sabri Lamouchi having helped Cash improve the technical aspects of his game he’s likely to continue to improve.
Another who’s been linked with West Ham, Cash would be a good signing for a majority of Premier League clubs.
Position: Attacking Midfield
It may seem like I’m just listing players linked with West Ham, but I promise that’s not the case.
Eze is arguably the most talented player in The Championship. A magical dribbler, he has a wonderful habit of making defenders look silly and creating something from nothing.
A player who has had to overcome setbacks and work hard for everything he’s achieved, Eze spent time in the academies of Arsenal, Fulham, Reading and Millwall, before joining QPR in 2016. Eze made his league debut during the 2017/18 season and has gotten progressively better each year since, culminating in a 14 goals, 8 assist return during the 19/20 season.
Fulham, Crystal Palace and West Ham have already been linked but it’s likely that many others are keeping an eye on Eze. He could make a great squad addition for any of the top Premier League clubs, a player who provides depth initially before developing into a starter. Alternatively he could start immediately for probably 10-12 teams in the league straight away.
Club: Stoke City
Remember him? Holder of nine England senior caps, Butland was long tipped to become England’s first choice goalkeeper before a terrible ankle injury and a subsequent struggle to regain his best form derailed his career.
Butland rebounded during the 18/19 season and showed something close to his best form, before a very disappointing 19/20 season. He’s a prime example of a player desperately in need of a fresh start. Butland has spent seven years at Stoke and it’s time for him to move on. With only one year remaining on his contract, he could prove a savvy investment for a Premier League club. There are a number of teams with big question marks over their goalkeeping position and Butland represents a low risk, potentially high reward option.
Club: Bristol City
Position: Central Midfield
In his first season in English football, following £7.2million move from Monaco, Massengo showed himself to be a fantastic prospect. A gifted passer, with quick feet and a creative mind, Massengo is a complete midfielder capable of winning the ball and driving forward at pace. While naturally right footed, he can spray the ball about with either foot.
He adapted very well to the physical nature of the Championship despite his young age, and may well have the highest ceiling of any player on this list. He likely needs another season of development at Bristol but if there’s a Premier League club looking for a star of the future that that can afford to buy now and loan back, this should be their man. His talent suggests he could play for any team, at any level.
Position: Central Midfield
For a Premier League club looking for a plug and play, solid but not spectacular box to box midfielder, John Swift is the man for them. He’s not the flashiest, he doesn’t try things that he’s not capable of, but he’s a smart, effective player who makes the right decisions at the right time.
Swift is a non-stop bundle of energy who’s shown he can score goals. A former Chelsea academy graduate, he has solid technical skills, uses the ball well and brings a reliable, mature attitude to any team lucky enough to have him.
He won’t be a star, he’s unlikely to become a top 8 player, but he’d be a good addition for any bottom half Premier League team.
Club: Wigan Athletic
Antonee Robinson has experienced maybe the strangest seven months of any player in recent memories. In January, he was on the verge of completing a dream move to Italian giants, AC Milan. The move fell through when his medical revealed an irregular heartbeat. Robinson was devastated but dusted himself off, had a procedure to fix the issue and got back to work turning in impressive performances and got back to work.
More heartbreak followed though, when shady ownership dealings at Wigan forced the club into administration. This triggered a 12 point deduction and relegation to League One. While Robinson should have been basking in life at one of the world’s great clubs, he now faces an uncertain future. Wigan’s ownership situation remains unresolved and a season in League One is probably not what Robinson expected his 2020/21 season to look like.
It’s highly unlikely he’ll make the drop with The Latics. Robinson is good enough to play in the Premier League, and should not be short of offers this summer.
Club: Derby County
It’s a fullback heavy list but given what we’ve seen Liverpool do this season, and the copycat nature of footballer, it’s likely that a lot of Premier League clubs will be looking to upgrade at right back and left back this summer. Bogle has just turned 20 and already has two impressive full seasons under his belt for the Rams.
A big rangy athletic, who’s a powerful runner and a good crosser of the ball, Bogle scored one goal and had six assists last season for Derby. He still has work to do defensively in terms of reading the game, holding the defensive line and sweeping across behind his centrebacks, but he’s good in 1v1 situations, his pace and power make him hard to beat, and he’s decent in the air.
For teams that want a right back who’s well rounded and has good potential, Jayden Bogle would represent a smart buy.
Club: Crewe Alexandra
Stepping down into League One to find a player recently promoted from League Two, Harry Pickering is something of an Andy Robertson clone. He’s bigger and rangier than Robertson, but not quite as aggressive defensively. Where he matches up with Robertson in his style of play. He’s a relentless force up and down the left flank, a good crosser of the ball and a clever player.
In a recent article in The Athletic, Tom Worville showed Pickering’s raw numbers are similar to Robertson’s and his heatmaps and passing maps are also similar.
He’s obviously not Robertson at this point, and the Premier League is a big jump from the level he has been playing at, but at 21 Robertson had just suffered the first of his two relegations with Hull, a year after joining them from Dundee United. Nobody could have predicted then, or even when Liverpool signed him in 2017, that Robertson would become the player he has. Some people suggested it perhaps but it wasn’t a common view.
Pickering has been well schooled at Crewe and is ready for the step up. He might not be a day one starter for the majority of Premier League clubs, maybe not for any of them, but at worst he’d be a good back-up with a high ceiling who could develop into a long term starter.
Club: Peterborough United
Ivan Toney is coming off an exceptional season, which followed a very good season. In back to back years he scored over 20 plus goals. 23 in 55 games in 18/19 followed by 26 in 39 games in 19/20. He’s a natural in front of goal, who scores all different types of goals. Headers, volleys, tap-ins, clipped 1v1 finishes over the keeper.
His specialty is the lobbed finish though. He has embarrassed a number of League One goalkeepers with audacious lobs that only players with extreme confidence in their own ability would even try.
At 24, Toney has a lot of experience under his belt. He’s just completed his seventh professional season, and he’s playing for his seventh club.
Originally schooled at Northampton Town, he broke into the Cobblers first team during the 2013/14 season before establishing himself the next year. After 10 goals in 44 games, Newcastle United snapped him up. Toney would be sent on six loan spells at four different clubs, while making only four first team appearances for the Toon.
He showed his promise during his second loan spell at Scunthorpe grabbing eight goals in 18 appearances and that prompted Peterborough to shell out £650,000 to secure his services. He’s gone from strength to strength with The Posh, getting stronger, working on his link up play, improving the timing of his runs and showing his wide variety of finishes.
He’s ready for a big move. He’s ready for the Premier League. There are a number of Premier League club desperate for someone who can put the ball in the net, and Toney could be the answer. Funnily enough, Newcastle United are one of the clubs that could use a player like him. He’s been strongly linked with a move to Celtic, but I’m sure there’ll be Premier League interest as well.