Every year, you hear the same thing about next season’s Championship division: “God, it’ll be tough to go up, look at the clubs coming down, all that money from Parachute Payments.” Yeah, well. Look at last year’s lot, Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton. All dropped out of the top-flight and landed in the Championship with an almighty thump, weighed down by all that fools’ gold in their pockets.
In Wolves’ case, the fall was so heavy they’ve still not stopped, crashing through the floor of the Championship into the dank and unpleasant dungeon of League One. This has been aided, it’s true, by spectacularly incompetent management right from the top. The decision to get rid of Big Mick McCarthy – as a knee-jerk reaction to a derby-day thrashing by West Brom – is still haunting the Wanderers. Terry Connor floundered in the deep end and sank without trace. Dean Saunders has appeared to be clueless, his attempts at bluster unconvincing, even his saner moments lacking in any content or coherence. McCarthy, meanwhile, prospers at Ipswich – a deeply impressive man and a highly competent manager at this level.
Blackburn, with management troubles and boardroom incompetence of their own, have been only a little better, but at least escaped a second successive relegation which appeared likely at one point. Early in the season they spent £8 million on Jordan Rhodes, but then started messing about with the management structure and suffered accordingly. Their failure has been at a price way beyond what the likes of Leeds could afford, and they will be looking ahead with some nervousness as Rhodes wonders whether his move was a wise one for a fledgling Scottish international.
Bolton too have flattered to deceive, failing to capitalise on a reasonable start, and pulling up no trees in a division with hardly a truly outstanding team, despite the seeming ease of Cardiff’s promotion. The Trotters were still in with a chance of making the play-offs on the final day, but blew it by only drawing at home to Blackpool and thus letting in Crystal Palace at the last gasp – and the Bolton Premier League exile will last at least another year.
So what should we have to fear from next year’s lot? QPR will need a radical overhaul after failing to recover from the cack-handed management of Mark Hughes, a man with one big fan he can see any time he likes in any handy mirror. Reading could be a force, but they suffer from ownership who seem to feel that they have some football knowledge; usually a fatal ingredient. There are rumours that some of Brian McDermott’s promotion-winning Class of ’12 would not be averse to a reunion with their old boss at Elland Road.
It remains to be seen who joins these two in the death-spiral downwards; the most likely is Wigan, who really do baffle me. They are capable of wonderful football and will grace a Cup Final against Manchester City whatever the outcome of that occasion. If the Latics could hang on to Roberto Martinez, they’d have to be regarded as challengers at the top end of next year’s Championship – assuming they do end up coming down. Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich will be nervously waiting to see if Wigan can pull off yet another last-ditch escape, as seems to be their perennial habit.
Obviously any relegated club will have the much-vaunted splodge of parachute wonga to cushion their fall, but they’d do well to look at the fate of last year’s Premier League jettison, and not assume that the ill-gotten gains will automatically ease their path back. Relegation can be habit-forming. Just ask Wolves about that.