By 90Min
October 31, 2017

Supporters of Championship clubs will argue that it is one of the most competitive leagues in world football and certainly one of the most difficult from which to escape. 

However, this season more than ever before, England's second league has been blighted by a group of clubs with a) rich owners, b) parachute payments, or c) both.  

What is especially frightening is how the second tier's spending has increased to Premier League proportions. Although the league remains competitive, the financial divide between clubs in the Championship is continually growing and the chasm is getting wider by the season. As an example, Aston Villa invested £72m on the most expensively assembled Championship squad in the league's history, in the summer of 2016, while Burton Albion spent less than £0.5m. 

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The premise of the parachute payments, which was first introduced in 2005, was understandable; it was there to support relegated clubs with the transition and avoid the financial trap door of administration. However, it was also put in place to encourage promoted sides to strengthen squads, so they are competitive at a higher standard of football, without the concern of financial disaster.

The principle was a good one, but it is slowly impacting on the ethic that makes the Championship so intriguing: It's competitive nature. Ultimately, it will be the same permanently wealthy clubs, who achieve success and promotion to the 'Promised Land' of the Premier League.

Kieran Maguire, an expert on football finance from Liverpool University stated: “The alternative is financial meltdown as clubs struggle to pay wages.

“Parachute payments do allow relegated clubs to spend more on player recruitment, but it still needs to be spent well. With so many clubs in the Championship under new or foreign ownership there is already plenty of competition, regardless of parachute payments.”

There will always be exceptions to provide hope. Consider last season, where Huddersfield Town truly broke the mould in their approach on and off the field to take the journey from near relegation the season before to one of exhilaration with promotion. Also, whilst it’s true that there was money behind Brighton’s eventual promotion, the Seagulls didn’t spend on players in a way that promoted sides have done previously; they gradually built the foundations overtime to achieve their ultimate goal. 

Never before has the Championship looked so top heavy with sides with financial pedigree or historical heritage. Looking beyond the recently relegated sides, huge teams such as Wolves, Reading, Derby or Sheffield Wednesday – with rich owners who are prepared to bankroll their clubs' push towards the Premier League – and the sleeping giants of Leeds United and Nottingham Forest lurking menacingly within the league's echelons while they try to re-establish their identity of past glories - are all fighting for those three elusive promotion places.

That leaves a host of teams that, thanks to Financial Fair Play and the parachute payments, with realistically little chance of joining the upper reaches of the Championship.

This increasingly inverted Premier League duplication leaves little hope for teams such as Ipswich Town, Preston, Millwall, Burton Albion and Barnsley, who spent a combined £3.2m during the last transfer window, to remain competitive with their more illustrious rivals. 

There are other ways to raise funds and Barnsley have done exceedingly well in recent seasons through effective player sales; Burton, meanwhile, pocketed around £2m from the sale of Jackson Irvine to Hull City. Nevertheless, selling your best players is not sustainable for a club to remain competitive in this league and build team morale as this investment is then rarely reciprocated with a similar replacement in quality or value. 

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New domestic and overseas Premier League broadcasts have now kicked in and the payments over three seasons are even obscene. So a club like Middlesbrough, will receive a reported £47m for this season and £38m next year - phenomenal figures to reward failure. 


Not all is lost, however. When you glance at which club is currently leading the league, Sheffield United, they have gone back to the traditions of the Championship and what the league truly represents: the appointment of an imaginative and resourceful manager, a side that collectively plays with passion and energy, a squad littered with a combination of experience and youth and the purchase of astute transfers. 

These ingredients have helped to raise the Yorkshire club from the shadows of their fierce city neighbours and give all Championship supporters that glimmer of belief: you do not have to have huge wealth to achieve success.  

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