The new players and new managers, what to watch out for across the Championship, League One and League Two
McCormack scored 29 goals for a struggling Leeds United last season and it remains a mystery that no Premier League club snapped him up. Even so £11m is an awful lot to pay for a second-tier striker approaching his 28th birthday. To get the best out of McCormack, the manager Felix Magath may need to reconstruct newly relegated Fulham around him. It’s a gamble, but don’t bet against it paying off.
As he approaches his 39th birthday the striker is preparing for a new League Two challenge with his 15th club. Since making his debut for Norwich in 1994, Cureton has scored 258 goals in 750 games. “I’ve pretty much got used to being the oldest player everywhere I go,” he muses.
Liverpool fans may begin adopting Brighton as their second team. The Finn, for so long a cult Anfield centre-half, will be anxious to prove himself in the Championship after a two-year stint in charge of the Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkusen ended in dismissal.
Highly regarded in Spain during the days when he was Mourinho’s assistant – and close friend – at Real Madrid, Karanka is approaching his first full Championship season on Teesside. Middlesbrough’s promotion hopes may hinge on Kike. Will the striker signed from Real Murcia, for around £3m build on his pre-season promise?
The former Manchester United youth player is only 38 but has managed four clubs – Portsmouth, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers and, now Oxford, in the space of three years. Appleton’s coaching is much hyped but he surely needs to achieve something of substance in League Two. Not to mention put down the odd root.
It may be a case of blink and you’ll miss him as Riga, newly installed this summer, has persistently threatened to walk out over chairman Karl Oyston’s running of Blackpool. Riga has only 12 senior players but for much of the close season he worked with only eight, forcing the cancellation of a pre-season tour to Spain. Small wonder the Tangerines are tipped to finish bottom of the Championship.
Andy Hessenthaler – former Gillingham midfielder, manager and director of football – is one of the game’s good guys so his latest return to Priestfield as assistant to his old friend and mentor Peter Taylor this summer was widely welcomed. Also on League One Gillingham’s books is Hessenthaler’s 20-year-old son Jake, a promising midfielder.
Following a playing career spent mainly in non-league habitats, Warburton became a financial trader in the City of London. In his 40s he gave it up to become an academy coach at Watford and went on to lead Brentford back into English football’s second tier for the first time in 21 years. Can they stay there? Might Warburton be a Premier League manager in the making?
League Two defences beware. Akinfenwa, aka the strongest man in football, has swapped Gillingham – where he scored 10 goals in 34 appearances last season – for AFC Wimbledon. Dubbed “the Beast” this 16st powerhouse of a centre-forward can bench-press 180kg, almost twice his bodyweight, and recently gave John Terry an extremely testing workout during a friendly against Chelsea.
Thanks to Kenny Jackett’s inspired choreography Wolverhampton Wanderers cantered to last season’s League One title, accruing 103 points, an all-time divisional record. Can Wolves carry on where they left off? Should the Championship be nervous of the Old Gold on the march?
Still 24, Rhodes has scored 53 goals in 96 appearances since joining Blackburn from Huddersfield for £8m two years ago. Last season he scored 25 Championship goals with the only puzzle being why a Premier League rival has not spirited him away. Promotion dark horses under Gary Bowyer’s astute management, Blackburn – better run by Venky’s these days – stand to benefit.
How on earth does a man sacked by non-league Forest Green Rovers after seven defeats in eight games last year land a Championship manager’s job at Elland Road? Cellino’s distinctly left-field appointment has upset Leeds fans similarly underwhelmed by the appointment of Junior Lewis, a one-time Leicester midfielder, as Hockaday’s assistant.
Attractive, attacking and, above all, creative, Derby were desperately unlucky to lose last season’s play-off final to QPR. Now they must bounce back from that disappointment. McClaren’s coaching has brought the best out of several exciting young players, including the coveted 19-year-old midfielder Hughes. Derby could take some stopping.
As if residing in League One was not bad enough for the 1987 FA Cup winners and founder members of the Premier League, Coventry are homeless. The Sky Blues are sharing Northampton’s Sixfields – a 70-mile round trip – following an acrimonious dispute over rent with their ground’s owners. But there is cautious optimism that a mid-season return to the Ricoh might be pencilled in.
Nine years after dropping out of the Football League, Cambridge United return to League Two courtesy of a Conference play-off victory over Gateshead. Now Richard Money, the manager, must dream of emulating John Beck who, back in the early 1990s, took Cambridge to the brink of the Premier League. Money’s side are enhanced by Chadwick, the former Manchester United midfielder who grew up in a nearby Cambridgeshire village and says he is much happier at the Abbey Stadium than he ever was at Old Trafford.
On paper the former Manchester United striker possesses one of the Championship’s strongest squads. In theory an immediate return to the top-flight for Cardiff should be something of a certainty. And yet the questions pile up: has Solskjaer signed too many players? Does he tinker with tactics and personnel too much? And is he capable of turning maverick Jones back into the formidable centre forward John Terry once dubbed his most awkward opponent?
Lee Clark has vowed there will be no repeat of last season’s 11th hour, skin of the teeth, relegation escape. Having so narrowly avoided League One, Birmingham’s manager has, at the last count, signed 11 new players this summer, with Denny Johnstone, a 19-year-old striker acquired from Celtic looking particularly promising.