IAN LADYMAN: The Championship is a murky and embarrassing league

IAN LADYMAN: The Championship is a murky and embarrassing league that drastically needs to change… with few clubs better reflecting its madness than Derby and their survival scrap

  • Derby’s last-gasp survival was one of the most dismal sights of the weekend
  • It highlighted how the Championship is now a murky, embarrassing league
  • One club executive said it is ‘the most irresponsible’ league in European football 
  • It is full of clubs chasing Premier League promotion with money they don’t have
  • Derby are still awaiting the result of one investigation into financial issues

The most dismal sight of the weekend was Derby and Sheffield Wednesday scrapping to survive in the Championship at Pride Park.

The football was rudimentary, the desperation naked. And all the while it was apt to recall what EFL chairman Rick Parry told a Government committee a year ago, not long after Covid-19 had shut down our game.

‘We need to address long-term financial issues,’ said Parry. ‘We need a plan. We need clarity. We can’t go from one bailout to another. We need to reassess the structure root and branch.’

Derby’s last-ditch survival in the Championship was the most dismal sight of the weekend

It sounded very dramatic but was also representative of the truth. Almost as soon as Parry had finished his Zoom call to the DCMS committee, a chief executive of a big club told me: ‘The Championship is the most dangerous and irresponsible environment in European football.

‘It’s packed full of clubs chasing promotion to the Premier League on the back of money they don’t have. Those who get promoted can take a breath. The rest just try not to drown.’

Saturday at Derby was a snapshot of this. Few clubs reflect better the madness of life a rung beneath the Premier League than Derby and Wednesday.

They have lost five times in the play-offs between them since 2015. They have chased the dream hard and lost.

Wage bills became unsustainable while attempts to circumnavigate financial boundaries, designed in part to protect clubs from themselves, have brought them into conflict with the EFL.

Derby, who couldn’t pay their players on time in January and February, are still awaiting the outcome of one investigation. Wednesday, meanwhile, went down on Saturday because of a six-point deduction for trying to shift profits from the sale of Hillsborough from one accounting year to the next.

It is all so murky and embarrassing.

Derby are the team who couldn’t pay their own players on time in January and February

Some fine football men have worked at these clubs. Jim Smith and Arthur Cox at Derby; Jack Charlton and Howard Wilkinson at Wednesday. We can only imagine what they would think of it all.

What’s sad is that these clubs are not alone. While we know why clubs lust so brazenly after promotion, that does not excuse it.

Football clubs do not exist only to win. They are also there to represent communities. When Derby and Wednesday fans look at their clubs now, what do they see? Little to be proud of, for sure.

It was Derby who finished up the right side of the dreaded dotted line. Rotherham and Wycombe, with the two lowest wage bills in the Championship, pushed them all the way.

At full time, a few Derby fans celebrated outside, but it was hard not to pity them. Yet another attempted takeover of their club is in the offing, but how confident can they really be of significant change?

At full-time, as a few Derby fans celebrated outside the stadium, it was hard not to pity them

Parry was right a year ago. The Championship does need to drastically change, but will it?

There were a lot of grand words spoken by a lot of grand people as football gasped for air last summer. Now the pandemic is on the retreat and clubs can start to plan for the return of paying spectators, it is very possible those promises to re-evaluate, recalibrate and reset will disappear into thin air.

Proposals for a European Super League were shot down last month amid accusations that our top clubs do not care for the football pyramid that lies beneath. Rightly so. But why should the Premier League be expected to care for the pyramid if the pyramid shows no signs of caring for itself?

Chelsea’s men to PSG’s boys 

In a recent post-match chat with a Premier League manager, Thomas Tuchel talked about how the attitude of players at Chelsea was a significant upgrade on what he experienced as coach of Paris Saint-Germain. Nothing we saw on the field last week contradicted that. 

Gutsy Evatt got big calls right after all 

Bolton manager Ian Evatt oversaw just one win in his first 11 games and was heavily criticised for telling young goalkeeper Billy Crellin to ‘man up’ after a mistake in a game against Cambridge last October.

Evatt is not yet 40 and, after joining from Barrow, this is his first job in the EFL. Many took his rudimentary comments — not to mention his early results — as proof the 39-year-old was not sophisticated enough for the role.

Bolton were promoted to League One on Saturday after a 4-1 win at Crawley and one decision made by their manager has proved very important.

Quietly, Evatt replaced Crellin in goal last November with the veteran Matt Gilks.

Bolton were promoted to League One under manager Ian Evatt after beating Crawley 4-1

Primarily at Bolton as a coach, 38-year-old Gilks had not played for almost a year, but was persuaded to return.

Since that day, Bolton have won 21 league games and Gilks has played every single minute.

It was arguably Evatt’s biggest and bravest call of the season and he got it right.

Not so dumb after all, perhaps.

Late flags show player safety means nothing 

It is two months since Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio was knocked unconscious by the knee of team-mate Conor Coady in a game against Liverpool.

It was a significant incident because it happened during one of those ridiculous phantom passages of play while we wait for an offside flag.

There were two similar incidents at Manchester City on Saturday, attackers and defenders competing at differing levels of intensity while suspecting a whistle was coming.

As we saw at Molineux, it’s a disastrously dangerous cocktail brought about by a negligent law that cares nothing for player safety.

It must be changed.

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