- By Archie Griggs – TFN Coumnist
Last weekend, football fans up and down the country were in seventh heaven as the Sky Bet Football League season returned to brighten up our weekends, with a 9 month long roller-coaster ride of elation, despair, and unpredictability. However, there has been no break from the action for managers, backroom staff and chief executives, as they have been shaping up their squads by bringing in new faces and clearing out the dead wood. This summer has given us one of the most exciting transfer windows in recent years, with teams looking stronger and more competitive than ever. So – what were the best bargain buys, marquee signings, and top loan deals to come out of the Championship this pre-season gone by?
Stewart Downing – West Ham United to Middlesbrough – £5.5m
Hailed as one of the signings of the summer, wide man Downing was given a hero’s welcome as he returned to his hometown club for an honest fee of 5.5 million pounds. Last season Boro missed out on promotion to the Premier League at the final hurdle – falling to a Play-Off final defeat at the hands of Norwich City – and will surely still be feeling the heartache from the cruel nature of the end-of-season lottery. But Stewart Downing’s arrival has flooded the club with a tidal wave of optimism, as well as adding a touch of Premier League quality to their already strong squad. A top signing, and a real statement of intent which will be sure to have every other Championship club looking nervously over their shoulder.
Brett Pitman – Bournemouth to Ipswich Town – Undisclosed
Last year, Ipswich gained a reputation for tearing apart opposition defences with a formidable forward line; strikers Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick and Freddie Sears scoring over 40 goals between them. However, Town boss Mick McCarthy will be hoping that the signing of striker Pitman on a three-year contract will take the Tractor Boys’ attacking talent to the next level. The man from Jersey scored 14 goals over the course of the previous campaign with Bournemouth – which is an impressive feat considering he was, more often than not, kept out of the starting side by Callum Wilson and Yann Kermorgant. He also offers valuable experience, and is expected to act as cover for the ageing Daryl Murphy, who turns 33 next year. Brett Pitman’s ability to come off the bench and change games could prove crucial in the 2015/16 campaign, as the Blues aim to go one better than last season and join the country’s elite in the Premier League.
Andreas Weimann – Aston Villa to Derby County – Undisclosed (in the region of £3m)
New Rams boss Paul Clement has already gained a reputation for being able to sign top players; Darren Bent, Tom Ince and former West Bromwich Albion man Chris Baird to name but a few. But the capture of forward Weimann from Aston Villa just about takes the biscuit. A proven player at both Premier League and international level, he is largely expected to become the spearhead of a new-look Derby attack, which manager Clement will be hoping will fire them back to the big time after a seven-year absence. His searing pace, goalscoring ability and obvious Premier League quality will prove vital to the Rams this campaign as they look to improve on last season’s disappointing eighth placed finish.
Sol Bamba – Palermo to Leeds United – Undisclosed
Since owner Massimo Cellino took over last year with some serious financial backing, Leeds United are beginning to establish themselves as a force in the transfer market – battling off fierce competition to sign the likes of Chris Wood and winger Stuart Dallas from Brentford. New boss Uwe Rosler is looking like the right man to take the club forward, and he has shown that by acquiring the services of centre-half Sol Bamba on a permanent basis. The 6’3 Ivorian played for the Yorkshire club on loan during the second half of last season, and helped to steer them clear of the relegation battle to a comfortable mid-table finish. He produced one of the performances of the season from any player during United’s 1-0 win away to Middlesbrough, with a superb display of physical and tactical defending. And having already been given the captain’s armband at Elland Road, he will be looking to build a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league.
These are just a few of the many impressive signings made by Championship clubs during pre-season. The league is looking more and more competitive each season, with the bar constantly being raised in terms of quality and excitement – and this year looks to be no different. The 2015/16 Sky Bet Championship has just began, and it is set to be a thriller.