As the Championship season begins to pan out, you start to realise why clubs were throwing so much money at their squads over the summer.
Make no mistake: the investment in players by Championship sides has been pretty extraordinary. Take Derby County. In the last few days of the window they paid £10m for two midfielders, Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson – £10m just like that in the space of about 48 hours.
Whether you think those players are good value for money is really besides the point. The fact is that, with Financial Fair Play affecting everyone, Derby had the finance available and saw no point in holding back. It’s no different to Middlesbrough looking at a £12m deal for Jordan Rhodes. Or Leeds United trying to spend £3m on Fernando Forestieri.
Some people will argue that the Premier League’s new and enormous TV deal is behind all this expenditure, and to an extent they’re probably right.
The figures we’re talking about next season are absolutely mind-boggling. There’s a fortune to be made. But if truth be told the Premier League has always been a goldmine for lower league clubs.
The prize for promotion is nothing new.
I reckon that two other factors are at play.
Firstly, the sight of so many clubs throwing cash around in the Championship is encouraging everyone else to do the same. After a period of what you could call austerity or cautious dealing, teams keeping their wallets closed are very much in the minority. And very much in danger of being left behind.
But beyond that, the opportunity to get promoted is absolutely glaring this season. To judge by the way the campaign has gone so far, the division is going to be more open than ever. I know we make similar noises every year but really, at this stage, who looks like the stand-out team? Who would you say is nailed on for the title?
Brighton have made the early running and they’ve got a coach who knows the Championship but I still think it’s early to be touting them as serious promotion candidates.
They’ve improved since last season, no doubt at all, but don’t forget the flying start that Nottingham Forest made last year. They were well out in front at one stage but Stuart Pearce didn’t survive long beyond Christmas.
The form of Hull and Ipswich looks ominous and they’re the sort of clubs who are guaranteed to stick around if they get a foot in the door early on. The threat to a newly-relegated side like Hull is that they muddle around for a few months and put themselves under pressure. That hasn’t happened. And it hasn’t happened to QPR either.
But Derby are off the pace and Middlesbrough have been decent without being spectacular. The way I see it, if I was Uwe Rosler I’d be pretty pleased about the way the division is shaping up. His Leeds side are among a large group who could get seriously involved in the promotion battle if their season gains some proper traction.
The number of draws in Championship matches last month probably summed up the way the entire season is going to go. Leeds had four and topped off a positive run with a great win away at Derby. That match in itself was no different – settled at the very end of the contest, just as it looked like Leeds were heading for stalemate number five.
So many fixtures are going to be like that; on-the-edge games which are decided by a mistake or a flash of brilliance. In many ways that’s the sort of campaign Rosler must be hoping for. He’s got a very decent starting XI but not so much depth in the rest of his squad so he can’t really expect Leeds to be rolling over every side they meet. But by making them competitive, which he has so far, he can genuinely hope to take something from every game they play.
I’ve heard Rosler speak about consistency so many times and there’s not a great deal of it in the Championship at the moment. Leeds, with a five-game unbeaten run, have maybe been more positively consistent than most other sides. Rosler will be keeping a lid on things but deep down I think he’ll be telling himself already that in this league Leeds have an opportunity to have a go.
And I wouldn’t disagree.