Top-tier outfits dipping into the Football League for fresh talent isn’t rare, but it’s less common to see a lower-division player given a second chance in the Premier League.
Chelsea-owned Tammy Abraham’s expected loan switch from Aston Villa to Wolverhampton Wanderers reportedly collapsed on Tuesday due to the striker wanting to stay and fight for promotion. Whatever happens this season, though, it seems extremely likely that Abraham will be back in the promised land for the 2019-20 campaign.
He shouldn’t be the only one. The Championship doesn’t just develop players like Leicester City’s James Maddison and Bournemouth’s David Brooks – it is awash with footballers who have improved after stepping down from the Premier League.
Here are seven former elite-level footballers who may soon be plucked from the second rung for another turn at England’s summit:
Nine-time English international Butland was one of the most high-profile players to be relegated last term but, somewhat surprisingly, he was not snapped up by a Premier League outfit over the summer.
Butland is only 25 and has shown little sign of rawness from an ankle injury that sidelined him for over a year. He has made the sixth-most saves (75) in the division, ensuring 2018-19 hasn’t been a complete disaster for misfiring Stoke City, who rank 18th for goals scored but eighth in fewest goals conceded.
There are others in the Potteries capable of playing Premier League football – Joe Allen and Tom Ince spring to mind, Bruno Martins Indi and Ryan Shawcross certainly do not – but mid-table-standard, domestic goalkeepers are at a premium, boosting Butland’s value in English football.
Sheffield United were left a little bare in the middle of the park when Paul Coutts was struck down by injury last term, so the signing of Oliver Norwood – on a loan deal that turned permanent when the January window opened – was a priority purchase that has since established the Blades as automatic promotion contenders.
He is the pulse of Chris Wilder’s XI, playing more passes (1655) and key passes (62) than anyone else in the division. It’s no surprise that he’s been promoted in each of the past two seasons – first with Brighton & Hove Albion, and then during a temporary stay with playoff winners Fulham – but it does seem unfair that he’s never stayed long enough to make a top-level appearance.
Norwood, 27, is capable of being an unsung hero for a mid-table Premier League outfit – think a more creative version of recent Southampton departee Steven Davis – and should be available for a relatively affordable fee.
Bowen is only 22 but is a pivotal part of Nigel Adkin’s Hull City. The Hereford United product has scored 11 and assisted three times for the Tigers, meaning he has played a part in almost 40 percent of his side’s Championship goals this season.
His crossing from out wide can sometimes be a little suspect but, when his enterprising dribbling on the right flank is so penetrative, he often carves out clear chances for himself. Besides, it’s not as if teeing up the likes of Chris Martin, Nouha Dicko, and Will Keane is going to greatly increase Hull’s chances of rippling the onion bag.
For now, it makes sense for Bowen to continue his progression with Hull – he has already improved immeasurably from the teenager who made his Premier League debut under Mike Phelan in October 2016. He should be considered as attacking weaponry for newly promoted sides and relegation battlers in the near future, though.
West Bromwich Albion arguably boast the most players with Premier League ability. Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez, and Matt Phillips have all taken turns to torment Championship defenses, while Ahmed Hegazi has been predictably resolute in Darren Moore’s backline.
Perhaps the most exciting of the Baggies’ contingent, though, is Barnes. The forward, who is on loan from Leicester City, played the season’s earlier days on the left wing but has since thrived as a No. 10 in Moore’s re-jigged formation.
His explosiveness in counter-attacks – he is quick and an excellent dribbler – is one of his greatest assets. That should appeal to the punters at the King Power Stadium, but if Leicester inexplicably decide not to reward Barnes with regular minutes he will not be short of potential suitors in the Premier League.
Grealish is easily one of the best players in the Championship, and apparently attracted a bid worth £25 million from Tottenham last summer.
The midfielder seemed to mature under John Terry’s tutelage – the Chelsea legend captained Villa last season and has since moved into the dugout to assist manager Dean Smith – helping bring much-needed professionalism and physicality to a game that already had technical ability in droves.
At 23, time is on Grealish’s side, and his importance to the lineup has been made blindingly obvious by his current injury absence. However, the next step in his progress must be his basic output. Two goals and four assists are a miserly return for the well-balanced playmaker, and he would be afforded fewer liberties by Premier League rearguards.