The 2023-24 Championship season is just around the corner and relegated trio Leicester City, Leeds United and Southampton are among the favourites to go straight up.
It’s not always the case but a wage bill at the higher end of the scale tends to translate to on-field success in the Championship, and the relegated sides all feature a number of well-paid stars.
We’ve had a look through the figures on Capology and put together this top 10 of the top earners in the second tier in 2023-24.
10. Georginio Rutter (Leeds United, £70k)
Leeds did some seriously questionable business in the latter days of former sporting director Victor Orta, but arguably the most head-scratching decision of all was to sign Rutter from Hoffenheim for a club-record for £35.5million in January– and then barely play him as they limply battled against the drop.
Their squad was crying out of a centre-forward but ended up splashing the cash on a promising sort-of-forward-sort-of-winger, with that lack of clarity ultimately symptomatic of the club’s downfall. Rutter made just one Premier League start and totalled 266 minutes in total.
The 21-year-old has been linked with a move back to Germany, but for now it looks as though he’s set to stay at Elland Road and play a part in Daniel Farke’s rebuild project.
He earns as much as team-mate Patrick Bamford, Southampton’s Joe Aribo and Leicester’s Jannik Vestergaard but we’re including him due to the length of his contract – his deal runs until 2028, and Leeds really can’t afford for their record-signing not to come good in the Championship.
=7. Patson Daka (Leicester City, £75k)
Zambia international Daka arrived at the King Power from Red Bull Salzburg back in 2021 with a reputation as one of the most promising young attackers in Europe.
He’s shown more than a few flashes of that potential over the past couple of years, but the Foxes might’ve been justified in expecting more than just four league goals last term.
Everton and Roma have been tipped to make an approach for the 24-year-old, but a year proving himself consistently in the second tier might be the best thing for him.
If Leicester can get the alchemy right around him, Daka could be a game-changer at this level.
=7. Dennis Praet (Leicester City, £75k)
Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison may have left to sign for Premier League clubs, but new Leicester boss Enzo Maresca still boasts the core of a squad that was widely regarded as too good to go down.
Torino have reportedly had a bid turned down to sign Praet, with Leicester said to be holding firm over the Belgian midfielder’s £7million asking price.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll still be at the club after the transfer window closes. Last season wasn’t his best, but Praet’s technical ability could make him a major asset for Leicester in 2023-24.
=7. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, £75k)
Get used to Leicester players. This is a running theme.
Outstanding as Leicester won the FA Cup and narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League, Ndidi is one of the players widely expected to move on in August.
The Nigeria international has featured in the Foxes’ pre-season tour of Asia but Nottingham Forest are among his suitors. Leicester value him at £20million. Watch this space.
=4. Boubakary Soumare (Leicester City, £80k)
Former France Under-21 international Soumare was sensational as Lille upset the odds to beat PSG to the Ligue 1 title back in 2020-21. It’s frankly ludicrous that two years he’s lining up for a season in the Championship.
Signed for a £17million fee in the same summer that Daka arrived, Soumare hasn’t quite lived up to his billing amid Leicester’s struggles. But the midfielder’s proven pedigree could yet see him move to a top European club – Napoli are said to be eyeing up an approach.
=4. Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, £80k)
With 196 Premier League appearances under his belt, Iheanacho is vastly experienced and among the top earners in Leicester’s squad.
The 26-year-old has one year remaining on the three-year extension he signed back in 2021, so it wouldn’t be a major shock to see Leicester take this last viable opportunity to cash in on the striker.
Reports suggest that Everton are on the verge of tabling a bid. Don’t count your chickens on Iheanacho remaining a Championship player come September.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) July 28, 2023
=4. Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City, £80k)
We told you there’d be a lot of Leicester here, didn’t we?
Pereira signed his last contract extension back in February 2022, and he remains tied down at the King Power until 2026. He was once regarded as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League, but you imagine his injury record has discouraged any interested parties – he started just five league matches last term.
It looks as though Pereira will stay put. If he can be kept fit, it sounds as though he’ll be a vital player for the project Maresca is building.
“We want to have the ball, we want to be patient. We want to wait for the right time to attack and to find the free man. It will take some time, but we still have two weeks before the first game. We will be ready on August 6.”
3. Jack Harrison (Leeds United, £90k)
This could easily have been yet another Leicester entry. Leeds accepted a £22million bid for Harrison in January, and the winger even went as far as having a medical with Leicester – before they pulled the plug at the 11th hour.
“It was strange to say the least. Everyone knows what happened, there was a lot of drama,” Harrison told The Telegraph.
“As a player it was the most vulnerable I’ve felt. It was a big eye-opener to what goes on behind the scenes with football. When I got the call [telling him the deal was off] I had to accept it straight away. You have to accept the chaos and move forward.”
In April, Harrison signed a new five-year deal at Elland Road and he’s now Leeds’ top earner following the departure of Rodrigo.
But there are flutterings that the contract contains a release clause – given Leeds’ precarious situation at the time, Harrison would’ve been brave/stupid (delete as applicable) to sign one without.
It’s not at all unlikely that Harrison moves back to the Premier League in the coming weeks. It would be a big blow for Farke to lose one of Leeds’ best and most consistent performers, but the club are well-stocked in wide areas and the transfer fund and alleviated wage bill could be spun as a positive.
2. James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, £100k)
Valued as the most valuable player in the Football League, Southampton’s automatic promotion hopes arguably rest on their homegrown hero staying put at St. Mary’s.
England international Ward-Prowse has made over 400 appearances for Saints since making his debut all the way back in 2011.
West Ham United have the windfall of £105million to play around with and Ward-Prowse is among their targets to replace Declan Rice. Expect the free-kick specialist to continue dominating the gossip columns until the window closes.
West Ham are expected to go back in with an improved offer for James Ward-Prowse after their first £20m bid was rejected. 💰
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) July 28, 2023
1. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City, £140k)
It makes total sense that Vardy will be the Championship’s top earner, doesn’t it?
A Leicester City hero, a Premier League centurion, a title-winner and Golden Boot winner. Even at the age of 36, you’d back Vardy to score shedloads in the second tier.