While the Championship officially ranks as England’s second tier, we firmly believe it’s second to none in the world when it comes to sheer entertainment value.
The 24-team dog fight contested over 46 games is one of the hardest slogs in professional football and – quite simply put – some can, some can’t.
Doing under the bright lights of the UEFA Champions League on a glorious pitch in the Spanish sunset is one thing, but a player’s ability is truly tested when they’re expected to replicate that same ability on a freezing Tuesday night up in Hull.
The cultured football fans among us will no doubt appreciate that the Championship is thus a breeding ground for genuinely top-tier talent.
Despite there being a select number of Premier League clubs always ready to take a punt on that promising bunch, not all are wise to the potential upside of buying from the second tier.
That’s how players like Viktor Gyokeres end up slipping through the net, heading off into Europe at bargain prices and then being inevitably snapped up down the line for twice the original transfer fee.
Still a somewhat unknown quantity to many, Gyokeres’ name alone sounds like that of a hidden gem that feels genetically modified to become world-class. The best part is that his work on the pitch continues to align with that theory.
It’s no surprise that Brighton were first to the jump when it came to the Swedish forward, signing him all the way back in 2018.
But with the Seagulls still trying to find their feet in the Premier League and not quite yet the freakish recruitment force that spawns in young ballers for fun, Gyokeres slipped through the net and left three years later, having barely been given a chance to make a splash.
Success isn’t always linear, though, and the 25-year-old is on a warpath to prove that by shattering the hands of goalkeepers across Portugal this season, after firing his way to a summer move to Sporting following a 2022-23 campaign that saw him bag 22 goals and 12 assists in 50 games.
At the beginning of 2023, Gyokeres was desperately trying to claw his way out of a goal drought in the British winter cold, taking pelters up and down the country.
Almost a year on and he’s keeping pace with Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe on the periphery of Europe’s top five leagues, getting the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea hot and bothered, and tying one of the greatest defenders of this generation up in knots.
Chelsea-linked Viktor Gyokeres twists up Pepe before scoring 🔥 pic.twitter.com/0Jslmohnmq
— GOAL (@goal) December 19, 2023
Pepe has made a career in his post-Real Madrid years of looking increasingly immortal, for Gyokeres to turn up, spin him inside out like a faulty washing machine and then stick the ball away with such ease is rather frightening.
He may as well have had a cigar in his mouth while he was at it. Effortless.
The most lethal finishers often find beauty in scoring ugly goals, but Gyokeres even manages to make that look beautiful. It must be the hair.
With 17 goals to his name in all competitions already this season – and a further eight assists to add to that – it’s clear just how devastating Gyokeres can be as both a scorer and creator in two of the most underestimated divisions in Europe.
He’s only been sunning it up in Portugal since the summer, but with Chelsea and United in dire need of some attacking spark, don’t be surprised if their heads are turned by the man with one of the most wicked right feet – and the best quiff – in European football right now.
By Mitch Wilks