Exciting talent in the Championship does not just impact England’s second tier, these players act as potential pointers towards the next generation of Premier League stars.
2020 saw the likes Ollie Watkins, Jarrod Bowen, Eberechi Eze and Said Benrahma make the leap from tier two to tier one and look at home in the top-flight.
With a new calendar year on the way, Sportsmail shortlists the next potential Championship stars who could end 2021 in the top-flight – either through the transfer market or through their own side…
Said Benhrama (L) and Ollie Watkins (R) both swapped Brentford for the top-flight in 2020
Jarrod Bowen (L) and Eberechi Eze (R) also moved to the Premier League from the second tier
Ivan Toney (Brentford)
Linked team: Tottenham
Brentford have a knack of producing players ready for the top-flight. The west Londoners have helped develop James Tarkowski, Neal Maupay, Ezri Konsa and John Egan over the years and the Premier League production line does not look like slowing down.
The Bees sold former striker Watkins to Aston Villa this summer for around £30million and used that money to fund a transfer for Peterborough United man Ivan Toney – who was last season’s League One Player of the Year.
The 24-year-old has settled into life at Brentford very easily and currently leads the Championship top scorers list with 16 goals in his first 19 matches.
Ivan Toney (middle) has been a star for Brentford this season with 16 goals in 19 matches
Before making the switch from Posh to west London, Toney had caught the eye of Tottenham Hotspur through their scout David Pleat – who urged Spurs owner Daniel Levy to sign the League One striker over the summer.
Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony told the Hard Truth podcast this month: ‘David Pleat saw Ivan Toney as a no-brainer. He thought the cost was low, his wages would be low, he would be an easy addition to the Tottenham squad.
‘He was a good age and if it didn’t come off for Tottenham they would probably sell him double the money to a Championship team.’
Toney was wanted by Jose Mourinho’s Spurs but they signed Carlos Vinicius (right) instead
Jose Mourinho’s Spurs opted to bring in Benfica’s Carlos Vinicius on a loan deal as back-up for first-choice Harry Kane, though the Premier League side do not have a deal in place to make the Brazilian’s deal permanent.
Should Spurs opt to let Vinicius go at the end of the season, the north Londoners could return for Toney after his excellent form for Brentford in the second tier.
Emiliano Buendia (Norwich)
Linked team: Arsenal
Earlier this month, Arsenal sporting director Edu revealed the Gunners’ priority position to aim for during the January transfer window – an attacking midfielder to connect the heart of their side to their misfiring attack.
While they missed out on Hungarian midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who moved to RB Leipzig from Salzburg in December, a potential back-up option could well be Norwich City’s Argentinian midfielder Emiliano Buendia.
Norwich City midfielder Emiliano Buendia is a reported target for Arsenal this window
The Argentinian was impressive for Norwich last season despite their top-flight relegation
While the 23-year-old was part of the Canaries side who was relegated from the top-flight under Daniel Farke last season, Buendia’s statistics showed that he was more worthy of a spot in a Premier League side than some of his Norwich team-mates.
The Argentinian’s key pass rate of 3.3 per match last season was bettered only by Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne while he created 70 chances for Norwich last season – only the Belgian midfielder and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold managed more.
Buendia has been linked with a move to the Emirates for some time but only recently has the player’s representatives commented on a potential move.
The midfielder’s representative recently hinted the player wants to move to north London
The midfielder’s management company, Twenty Two Sports Management, appeared to hint that the player wants to move to north London after an Arsenal fan brought up the move via Instagram.
Time will tell if the Gunners opt to move for the 23-year-old, but Buendia seems a good fit given Mikel Arteta’s problems.
Michael Olise (Reading)
Linked teams: Arsenal, Chelsea, Leeds, Liverpool, Wolves
Reading have been the surprise package in the Championship this season – many expected the Royals to be in the bottom half but are in the play-off mix as we roll into the New Year.
Manager Veljko Paunovic has done well to promote several young players into regular first-team stars at the Madjeski Stadium, with attacking midfielder Michael Olise the most eye-catching talent after a breakthrough season last temr.
In his first 19 matches, the 19-year-old has four goals to his name while he has also registered six assists – no other player in England’s second tier has more sucesssful lay-offs than him.
Attacking midfielder Michael Olise (middle) has been a big part of Reading’s rise this season
This rise in form has led to several top-flight sides interested in the France U18 international, including Chelsea who had Olise on their books during his youth development days.
Olise, who was also at Manchester City earlier on in his career, is said to be wanted by Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool – according to Berskhire Live – while Wolves are long-term admirers of the 19-year-old.
Josh King (Bournemouth)
Linked clubs: Aston Villa, West Ham, Newcastle
When Bournemouth were relegated from the top-flight, Norwegian striker Josh King was the key Cherries player wanted by several top-flight sides.
Under new Bournemouth boss Jason Tindall, who was former boss Eddie Howe’s assistant at the Vitality Stadium, King has played a bit-part role on the south coast and is goalless from six Championship appearances this season.
Top-flight clubs could return for Josh King (right) despite a lack of game time at Bournemouth
Though several top-flight clubs appear to remain interested in the 28-year-old, who hit double digit Premier League goal tallies in two out of Bournemouth’s four seasons in top-flight starting in 2016.
According to the Birmingham Mail, Aston Villa have identified King as a January target as they look to support Watkins and Keinan Davis in the striker department at Villa Park.
The report says Newcastle are also interested in bringing in King this winter while West Ham were heavily linked with the forward on October’s deadline day, but opted to sign Brentford’s Benrahma instead.
Joao Pedro (Watford)
Linked clubs: Liverpool and Manchester United
Teenage winger Joao Pedro has enjoyed a promising first full season at Watford after arriving at Vicarage Road in January of this year.
After the Hornets’ relegation from the top-flight, the 19-year-old has been promoted to a regular starter under new manager Vladimir Ivic and has five goals in Watford’s first 16 matches this season.
Pedro has showed brilliant trickery and expert finishing for the Championship side, with his most impressive goal to date coming as a late winner against Derby in October.
Teenage Brazilian winger oao Pedro has been an impressive figure for Watford this season
Before he sealed his move to Watford, Sportsmail revealed that both Liverpool and Manchester United made enquiries into the Brazilian’s availability in 2019 but the attacker had already agreed a deal with Watford.
If Pedro continues his good form in England’s second tier, it won’t be long until Premier League sides – including big clubs mentioned above – re-register their interest in the Brazilian.
Tyrese Campbell (Stoke City)
Linked clubs: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Burnley
It would have been a shame if Kevin Campbell’s footballer son had not turned into a regular goalscorer.
But 20-year-old talent Tyrese is starting to make a name for himself at Stoke City after several years on the sidelines at the bet365 Stadium.
Campbell Junior has been a major reason why Michael O’Neill’s side have transformed themselves from relegation candidates to top-six outsiders in 2020 and a couple of Premier League sides are eyeing up the striker as a potential forward option for the second-half of the season.
Tyrese Campbell (left) may be injured but he is still a Championship player to watch in 2021
Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves are in need of a striker following Raul Jimenez’s fractured skull and various whispers have linked Campbell to a Molineux move this summer.
Meanwhile, Burnley are also looking to improve their attacking options this winter after scoring just six times in 11 matches so far this season.
However, Campbell picked up a serious knee injury in December so his development towards the Premier League may have to wait until next season.
Todd Cantwell (Norwich)
Linked clubs: Leeds, Fulham
Todd Cantwell was another Norwich player who did not deserve to be relegated last season.
The 22-year-old put in some impressive displays in the top-flight, scoring six goals for Farke’s side and that form resulted in some interest for him over the summer.
Leeds United were the frontrunners for Cantwell during the extended summer transfer window but an Elland Road move failed to materialise for the England youth international.
Todd Cantwell was a big figure at Norwich last term but stayed with the club in the second tier
Whites chief Victor Orta confirmed in October that Cantwell is still on their radar, hinting at a potential January pursuit.
The sporting director told the Yorkshire Evening Post: ‘We analyse all the players. We know them really well, their clubs were our rivals.
We analysed (Cantwell) in the Premier League. But it’s like a lot of players we’ve analysed.’
Fulham were another side interested in Cantwell in 2020 but the Cottagers reportedly baulked at Norwich’s £30million asking price. The midfielder could be subject to another approach in 2021, but Scott Parker’s side will need to show they will be Premier League regulars.
Omar Richards (Reading)
Linked clubs: Crystal Palace, West Ham
Another Reading star potentially on the move in 2021 is full-back Omar Richards who has become a regular at the Madjeski Stadium this year.
The England Under-21 international has been virtually ever-present in the Royals’ rise up the Championship table and Premier League duo West Ham and Crystal Palace appear to have demonstrated an interest.
Reading full-back Omar Richards’ stock is growing in the Championship this season
Local reports in Berkshire claim that Reading need to offload one of their first-team stars due to Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations with left-back Richards touted as a potential exit.
Though a January transfer looks off the cards as the 22-year-old picked up an injury in December, which may not sit well with the Hammers or the Eagles.
Ismaila Sarr (Watford)
Linked clubs: Manchester United, Crystal Palace
Many thought Ismaila Sarr would have been the first to leave Watford after the Hornets were relegated from the Premier League, but the Senegalese international ended up staying with the Championship club despite high-profile links to top sides.
Reports over the summer claimed Liverpool, Manchester United and Crystal Palace were all interested in the £40million-rated winger, but a move could not be fashioned by any of the teams.
Winger Ismaila Sarr surprisingly opted to stay at Watford despite their relegation last season
Jurgen Klopp’s champions signed Diogo Jota from Wolves so are not expected to come back in for Sarr but Manchester United and Crystal Palace could renew their interest in January.
Watford team-mate Andre Gray expects clubs to come in for Sarr this winter but hopes the Hornets do not part ways with him for the sake of their promotion push.
Gray said in November: ‘The proof’s in the pudding with Isma. He’s a beast, simple as that. He’ll win us more games than than you can imagine. Even if he’s not scoring or assisting, if anyone watches games and understands football, they will understand the effect that he brings to the game.
The Senegalese winger (middle) has scored three goals and laid on four assists this season
‘He’s a game winner, even when we’re not playing that well, he’s like our Messi. He is one of them players that you just give him the ball, and just let him do what he’s doing.
‘We’re gonna have a lot of problems with the club if if they let him go in January because of the effect that he has and if the club are really serious about getting promoted then he’s the person that we need. Beyond that, I’m sure clubs are going to come in, regardless.
Sarr, who was a £30million signing from Rennes last season, has registered three goals and four assists in the Championship so far this season.
PS… there’s interest from Europe too!
There is even potential 2021 interest in several Championship stars from Europe’s top leagues. Brentford’s Marcus Forss, who made his Finland debut earlier this year, is reportedly a target for Borussia Dortmund, while fellow attacker Bright Osayi-Samuel of QPR could join Celtic in the New Year.
Barcelona are still believed to be keeping tabs on Norwich’s Max Aarons after missing out on the right-back over the summer.