The lure of the Premier League is of course hard to resist for many, but the increasing popularity of playing in England has seen many professionals arrive in the Championship, safe in the knowledge that the top flight could be only a season away.
Now of course many have slated the Scottish Premier League for as long as anyone would care to remember. Not since 1985, when Aberdeen came out on top, has a side outside of the Old Firm taken the title. Rangers and Celtic have held a monopoly on the SPL and many have lost interest. That said, the top two teams in Scotland gain entry into the Champions League, even if further qualification is still a requirement for the second placed side. The desire of every player to be competing in this elite tournament is growing ever stronger and the opportunity to be playing for one of the Old Firm should not be considered a lesser option to many players.
With this in mind, perhaps the most interesting pieces of business conducted thus far in January would be the triple signing of Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Chris Killen from Celtic to Middlesbrough. In truth, both Flood and Killen have not made their mark on the first team this season and so their decisions were perhaps easier to make. However, the decision to leave a mammoth of a club like Celtic for a Championship side cannot have been as straightforward.
This therefore demonstrates the lure of the English game. Middlesbrough have lost touch with the top of the table after a positive start to the season and although there is still much football to be played, a playoff finish looks to be their best bet. In spite of this, with no guarantees of Premier League football, Boro have pulled of quite a coup in gaining these signatures.
Of course, as strong as the attraction of the English game is, these transfers are not just the result of a desire to play at the highest level. All three of these players were brought to Parkhead by Gordan Strachan, now manager of Middlesbrough. Strachan has had time to analyse his squad and the players he has at his disposal since his arrival on Teeside. He has cited the need for leadership in his side and it is with this in mind that he will make his January moves. Signing players he has worked with before, the Scot will know exactly what he’s getting and what he can expect.
If any further proof were needed of the type of player Strachan has targeted, another of his former signings at Celtic was reportedly on the verge of joining him at the Riverside until a late bid from Wigan threw a spanner in the works. Defender Gary Caldwell has also moved south of the border but has opted to join Roberto Martinez’s Latics instead of linking up with his former boss at Celtic. A solid figure at the heart of the defence, Caldwell would have served Strachan’s side well in their quest for a quick return to the Premiership. The hunt for fresh blood on the Riverside will continue.
A final thought goes to Championship strugglers Reading who have managed to overturn the odds and defeat Liverpool in their own back yard. The replay at Anfield looked to be going the way of the Reds before a dubious late penalty gave the Royals the chance to take the tie into extra time. Gylfi Sigurdsson made no mistake 12 yards and in extra time, Shane Long sent the travelling fans into raptures as he headed home in front of the Kop. The F.A. Cup may not be the priority for Reading this season as they continue to battle at the wrong end of the division, but it is certainly a welcome distraction that everyone involved with the club will take great pleasure from. For Liverpool, this season goes from failure to failure. For Reading, there is hope for the rest of the season, and a night that all those involved will never forget.