Football Features

Where are they now? Every Championship Player of the Season winner

By CJ Smith

Published: 22:00, 24 July 2023

The Championship Player of the Season is one of few awards in football virtually never won consecutively.

Reason being, the recipient typically spends their next season dining at English football’s top table: the Premier League.

Take the 2022 winner, Aleksandar Mitrovic, for example. He bagged the award for his 43 goals in 44 games to help Fulham return to the top flight so naturally wasn’t able to defend his crown. Once again it has gone to the leading goalscorer in the Championship, with Chuba Akpom netting 28 goals in the 2022/23 season, form which helped Middlesbrough secure a spot in the play-offs.

“I am super grateful,” Akpom said after receiving the award.

“It has been years of hard work to get to this stage, so I am over the moon. It’s been an amazing season but I’ve had a lot of downs, getting injured earlier in the season.

“The new manager came in at the perfect time and he probably brought out the best in me, put me in the number 10 and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”

Another curious characteristic of this particular gong, however, is the uncertain career trajectory attached. It seems some players are just perfectly suited to the second tier and struggle to repeat their strong showings in the top flight.

To illustrate this observation, below we’ve compiled a list of each season’s Championship Player of the Season since the award came into being.

2006: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield United)

Season statistics: 8 goals in 46 games

Current club: Unattached

Career value: £5m

Phil Jagielka progressed through the youth ranks at Sheffield United and made 287 appearances for the club, helping them achieve promotion in 2005-06.

The Blades were relegated after just one season but Jagielka did enough to earn a permanent move to Everton. Over the past decade, Jagielka established himself as an England international and the Toffees captain but eventually slipped down the pecking order at Goodison Park and returned to Sheffield United. Now 40, Jagielka last played in the Championship with Stoke City after a brief spell with Derby County.

2007: Jason Koumas (West Brom)

Season statistics: 9 goals, 11 assists in 39 games

Current club: Retired

Career value: £8.8m

Jason Koumas had played in the Liverpool academy at the same time as Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen, but unlike them had to forge a career in the lower leagues before earning a shot in the big time.

An exceptionally gifted attacking midfielder, Koumas earned a move to Wigan Athletic (then of the Premier League) off the back of his performances for West Brom and also turned out for Cardiff City and Tranmere Rovers before retiring in 2015.

2008: Kevin Phillips (West Brom)

Season statistics: 22 goals, 8 assists in 35 games

Current club: Unattached

Career value: £5m

The following season West Brom did secure promotion to the Premier League with the evergreen Kevin Phillips playing a pivotal role in their success by scoring 22 times in 35 games before being surprisingly allowed to leave for Birmingham City.

Phillips enjoyed three further promotions with the Blues in 2009, Crystal Palace in 2013 and Leicester City in 2014 before bringing a celebrated career to an end at the age of 40.

He most recently served as part of Gary Rowett’s backroom team at Stoke City, before South Shields appointed him as their head coach, though Phillips departed the club by mutual consent in April 2023.

2009: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolves)

Season statistics: 24 goals, 7 assists in 41 games

Current club: Retired

Career value: £2m

A Manchester United academy graduate, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake dropped down to the Championship to make a name for himself and was Wolves’ star man when they won the division in 2009, top-scoring in the process.

Ebanks-Blake found things much more difficult in the Premier League, however, scoring just 10 times in 76 appearances with Wolves before dropping out of the division in 2012.

Following a short stint at Ipswich Town, Ebanks-Blake spent the next few years playing in League One with Preston, Chesterfield and Shrewsbury Town.

He retired in 2017 in part due to long-term injury problems but spent some time playing in non-league football, last appearing for Walsall Wood. That spill didn’t last long, however, as Ebanks-Blake broke his leg for the third time in his career.

2010: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

Season statistics: 17 goals, 4 assists in 44 games

Current club: West Ham (Assistant manager)

Career value: £6m

Kevin Nolan’s on-field partnership with Andy Carroll in attack was key in helping Newcastle United bounce straight back into the Premier League in 2010 and he played his part as the club stayed up the following year.

In 2011 he dropped back down to the Championship to reunite with Sam Allardyce at West Ham, where he achieved promotion again. After leaving the Hammers in 2015, Nolan briefly held a player-manager role at Leyton Orient and was doing likewise at Notts County before he was sacked. Nolan is now back at West Ham, as a coach under David Moyes.

2011: Adel Taarabt (QPR)

Season statistics: 19 goals, 21 assists in 44 games

Current club: Al-Nasr

Career value: £4m

Blessed with outrageous natural talent, Adel Taarabt was at the very peak of his powers when QPR achieved promotion in 2011, pairing his mesmeric ability on the ball with end product as well as captaining the team.

He remained at Loftus Road until 2015, with loan spells at Fulham and AC Milan in between, prior to joining Benfica in 2015. After failing to make a single first-team appearance for the Portuguese giants, the Moroccan moved to Genoa on an 18-month loan in January 2017.

He is now back plying his trade with Al-Nasr in the UAE following a spell at Benfica where he reinvented himself as a more defensive midfielder.

2012: Rickie Lambert (Southampton)

Season statistics: 27 goals, 14 assists in 42 games

Current club: Retired

Career value: £11.5m

Southampton achieved back-to-back promotions between 2011-12, making the jump from League One to the Premier League after just one season in the Championship and Rickie Lambert’s goals were a large reason why.

Lambert continued to catch the eye in the top flight, scoring 28 goals in two seasons to earn international recognition with England and a dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool.

Things didn’t really work out for Lambert on Merseyside and after a season-long spell at West Brom, he dropped back down into the second-tier joining Cardiff City in 2016 before hanging up his boots in 2017.

2013: Matej Vydra (Watford)

Season statistics: 20 goals, 8 assists in 41 games

Current club: Viktoria Plzen

Career value: £32.85m

Despite possessing the free-scoring strikeforce of Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra, Watford narrowly missed out on promotion, losing the play-off final to Crystal Palace (thanks to that man Kevin Phillips’ winning penalty).

Vydra’s sparkling form resulted in him stepping up to the Premier League the following year as he joined West Brom. There he stayed for one year before returning to Vicarage Road.

The Czech Republic international has been on the move twice since then, lining up for Reading and Derby County in the Championship. In 2017/18, he tore it up for the Rams and was the Championship’s top scorer with 19 goals. A move to Premier League Burnley materialised but only managed 12 goals for the Clarets before leaving last summer. Vydra is now back in his native Czech Republic, playing for Viktoria Plzen.

2014: Danny Ings (Burnley)

Season statistics: 21 goals, 7 assists in 40 games

Current club: West Ham

Career value: £68.5m

Against the odds, Burnley achieved automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2014, largely thanks to the exploits of their little and large strike force consisting of Danny Ings and Sam Vokes.

Although the Clarets went down the following year, Ings’ 11 league goals attracted the interest of Liverpool, who signed him for a tribunal fee after his contract at Turf Moor had expired.

Ings’ career at Anfield was dogged by injury problems that restricted him to just 25 competitive appearances, and after a season-long loan at Southampton, the Englishman made the move permanent. Since becoming a full-time Saint, Ings thrived, scoring 46 goals altogether and earned a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England team.

His form brought a move to Aston Villa but success was much harder to find, which opened the door for a move to West Ham which hasn’t gone too well so far either.

2015: Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough)

Season statistics: 17 goals, 5 assists in 38 games

Current club: Leeds United

Career value: £14.94m

Patrick Bamford’s goals fired Middlesbrough to the play-off final but after falling to Norwich City, their attacking talisman returned to his parent club Chelsea prior to linking up with Crystal Palace the following season.

Bamford failed to much of an impression in separate six-month loan deals with the Eagles, Norwich City and Burnley but his exploits at the Riverside were clearly not forgotten as his former team splashed out to sign him in January 2017.

His second tenure at Teeside didn’t last long either, with Leeds United deciding to spend the big bucks to bring Bamford to Elland Road. He helped Marcelo Bielsa’s side return to the Premier League and has since bagged 22 goals in England’s top division, though he has been plagued by injuries.

2016: Andre Gray (Burnley)

Season statistics: 25 goals, 10 assists in 43 games

Current club: Aris

Career value: £29m

Following the departure of Danny Ings, Burnley splashed out a club-record £10m to land Andre Gray from Brentford and the former non-league striker proved to be well worth the outlay, firing the Clarets to a second promotion in two years.

Like Ings, Gray took the step-up to the Premier League in his stride and — also like Ings — was poached by a fellow Premier League club.

Watford signed the Wolverhampton-born forward last August for a club-record fee but he has yet to reach the high goalscoring standards he has set himself across the previous few campaigns. Gray only netted two Premier League goals as the Hornets suffered relegation to the Championship, but they’ve since returned, but he’s currently at Greek outfit Aris.

2017: Anthony Knockaert (Brighton)

Season statistics: 15 goals, eight assists in 45 games

Current club: Fulham

Career value: £33.54m

Brighton and Hove Albion attacking midfielder Anthony Knockaert won the award back in 2017 alongside winning promotion to the Premier League with the Seagulls.

The 28-year-old Frenchman was in scintillating form having helped Chris Hughton’s men secure a place in the top two positions in the table for virtually the entire campaign.

He was signed by the club in January 2016 from Standard Liege but Knockaert was no stranger to the English game. Despite featuring in all but one of Leicester City’s Championship games in 2013-14, Knockaert struggled to make an impression in the Premier League, playing just nine times before joining the aforementioned Belgian side in January 2015.

Knockaert returned to the Championship in 2019 on loan at Fulham, joining the Cottagers permanently at the end of the campaign after appearing 40 times and helping them to playoff success. But things haven’t really gone too well since, with Knockaert recently serving his third different loan spell away from Fulham, with Huddersfield back in the Championship.

2018: Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)

Season statistics: 16 goals, eight assists in 49 games

Current club: Tottenham Hotspur

Career value: £25m

Sessegnon may have had some tough times in the Premier League this season, but he was absolutely scintillating in the Championship as Fulham won the playoffs.

Whether he was playing on the wing or driving deep from full-back, the 19-year-old caused havoc with 16 goals and eight assists. The fact that he is still just a teenager is mind-boggling.

His performances earned Sessegnon a move to Tottenham, but he endured a slow first season at the north London club, hampered by injury. He would since join Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim on a season-long loan deal before cementing a spot in Antonio Conte’s squad – though injury hit again before the Italian was sacked.

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2019: Teemu Pukki (Norwich)

Season statistics: 29 goals and 10 assists in 43 games

Current club: Minnesota United

Career value: £5.3m

Teemu Pukki was at the heart of Norwich’s return to the Premier League last season, scoring 29 goals and recording 10 assists in 43 Championship games.

He then started his life in England’s top flight on fire, scoring five goals in his first three games. But the flame eventually went out, and Pukki was unable to help Norwich stay up, with just six more goals since that start.

2020: Ollie Watkins (Brentford)

Season statistics: 26 goals and 3 assists in 49 games

Current club: Aston Villa

Career value: £28m

For a long time, it looked as if Brentford would sign off from Griffin Park in style with promotion to the Premier League but, alas, it wasn’t to be as Thomas Frank’s side lost the playoff final to Fulham.

But to get that far, they needed the monumental attacking exploits of 24-year-old Ollie Watkins — winner of the EFL Young Player of the Year award in 2017 — who netted no fewer than 26 Championship goals across the 2019/20 campaign.

As a result, Watkins found himself at the centre of intense transfer speculation, ultimately joining Aston Villa where he would go on to score a sensational perfect hat-trick against Premier League champions Liverpool. Watkins has been brilliant in 2023 too, with 11 goals since the World Cup break ended, fighting for his spot to become a regular in the England squad.

2021: Emiliano Buendía (Norwich)

Season statistics: 15 goals and 16 assists in 39 games

Current club: Aston Villa

Career value: £36m

The undisputed choice following a spectacular campaign in which he played an integral role in Norwich returning to Premier League action. Many eyebrows were raised when Emiliano Buendía remained at Carrow Road after the Canaries most recent demotion, with north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham being among those linked with the one-time capped Argentina international, but his decision to stay made him an instant club favourite. Buendía was in relentless mode, he would finish the season being involved in 31 goals across 39 appearances, his 16 assists was a league high. He wouldn’t go up to England’s top division with Norwich instead joining Aston Villa where he’s yet to set the place ablaze.

2022: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)

Season statistics: 43 goals and 7 assists in 44 games

Current club: Fulham

Career value: £39m

As mentioned, Mitrovic earned the 2022 Championship Player of the Season for his record-breaking campaign to help Fulham sealed promotion back to the top flight. The Serbian scored more goals than any other player had in a single Championship season, netting 43 in 44 games but he also recorded seven assists, taking his goal involvements up to a round 50. The question on everyone’s lips, again, was whether he would carry that form over to the Premier League. Mitrovic started the 2022/23 campaign brilliantly with nine goals in 12 games before the World Cup break, silencing his critics. However, the Serbian netted just two in his next nine before being suspended for pushing a referee as Fulham were knocked out of the FA Cup.