Tomorrow a football competition starts in London featuring ambitious and enigmatic billionaire owners from across the globe, a cosmopolitan array of managers — including two Champions League winners — and some of the most exciting young players in England. But this isn't the Premier League.
It is, of course, the Championship. English football’s second tier shoot-out for the top flight’s millions kicks off on Friday evening when recently relegated Newcastle visit Fulham.
The fixture is a good example of the modern Championship landscape: two accomplished foreign managers, including Rafael Benitez whose last job was with Real Madrid; two teams featuring both full internationals and young English prospects; and two owners wildly successful in business currently struggling to achieve the same results in sport.
Mike Ashley’s Newcastle have spent £33m on new players this summer — nearly 40 per cent of the division's total — in a bold bid to earn an immediate return to the top tier. With Benitez steering the ship it is expected to pay off, yet Fulham’s Shahid Khan learned the hard way that big spending is no guarantee of success in the Championship after staking a record £11m on Ross McCormack following relegation in 2014 to little return.
Whereas Championship dugouts were once more characterised by wizened former pros calling the shots, nine teams are now managed by foreign bosses such as Reading, who have given former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam his first managerial role, Huddersfield Town, managed by former Jurgen Klopp assistant David Wagner and Nottingham Forest, who appointed French former Real Sociedad boss Philippe Montanier to the role in June.
Nine managers in the division have previous experience in the Premier League including the once-highly-rated Gary Monk at Leeds, Owen Coyle at Blackburn and Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa.
The increasingly diverse nature of the league’s coaching staff may be a natural extension of the influx of foreign owners, some of whom have introduced unorthodox approaches to reaching the Premier League’s £8bn treasure chest.
Massimo Cellino, the eccentric Leeds owner, can be relied on for a series of eye-popping decisions every season, as can Cardiff’s Vincent Tan, while Nottingham Forest’s Kuwaiti benefactor Fawaz Al-Hasawi is said to be on the verge of selling the former European champions to shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis, a man accused of match-fixing and directing a criminal organisation in his native Greece.
Elsewhere the Midlands has received an influx of investment from China this summer, with businessman Tony Xia taking over Aston Villa for £76m and investment company Fosun International, who have links to super-agent Jorge Mendes, buying Wolves for £45m.
Sheffield Wednesday, Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Birmingham and Blackburn have also become the vehicles of foreign investment, to varying degrees of success.
The attraction is obvious: a top six finish and subsequent Premier League promotion could be worth at least £170m.
Yet with such a variety of central characters engaged in such heated competition, predicting the outcome of this Championship season looks far less clear.