Martyn Waghorn is an eight million pound player, you may have heard. Yes, that Waghorn, the painfully one-footed Wearsider who couldn’t hit a barn door in the top flight but worked himself into the ground anyway. The one who struggled for quality. The one Rangers sold for buttons because they needed him off the books pronto. That one.
Did we make a mistake selling him so cheaply? Did we misuse him? Or is the English Championship a league vastly overhyped with regards to the ability of its teams and players? Well, given the often vast amounts of money floating around even in the second tier down south, it does seem like it should be a good league. It’s a simple idea. Waghorn can score in a ‘better’ league, so he should be able to score even more in a ‘worse’ one.
Imagine, however, Martyn Waghorn was instead the name of a young Dutch striker making his way from the Eredivisie. Had he failed to tear it up in England, moved back to his homeland for a pittance then started scoring for fun again, it would be a familiar tale. A player who couldn’t adjust to the style of the league, somebody who was cut out for the slower pace and more open defences of the low countries.
Scotland may share a language and half a culture and government with England, but in football terms it has always been a foreign country. The Championship isn’t quite the super league that its proponents always claim. Nor is the SPFL a backwater pub league where the grandmothers of England could hit thirty-goal tallies. But there’s more to it than that - the two leagues are simply different, and it’s natural for players to be well-suited to one but not the other.
Watching a game between Sheffield Wednesday and Hull compared to, say, Hibs vs Aberdeen, it’s not the vast leap in technical quality that stands out. The players are, if anything, often more lacking in that department compared to the better teams up here. What does stand out is the vastly increased fitness, and the pace and strength of the individual players.
There’s often misconceptions even by Scottish pundits (then again, when was the last time Keith Jackson actually watched a football match, really?) Defenders are often warned to face an aerial assault and a battering, but while the referees are certainly, ahem, lenient in Scotland, few teams actually play like this anymore. In general, the ball is kept more or less on the deck, and the players can pick a pass but not make a lung-bursting run or a Jordan-esque leap. Perhaps because they go out and have ten pints and twenty fags in Ashton Lane once the match is over, but as we said - different culture.
There’s the often blanket comparison of the SPFL being around League One quality, but half the teams in the division now would probably easily scud the teams in that league. How does it compare to the Championship? Who knows? Well, what if they had English money? Who cares? They don’t.
The two leagues simply defy comparison because despite geographical proximity, they are very, very different. Some players are much better suited to one than the other. The Championship has been torn up by Darryl Murphy, Beram Kayal, Joey Barton and Martyn Waghorn, all of whom were mediocre to woeful north of the Tweed. There are a similar number of examples of the opposite.
There is certainly quality to be found in the Championship for those Scottish teams that can afford it. But simply assuming that a success in England will easily be a success in Scotland is a mistake made by many arrogant English players looking for some cheap glory only to find out how difficult it can be. We shouldn’t make the same mistake, and pick our targets based on their individual qualities as befitting our team and league instead.