The Ageing Former Premier League Stars Enjoying a Championship Renaissance

Ross Jackson
May 16, 2020, 2:20 PM GMT+1
Hull City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship
Hull City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship / James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

In years gone by, as a footballer passed the peak of his powers he would move down the pyramid of English football and adapt the opposition to suit his ageing ability.

However, times have changed a little, and these days it seems as soon as a player turns 30, they pack their bags and it’s off to some far flung country where a team is willing to pay them £15m a year to play against the local dairy farm’s team.

However, there are a handful of players who have opted to take the old-fashioned route and are plying their trade in the English Championship, and to their credit they have been enjoying stellar campaigns.

Some of the league’s standout performers this season have been 30-something ex-Premier League stars who are on a mission to prove that – even though the legs may not have the miles in them that they once used to – they’ve still got the talent and the class to rise above the rest.

Stewart Downing

Blackburn Rovers v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship
Blackburn Rovers v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship / Rachel Holborn - BRFC/Getty Images

Former Liverpool man Downing is a curious case. Having enjoyed one of his best Premier League seasons at West Ham, the midfielder opted to drop down to the Championship with boyhood club Middlesbrough.

Expectations were high for the local lad, but he failed to have the impact most were expecting, scoring just nine goals in four seasons – despite having scored six in the Premier League season prior to dropping down to the second tier.

Downing moved on to Blackburn last summer where he would join up with fellow Boro lad Tony Mowbray, and the Blackburn boss certainly seems to have got the best out of him.  At 35, Downing has proved he still has the class and the ability to rise to the top in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

The midfielder has appeared in 34 of Rovers’ 37 league games this season, with his wand of a left foot contributing two goals and seven assists, firing Blackburn to within three points off a playoff spot.

Pablo Hernández

Leeds United v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship
Leeds United v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship / Athena Pictures/Getty Images

When Swansea City snapped up Hernández from Valencia in 2012 - every football fan in the country raised their eyebrows. When Swansea let him go two years later - there were far more than just raised eyebrows.

The Spaniard has been instrumental in Leeds’ title-chasing campaign, bagging six goals and six assist already this season, including crucial match-winning goals against Reading and Millwall.

At 35 years of age, Hernández may not possess the electric pace he once had, but his technique and skill is without question. It was no surprise to see the elder statesman rewarded with a contract extension last year which will keep him at Elland Road until 2022.

Ben Watson

Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship
Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship / Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Having spent the majority of his career in the Premier League with Wigan Athletic and then Watford, Watson moved down to the second tier with Nottingham Forest at 32. And what a decision that proved to be.

The midfield enforcer was enjoying a fantastic campaign prior to the postponement of the league, appearing in all but one of Forest’s 37 league fixtures, grabbing four goals and three assists.

With plenty of flare around him from the likes of João Carvalho and Joe Lolley, Watson does the dirty work for his team as well as keeping them ticking over in midfield. A pivotal piece of the Forest side that sits comfortably in the play-off places.

Wayne Rooney

Derby County v Manchester United - FA Cup Fifth Round
Derby County v Manchester United - FA Cup Fifth Round / James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Having tried football abroad with D.C. United, former England man Rooney returned to English football with Derby County in January 2020, and he’s certainly made an impact in England’s second tier.

The former Manchester United man already has three goals and two assists to his name in 11 league games, despite playing in a deep-midfield role.

After a disappointing start to the season, Derby’s form has certainly picked up since the arrival of Rooney, and with just five points separating them from the playoff spots, a late promotion push is far from out of the question.

Joe Allen

Stoke City v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet Championship
Stoke City v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet Championship / Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The former Liverpool man technically didn’t opt to move down to the Championship - having been relegated with Stoke City - however, since relegation in 2018, Allen has had more than one opportunity to move back up to Premier League level but opted to stay at the Potters. And they’ll be glad he did.

In a frankly dismal Stoke side, Allen is one of the rare shining lights. Michael O’Neill’s side are in genuine peril of slipping into the third tier of English football, and if they are to avoid the drop it will be in no small part down to Allen’s performances.

The 30-year-old Welshman has been the driving force in a Stoke midfield which lacks character and heart.

Harry Arter

Charlton Athletic v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship
Charlton Athletic v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship / James Chance/Getty Images

Bournemouth-loanee Arter has been loaned out to a Championship side for the past two seasons, and this year he finds himself at Craven Cottage.

Arter, who is the brother-in-law of Fulham boss Scott Parker, is exactly the kind of slick, technically gifted player needed in the midfield of a team like Fulham. In a team that bases the majority of its play on their pacey wingers Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert, service into the wide areas as quickly as possible is imperative.

Arter’s range of passing and ability to win the ball back is the perfect platform for a counter-attacking side like Fulham.