“Leicester could struggle to keep him because of the fact that other clubs may want him,” said Gary Neville on Sunday, clearly impressed with the “dress rehearsal” Youri Tielemans has enjoyed at the King Power Stadium. He has turned up early, remembered his lines, arranged the lighting and scenery and even managed to dress Harry Maguire appropriately.
As far as short-term loan spells of previously untested talents go, the Premier League has rarely witnessed one so impactful. There is an inherent risk that comes with any temporary signing, particularly one that has never experienced the style of football and culture of the country. The potential rewards often don’t seem worth it.
George Weah fired Chelsea to FA Cup glory in 2000, Christophe Dugarry helped rescue Birmingham in 2003, Mikel Arteta reinvigorated Everton’s Champions League qualification hopes in 2005 and Henrik Larsson “ran his balls off” at Manchester United in 2007. The first three of those four players earned permanent moves as a direct result of their influence – and it was not for the want of Sir Alex Ferguson’s trying that Larsson did not remain at Old Trafford.
Tielemans will hope to follow in those footsteps. He has already scored or assisted more goals (8) in 11 Premier League games than he has (7) in 47 Ligue Un games for Monaco, completely subverting the stereotypes surrounding both divisions. This slender 21-year-old might have struggled at a lower, more tactical standard, but he is thriving in the physicality of English football.
No player has scored more Premier League goals than Jamie Vardy (12) in 2019, only five clubs have more Premier League wins than Leicester (7) this calendar year, and only Manchester City (27) and Liverpool (25) have earned more points than the Foxes (19) since Brendan Rodgers’ appointment. Tielemans deserves as much credit as anyone for their upturn in fortunes. He might be the most courted top-flight target this summer; no-one ticks the midfield box-to-boxes in terms of availability, excellence and youth quite as effectively.
Let it not be forgotten that Fulham slammed the transfer window shut on their own fingers this year. The Cottagers were one point behind 17th at the start of January, with survival a mere game out of their reach. But they followed Claudio Ranieri’s demand for “leaders” by bringing in Havard Nordtveit (five Premier League appearances), with Lazar Markovic (one Premier League appearance in February) signed on the recommendation of Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Yet Ryan Babel has been an unfathomable success. A 32-year-old who made a Premier League career out of flattering to deceive a decade ago has been one of Fulham’s rays of light in an otherwise dark, drab campaign. This is already his best return in terms of goals and assists in England’s top flight, achieved not during a full title challenge with Liverpool but in half a relegation battle under two different managers for a promoted side.
The Dutchman’s five goals and four assists puts to shame Dele Alli (five goals, three assists), Mesut Ozil (five goals, two assists), Jesse Lingard (four goals, two assists) and Theo Walcott (four goals, two assists), all of whom have been semi-regulars for top-half clubs.
Only a handful of those connected with Fulham have kept their reputations intact this season. Babel was parachuted into a disaster zone but has still somehow managed to enhance his.
Morning.. who helps me out finding a link where i can watch Game of Thrones ?
— Ryan Babel (@Ryanbabel) April 29, 2019
It took until March 16 for Karlan Grant to become Huddersfield’s joint-top Premier League scorer this season. Just four days prior, Lyle Taylor finally pulled level with him on Charlton goals for the league campaign. The 21-year-old shared those two titles for over a fortnight, seamlessly bridging the gap between England’s first and third tiers.
Grant should not have found it this simple. Richarlison (13), Marcus Rashford (10) and David Brooks (7) are the only players aged 21 or under with more Premier League goals this season; the first cost £35m, the second has regularly led the line for a club in Champions League contention, while the third is a far more instructive comparison. But even Brooks, a player who also impressed in the lower leagues before making the step up, has had a full season in a better side than Grant.
Huddersfield’s £2m investment looks prophetical and profitable in equal measure. The Terriers acted quickly to insure themselves against relegation, giving a player who had dominated League One a few months of Premier League experience to prepare for a probable drop to the Championship. Instead of falling into the same panicked trap of many a troubled club before them, they acted with clarity and favoured long-term over short-term.
Six strikers were signed by Premier League clubs in January. Dominic Solanke, Oumar Niasse, Peter Crouch, Gonzalo Higuain and Michy Batshuayi have scored six goals and assisted one between them in a combined 49 Premier League games (2,877 minutes). Grant alone has four goals and one assist in 11 games (694 minutes).
The wait for a goal or even an assist will continue into next season for the injured Miguel Almiron, but his short spell with Newcastle has been a useful case study into the impact one player can have on an entire team’s outlook and approach. The 25-year-old has provided a tantalising snapshot of a potentially wonderful relationship.
“He’s giving us something that we didn’t have,” said Rafael Benitez earlier this month. “Something a little bit more: more sprints, more determination, more options going forward.” And most certainly more adventure, more dynamism and more belief.
Almiron has played just ten Premier League games this season, but Newcastle earned 40.4% of their overall Premier League points (17/42) and 45.4% of their entire wins (5/11), scoring 38.8% (14/36) of their total goals in that time. If the table quite weirdly only spanned the period between his debut (February 11) and most recent game (April 20), Newcastle would be third behind only Liverpool and Manchester City, with more goals than the latter.
I don’t care if Almiron never scores a goal for us, he’s a proper player, and has transformed our team. #NUFC
— Cola (@Percycola) April 20, 2019
Eyebrows were raised when Nuno Espirito Santo made one of the first truly divisive decisions of his Wolves reign. After scoring five goals and assisting 14 in the club’s Championship-winning season, Barry Douglas was sold to Leeds amid reported concerns over his defensive suitability to the Premier League.
His replacement hardly assuaged fears that Nuno had made a mistake. Jonny Castro Otto arrived last summer to almost no fanfare, being loaned out to Molineux on the same day he joined Atletico Madrid – hello, Jorge Mendes – on a permanent deal.
The peculiar nature of his move betrayed the subsequent success. The 25-year-old has made that left wing-back spot his own, earning a first Spain cap, a first Premier League goal and a first raft of plaudits that were not entirely based on him having a bit of a funny name. The move was made permanent by January with Wolves closing on European qualification; Douglas’ last Championship start in an injury-hit season was on New Year’s Day, with the Scot sidelined for their upcoming play-off push.