The best player each Premier League club has had on loan. Simple as that. Only rule: only loans while they were in the Premier League count, which proved far more restrictive than we had naively originally thought and that we now bitterly regret. On we go, then.
ARSENAL – Yossi Benayoun
Arsenal do not have a great history with loans. Martin Odegaard is genuinely a shout as their best. Arsene Wenger’s naked mistrust of the loan system meant that across their first 27 Premier League seasons, Arsenal brought in just ten players on temporary deals and one of those was Kim Kallstrom. Another one was Thierry Henry, which was lovely and all but he played a total of 161 minutes in his brief second spell at the club. Arsenal love loans now, though. They’ve had five in the three seasons since, including two years experiencing the unique delights of Dani Ceballos. Anyway, in the middle of all that there was Yossi Benayoun who was perfectly fine. Arrived three days after the 8-2 against Manchester United, named captain for a game against Manchester City in November, scored a crucial late winner against Aston Villa in December, received a standing ovation after a north London derby win in February, and had played an important role in securing Champions League football for another season by May.
ASTON VILLA – James Milner
Did an absolutely wild amount of loaning in 2018/19 to get back up to the Premier League and had a very decent hit rate. Tammy Abraham hit 25 goals in the Championship and another against West Brom in the play-off semi-final, while Tyrone Mings is now club captain. Anwar El Ghazi and Kortney Hause have turned their loans into decent Villa careers.
But none of that was in the Premier League so none of it counts, and it’s all the way back to 2005 we go. It was as part of a clause in Nolberto Solano’s return to Newcastle that Aston Villa received his ready-made replacement. A 19-year-old James Milner was sent to work with David O’Leary for the season, the two having narrowly missed out on crossing paths at Leeds three years earlier. The midfielder’s development at St James’ Park had been stunted by the departure of Sir Bobby Robson and subsequent appointment of Graeme Souness, but he would flourish at Villa as expected.
By summer 2006 the future European champion was the subject of a tug of war. Villa, now managed by Martin O’Neill and still desperate to keep Milner, agreed a £4m move, only for Glenn Roeder’s Newcastle to renege on negotiations. He stayed – but only until 2008 when he was finally unveiled as a £12m Villa signing.
BRENTFORD – Alvaro Fernandez
This is also Brentford’s worst Premier League loan as it is Brentford’s only Premier League loan. It’s not been a great start to life in England for the Spain keeper, who has let in five goals in two games for the top-flight newbies. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be that bad – these things happen to even half-decent promoted sides at this level. But those two games were against Burnley and Norwich.
BRIGHTON – Aaron Mooy
The Seagulls have brought in only four loan players in their five seasons of Premier League football. The first three all came in their first season and the fact Izzy Brown, Leonardo Ulloa and Tim Krul combined for a total of 23 uninspiring Premier League appearances between them might explain that subsequent reluctance. Aaron Mooy was… okay, though, wasn’t he? They signed him permanently after his loan spell anyway. Then he went to China.
BURNLEY – Michael Keane
A mixed bag of loanees at Burnley, who haven’t gone back in for another temporary player since being one of approximately 713 clubs burned by a short-term move for Danny Drinkwater. There are plenty of other relatively recent misses: Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, Jon Flanagan and a pre-Leeds Patrick Bamford were all returned to sender. Their best loan signing is clearly Ben Mee, given he’s gone on to make over 200 Premier League appearances for the Clarets, but inconveniently he joined them in the Championship. So Michael Keane, then. Initially joined on loan from Manchester United and was part of the side that both got relegated from but also promoted back into the top flight, where Burnley have remained ever since. More to the point, Burnley’s £2.5m investment in January 2015 yielded a £25m profit from Everton two-and-a-half successful years later.
CHELSEA – George Weah
It is not every day that a former Ballon d’Or winner and future Liberian president rocks up to play alongside Kevin Hitchcock and Emerson Thome. Yet there Chelsea were in January 2000, unveiling George Weah on a loan deal until the end of the season. A day after joining, the forward immediately endeared himself to the fans by scoring four minutes from time in a 1-0 home win over Tottenham, before adding crucial goals against Wimbledon and Liverpool en route to finishing fifth. The forward also started the FA Cup final victory against Aston Villa, having netted in the fifth and sixth rounds at home to Leicester and Gillingham. Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato and Saul Niguez could barely lay a glove on him.
CRYSTAL PALACE – Wilfried Zaha
We got the idea for this feature from Conor Gallagher’s recent eye-catching success, and then we remembered Zaha returned to Palace from Manchester United on loan not once but twice. The second one, subsequently made permanent for an undisclosed fee of something very close to f*** all is possibly the best Premier League loan move full stop. Ah, well. A nice idea, nevertheless.
EVERTON – Kevin Campbell
Andre Gomes has been a decent recent one; Mikel Arteta was tidy enough as well going a bit further back. Steven Pienaar scores bonus points for having two separate successful loan spells at Goodison but really none of these can come close to Campbell’s impact in 1999. He didn’t even join until March in those crazy pre-transfer-window times with Everton seemingly doomed to relegation. Then he scored nine goals in the last eight games of the season, four of which Everton won, to keep them up. He was Everton’s top scorer for the campaign, which is objectively funny. Then, having made his transfer permanent that summer he scored in what was until last season Everton’s most recent win at Anfield. Scored 45 league goals for the Toffees in all, which remains enough to put him fourth on Everton’s all-time Premier League scorers list, at least until Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets back to fitness.
LEEDS – Tony Yeboah
Iconic. All right, the two goals you’re thinking of came at the start of the following season after his initial loan move from Eintracht Frankfurt had been made permanent, but those absolute touchstone early Premier League moments might never have happened without the 12 goals in 18 games Yeboah scored in that first half-season to help Leeds finish fifth behind champions Blackburn and also third-placed Nottingham Forest. It really was a long time ago now.
LEICESTER – Robert Huth
Bringing in Youri Tielemans at all, never mind charming him to the extent that he cheerfully dismissed supposed interest from Manchester United to sign permanently is a bigger coup. But few players have been as quietly influential in Leicester’s recent remarkable history as Robert Huth. The Foxes were bottom of the Premier League and three points from safety when he joined in February 2015; seven of their 11 league wins that season came in the 14 matches he started. Yet having been parachuted in as part of a rescue mission, the centre-half then helped Leicester achieve the impossible when he signed for £3m in June. He missed just three games of the following season, with Claudio Ranieri’s side conceding in each, to win his third Premier League title. Not that he was a mere defensive colossus alongside Wes Morgan: he scored late in a vital 1-0 win over Tottenham and netted twice a month later in a 3-1 victory at Manchester City. Without Huth, there is no Tielemans.
LIVERPOOL – Javier Mascherano
Brought in on loan due to the, ahem, complexities of his arrangements at West Ham and immediately added steel and bite as well as class to Liverpool’s midfield, helping them to the Champions League final in his first half-season. After a year at the club his contract situation was resolved formally and in February 2008 he signed a four-year deal at Anfield. He stayed for two more years before heading off to Barcelona, becoming a centre-back and dedicating a Champions League final win over Manchester United to Liverpool fans.
MANCHESTER CITY – Marc-Vivien Foe
“I have to say at this moment that the two clubs are a long way apart,” said Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards in May 1998, the Premier League runners-up having seen Lens reject a £3m bid for midfielder Foe. The Cameroon international missed out on the chance to take David May’s place in the Treble celebrations 12 months later, but would eventually find his way to Manchester by 2002. Kevin Keegan’s City had just been promoted as First Division champions and sought the temporary services of the Lyon midfielder, who would score the club’s final goal at their Maine Road Stadium the following April. Foe’s devastating death two months later in June, the 28-year-old collapsing on the pitch during a Confederations Cup game against Colombia, came as City were negotiating his permanent signing.
MANCHESTER UNITED – Carlos Tevez
As good as Andy Kellett was, and as impactful as William Prunier remains, Carlos Tevez was crowned a Premier League, European and world champion at Old Trafford. Henrik Larsson might have induced standing ovations after dropping back to play in midfield against Middlesbrough, but he was usurped a season later. Tevez joined on a two-year loan in 2007, scoring 34 goals in 99 games, netting the opening penalty in the 2008 Champions League final shootout and becoming the sh*thouse Robin to Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney’s Batmen.
The Argentine would eventually boil all of the p*ss by crossing the city divide upon his 2009 departure, but he left after winning almost every honour available to him. That elusive FA Cup would soon arrive under Roberto Mancini before he started kicking up another fuss.
NEWCASTLE – Joe Willock
It still remains to be seen precisely what Newcastle’s future looks like as the richest club in the world, but that they are just about here in the Premier League to find out is due in some small part to Willock. Newcastle were still just two points clear of the dropzone with nine games to go, but took 17 points from those nine games to ease well clear of trouble by the end. Willock scored seven goals in those nine games, including a late winner against West Ham and late equalisers against Tottenham and Liverpool. Rewarded with a permanent deal, which has gone less well.
NORWICH – David Bentley
Norwich have not had very good Premier League loans. Prove us wrong, Billy Gilmour. Prove us wrong.
SOUTHAMPTON – Ryan Bertrand
Theo Walcott’s return has been A Nice Thing, and while the results were adequate enough for everyone to breathe a sigh of relief that it hadn’t been a disaster, it’s not been great either has it? Southampton’s best loan was a right touch – it is not every day you find yourself loaning a Champions League winner. Ryan Bertrand’s surprise star turn for Chelsea in the 2012 final led to no regular place at Stamford Bridge, with the remainder of his half-century of Chelsea appearances remembered by few. Ronald Koeman liked what he saw: the left-back arrived in July 2014, signed for £10m the following February and was a PFA Team of the Year member by April.
TOTTENHAM – Jurgen Klinsmann
Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham took too long to come to life, only fully doing so once Jose Mourinho had been forcibly removed from the situation. Bale’s ten goals in his final 12 Premier League appearances stopped the whole thing being a bad job, but also left an inevitable sense of what could have been.
No such conflicting thoughts exist about Klinsmann’s brief return to north London in 1998, in which it’s no exaggeration to say he saved Spurs from the drop. His 30 goals in 1994/95 came for a team with genuine aspirations, but nine goals in 15 games – including four in a safety-securing 6-2 nonsense against Wimbledon – were probably more important in the long term. That he proceeded to stroll off into the sunset straight after made the reunion all the more fleetingly romantic. Shame his doppelgänger cropped up in America a little while after.
WATFORD – Gerard Deulofeu
Fair to say Deulofeu’s career in England was one of unfulfilled promise but after initially joining Watford on loan from Barcelona in January 2018 and doing enough to win a permanent move that summer he had his one truly productive year of Premier League football in 2018/19 with ten goals and five assists helping the Hornets to an 11th-place finish. He and Watford both rather tailed off the following season, but we’ll say no more about it.
WEST HAM – Tomas Soucek
Yeah, this is one of the very best ones, isn’t it? Signed for West Ham on loan from Slavia Prague on January 29, 2020. That night West Ham lost 2-0 to Liverpool and sat 17th in the table, just barely above Watford and Bournemouth on goal difference. Soucek helped keep them up and has since formed a fabulous central-midfield partnership with Declan Rice that has already taken West Ham from relegation scrappers to European qualifiers and now has them bothering the Champions League places. Not all down to him, sure, but he’s a pretty massive part of one of English club football’s more astonishing recent transformations.
WOLVES – Raul Jimenez
Thirteen Premier League goals in his first season at Wolves on loan from Benfica helped Nuno Espirito Santo’s newly-promoted side finish seventh and qualify for Europe. Seventeen the following season as a permanent signing – plus ten further goals in Europe – helped them repeat that finish. Now back in action after a horrifying head injury that was as much the reason as anything else for Wolves’ relatively poor season last time around.