The Contrasting Fortunes of the Premier League’s Loan Young Guns

As the January window approaches the internet and newspapers are full of speculation and rumours about the latest possible moves.

This is the time of year when many of the big clubs look to send their hot young talent out on loan. Most are out of the League Cup by now and many of the Under 21 teams are no longer in the EFL Trophy either. That means football can be limited for the emerging teenagers from top-flight clubs.

However, a wrong move can shatter the confidence and reputation of an exciting young player permanently. It’s a minefield in which clubs can see talent lose value, or they can go out and come back a completely different player.

Take two loan spells outside of the top two divisions last season: Herbie Kane and Kazaiah Sterling. Kane was a little-known Liverpool youngster who made the move to Doncaster Rovers; a low-key switch intended to give him some experience. Instead of merely getting stronger and wiser, Kane exploded onto the scene and earned a new Liverpool contract.

His performances brought 38 appearances and four goals, with the BBC reporting how he’s now on loan in the Championship. Young players in the second-tier are often the cream of the crop, as the exploits of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Harvey Barnes proved last season.

Contrast that with the fortunes of Spurs striker Sterling. He joined Sunderland in January 2019 looking to push for a place in Spurs’ senior squad. Instead, he flopped with just eight outings to his name. TBR Football suggested he should be worried for the future and, with another failed loan spell at Doncaster now on his record, that proves to be the case.

Manchester United have a decent record with their young players; Axel Tuanzebe did well for Aston Villa, whilst stopper Kieran O’Hara is currently excelling at Burton. The Red Devils aren’t in the best of places right now, despite a recent good run in the top flight. In order to begin their return to their former glory days, United will need to revert back to what made them a championship winning team. They will need to start by calling on some of that young talent like Bwin News highlighted during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. Ferguson was famous for picking out young talent, with his picks averaging 152 Premier League appearances. An instinct that allowed him to build multiple Premier League winning teams

It doesn’t always work out for them though, as Matty Willock went to both St Mirren and Crawley without success and has recently been released, securing a move to League One Gillingham. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson managed a few Premier League outings for them too, but poor spells with Scunthorpe and Tranmere have left his future up in the air.

What makes such loans fail or succeed? To some degree, the team a player opts to move to has some say in the quality of the move, perhaps more so than the player’s ability or character. Sheffield United took Ben Woodburn last season but didn’t play a system which could accommodate his skills. That left him at a crossroads and he reappeared with Oxford in League One, whom he is currently helping to a promotion challenge in a style of play that fits him better.

Josh Cullen is close to being offered a new deal by West Ham according to Hammers News, this despite not playing for them since 2017/18. The reason? His form at Charlton Athletic with whom he won promotion to the Championship last season. Conor Coventry, another highly-rated West Ham prospect, has recently joined Lincoln City on loan and will be hoping for a similar boost to his career.

It’s certainly a big step for any young player to make, coming out of Under 23 football into the big, wide world. Some thrive and go on to reach their potential, whilst others crash and burn, finding themselves nothing more than a reserve at Gillingham within 18-months.


By: Tom Peters

Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images