Remember that loan signing who came in to turn around your team’s season? Or the midfielder who bagged a hatful of goals and assists before being recalled by their parent club? Or the forward who signed when everyone thought they should slip away into retirement — only to prove doubters wrong?
We tasked our reporters to select the best loan signing of the Premier League era for their teams — ideally, but not necessarily, a player who performed in the top flight itself. There are some obvious picks, some lesser-spotted selections and, frankly, some default choices through lack of options.
Here we go then. Please feel free to disagree wholeheartedly with their picks in the comments section…
Arsenal have not tended to dip into the loan market frequently during their time as a Premier League club.
Alex Song deserves a mention among one of the club’s more successful loan additions. Initially impressing Arsene Wenger in a trial, he was taken on loan from Bastia for the 2005-06 season and then signed permanently the following summer.
His development from a functional defensive midfielder who sometimes filled in at centre-back to dictator of Arsenal’s midfield was incredible. His 2011-12 season was littered with exceptional passing displays and he was very much part of Robin van Persie’s success that year.
Speaking strictly on loan players, however, Thierry Henry steals the show. It is very rare that the signing of a 34-year-old striker — on loan from New York Red Bulls in 2012 — garners as much excitement as this did, but it was all warranted.
Although his big return came in the League Cup against Leeds United, he still managed to leave a mark in the Premier League. Scoring the last-minute winner in his final league game for Arsenal against Sunderland was magical.
Helping Arsenal keep in touching distance (10 points) of Tottenham Hotspur in third before overtaking them later in the season doesn’t hurt either.
Art de Roche
Two of Villa’s current starting XI — Tyrone Mings and Philippe Coutinho — are contenders but it’s more fun to look back at those who really were just borrowed.
Icelandic midfielder Joey Gudjonsson dazzled in 2003 but is best remembered for a horrendous lunge on Matthew Upson, earning a red card in a miserable derby defeat against Birmingham City.
Robbie Keane scored a sensational late winner against former club Wolves but only played six league games for Villa.
Ross Barkley briefly looked like a world-beater in 2020-21 but quickly faded.
Honourable mentions go to Tammy Abraham, a Championship goal machine, and Pepe Reina, who helped Villa stay up in 2020.
But the winner?
Back in January 2011, Villa had a defensive injury crisis and loaned Kyle Walker, who had barely played in the top flight, from Tottenham.
Across 18 games in all competitions, he demonstrated why he would become an England regular and win a bucketload of trophies for Manchester City, performing excellently at right-back and linking up well with the likes of Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton on his flank.
He helped propel the club to 9th in the table with a late flurry of wins. It’s still Villa’s last Premier League top-half finish.
For a club that gets a lot of stick for its permanent transfer business in the Premier League, Bournemouth have a couple of loan signings that supporters can look back on with fondness. No, not Juan Iturbe or Christian Atsu.
In an otherwise bleak 2019-20 campaign, Harry Wilson was a source of joy among fans for his long-range wizardry. It didn’t matter how well the goalkeeper aligned his wall for a free kick or how many people stood between Wilson and the back of the net. The man simply did not score ugly goals.
There are three certainties in life.
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) December 1, 2019
Jack Wilshere’s first spell at Dean Court also deserves a mention. His combative yet progressive presence in the middle of the park kick-started countless devastating Bournemouth breaks which many still associate with the club five years later.
But Nathan Ake has to be the club’s best loan signing in the Premier League era.
From breaking up an established centre-back pairing of Steve Cook and Simon Francis at just 21 years old to grabbing the winner in that dramatic 4-3 win over Liverpool to blow the roof off the Vitality Stadium, it is hard to believe his first Bournemouth stint only lasted six months.
That the club were willing to break their transfer record to sign the Dutchman for £20 million in the summer after half a season’s worth of action shows just how impactful he was and would prove to be for the next three years.
Brentford have only been in the Premier League for one season which means there is a very narrow pool of players from which to choose and, unfortunately, neither of their two candidates excelled.
Alvaro Fernandez arrived on a year-long loan in August from Huesca to provide back-up for first-choice goalkeeper David Raya. The 24-year-old, who has one cap for Spain, made 12 top-flight appearances when Raya was ruled out with a knee injury, but Thomas Frank’s side lost seven times and conceded 24 goals.
Jonas Lossl was recruited on a short-term deal from Midtjylland in January, yet did not do much better — Brentford lost the two league games he started in goal against Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Out of the two, Fernandez gets the nod as he did play a vital role in helping Brentford win three games and kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory over Everton at home.
It should not come as a surprise, though, that Brentford decided against signing Fernandez and Losspermanentlyis.
Incoming loans have been conspicuous by their almost complete absence across Brighton’s five seasons in the Premier League.
There’s a reason for this. Chairman Tony Bloom and head coach Graham Potter aren’t fans of temporary solutions. The emphasis is on moulding players, both young and more experienced, into their methods over time.
Even the standout exception, Australia international midfielder Aaron Mooy, was signed with a permanent deal firmly in mind. He arrived in August 2019, initially on loan from Championship side Huddersfield Town for the duration of Potter’s first season in charge. The move became permanent in the January 2020 transfer window, when Mooy signed a three-and-a-half-year contract.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) December 28, 2019
Mooy performed well, featuring in 31 of the 38 league games and scoring twice, but there was a catch in the deal which Brighton knew about. Mooy wanted a release clause retained in his contract, a legacy of his move from Manchester City to Huddersfield.
It allowed him to join a Chinese club if they met the £4 million release clause, which would guarantee a hike in salary for the then 29-year-old. Shanghai SIPG obliged and Mooy joined them in August 2020.
Chelsea have a reputation for loaning out players rather than bringing them in so there aren’t that many options to choose from. The temporary recruitment of Gonzalo Higuain, Maniche, Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato and Saul Niguez over the years didn’t exactly provide many highlights.
Supporters of the current generation will point to Mateo Kovacic as an exception. He initially joined on loan from Real Madrid in 2018 before the deal was made permanent a year later, but he didn’t play as consistently back then as he is now.
One acquisition who made an instant impact and big headlines when Chelsea secured his signature was striker George Weah.
This was one of the icons of the game, a man who became a legend at AC Milan. Chelsea needed extra firepower in the second half of the 1999-2000 season so in came Weah, albeit not quite in his pomp at 33 years old.
Weah scored on debut against rivals Tottenham and won over fans from the start. Only four more goals came from his other 14 appearances, but his presence on the pitch panicked opposition defenders and helped provide space for team-mates to exploit.
A sign of Weah’s influence was starting the FA Cup semi-final and final that year, both of which Chelsea won.
It is impossible to look beyond Conor Gallagher’s contribution to Palace’s success last season. His energy and intelligence to find gaps in the final third and press the opposition played a vital role in the Patrick Vieira revolution.
Gallagher’s 34 Premier League appearances saw him contribute eight goals, second only to Wilfried Zaha. His clever, darting runs into space and into the opposition penalty area helped propel Palace forward. Even with his form dipping towards the season’s conclusion after a blistering start, he earned senior England recognition and remained critical to Vieira’s system.
That impact was marginally more impressive than that of Ruben Loftus-Cheek during his loan in the 2017-18 season, where he was instrumental in helping Palace avoid relegation after a disastrous start.
Thomas Gravesen’s unexpected move to Real Madrid in 2005 left David Moyes in a quandary.
Suddenly the Everton manager was left trying to fill a creative hole in a season that, somewhat against the odds, was going very well.
The summer after losing Wayne Rooney, Everton were defying expectations to challenge for a Champions League spot and Gravesen’s superb performances earned him an unlikely switch to the Bernabeu halfway through the season.
Moyes, as he so often did, had to get creative and turned to the loan market and something of a young journeyman in 22-year-old Mikel Arteta, a silky footballer who had failed to really break into the team at Real Sociedad.
Spells at Rangers and Paris Saint-Germain had hinted at the Basque’s potential, but it was at Goodison where he found his stage.
One goal and three assists in the second half of the season do not tell the full story. Everton fans were thrilled by Arteta’s mesmeric and graceful ability — initially playing out wide — leaving full-backs baffled, and his right foot would become a major part of the club’s attacking threat.
Arteta provided assists in crucial wins over Manchester United and Newcastle that cemented Everton’s dream of finishing fourth.
Before long he was dubbed a second coming of the great Alex Young and, as the supporter chant went, “the best little Spaniard we know”.
Moyes wasted no time making the move permanent for just £2 million that summer, and the following season, Arteta was voted the fans and players’ player of the season.
Loans have played their part in Fulham’s Premier League story. In promotions, they have found some of the club’s greatest servants, including Aleksandar Mitrovic and Luis Boa Morte.
But for this task, we are staying in the top flight itself and there are still positive tales to tell. Even Fulham’s last two ill-fated Premier League visits produced players of the seasons who were only around on temporary spells — Calum Chambers and Alphonse Areola.
Neither, though, can quite take this award. It is a hugely competitive field, not least since Vincenzo Montella, Junichi Inamoto and Moritz Volz only earn honourable mentions. So too does Paul Stalteri, whose six-month sojourn in west London helped the Cottagers turn two wins all season into eight, and stave off relegation on the final day of the 2007-08 season.
But pipping them all is German right-back Sascha Riether. He arrived on loan from Cologne in the summer of 2012, having spent his entire career in the German top flight. He quickly showed his value. Solid, consistent and a standout performer, he was well-loved by fans and his team-mates too, who voted him the player of the season.
Fulham have had a unique relationship with right-backs go over the years, and Riether is right up there.
This wasn’t a signing made while Leeds were in the Premier League but it was completed in the Premier League era — and very few loan players at Elland Road have had an impact anything like that of Ben White. It’s easy now to forget the reaction when Leeds sold Pontus Jansson in 2019 and teed up White from Brighton as his replacement. Everyone trusted Marcelo Bielsa but even so, it was an incredibly (and typically) bold decision.
What Leeds got was an exceptional ball-playing centre-back, perfectly suited to Bielsa’s style and ever-present through their run to promotion (even playing on the day when Leeds were in celebration mode and half of the squad appeared to be hungover). Arsenal bought him for £50 million a year after he went back to Brighton. Bielsa should have asked for a cut of the fee.
Part of the romance of Leicester’s title win was the back stories of those involved. Those of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante are well known, but Robert Huth’s was no less remarkable.
As a title winner at Chelsea, injuries had wrecked the latter days of his time with Stoke City and he arrived on loan at Leicester in February 2015 with the team bottom of the Premier League and facing almost certain relegation.
His arrival, and the switch to a back three, sparked the greatest of great escapes and he signed permanently for £3 million that summer, with another year of struggle expected. The rest is history and Huth is a Leicester legend for the key part he played in that phenomenal transformation.
Liverpool haven’t exactly been blessed with loan signings who have flourished at Anfield during the Premier League era. Steven Caulker, Daniele Padelli, Nuri Sahin, Aly Cissokho, Victor Moses and Javier Manquillo didn’t light up the place.
Nicholas Anelka won plenty of admirers on Merseyside after joining on a temporary basis from Paris Saint-Germain midway through the 2001-02 season but Gerard Houllier wasn’t convinced and inexplicably decided to buy El Hadji Diouf rather than keep the French striker.
One loan signing who won universal acclaim was Javier Mascherano. The Argentina international arrived from West Ham United in late January 2007 for an initial loan fee of £1.6 million.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez had tracked his progress since his early days at River Plate and couldn’t believe that the tough-tackling midfielder wasn’t a regular at Upton Park. Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker were getting picked ahead of him.
Getting the deal done was complicated by a web of third-party ownership. Liverpool also needed special clearance from FIFA as the governing body’s rules stated that a player couldn’t play for more than two clubs between July 1 of one year and June 30 of the next.
Mascherano proved to be worth the hassle as he added steel and quality to Benitez’s midfield. Four months after being an outcast at West Ham, Mascherano was starting in the Champions League final against AC Milan in Athens. The supporters took him to their hearts.
Keeping him was a no-brainer for Liverpool and, in February 2008, they paid the £17 million required to turn his loan into a permanent arrangement.
Does Frank Lampard count? We hope so, because there isn’t an especially distinguished list of loan signings at City.
Lampard’s arrival was all very controversial. Having signed a two-year deal with Manchester City’s sister club, New York City, in 2014, he moved to the Etihad Stadium for six months. That was the loan bit, only it was all a bit unclear and annoyed a lot of people in the United States when it transpired he would stay in the Premier League for the whole season.
So anyway, Lampard notably scored an equaliser for City against Chelsea, his former club, and endeared himself to a lot of supporters — and certainly his team-mates — in his short stay in Manchester.
Other than that, maybe it would be Kiki Musampa, who had a good spell on loan from Atletico Madrid in the second half of the 2005-06 season, and came back for another go in the following campaign, although that petered out after Christmas.
There is not an abundance of loans to Old Trafford to choose from, but Henrik Larsson’s temporary stay for two and a half months towards the end of the 2006-07 season carries enough romance and fondness to stand up to whatever the competition.
Looking to get an injection of fresh impetus into United’s first proper title challenge in four years, Sir Alex Ferguson made the snap decision to sign a 35-year-old from Helsingborgs on New Year’s Day. Larsson had moved home to Sweden that season after two campaigns at Barcelona and was pleased with the opportunity to play again at the top level.
“I was just happy Sir Alex called me because I’d said no to United before (in 1999),” Larsson recently told the United podcast.
Larsson scored on his debut in the FA Cup third round against Aston Villa and got his first Premier League goal later in January against Watford. Larsson signed off with a Champions League goal against Lille that helped secure passage to the quarter-finals.
He finished with three goals in 13 games but lifted the squad with his attitude and quality, helping to set them up to finish as English champions. Ferguson tried to extend the loan but Larsson had made a vow to his family.
“He’s been fantastic for us, his professionalism, his attitude, everything he’s done has been excellent,” said Ferguson. “We would love him to stay but, obviously, he has made his promise to his family and Helsingborg and we should respect that — but I would have done anything to keep him.”
Recency bias almost certainly plays a role here, but even if Matt Targett deserves an honourable mention — alongside Kenedy, Loic Remy, Mikel Merino, Hatem Ben Arfa and, of course, Martin Dubravka, who may get many fans’ votes — Joe Willock just about shades this one.
The up-and-down nature of his first permanent year on Tyneside, following a £20 million-plus move from Arsenal, has perhaps diluted his achievement in some supporters’ memories, but his impact during the first half of 2021 was staggering.
In 14 appearances, 11 of them as a starter, the then-21-year-old midfielder scored eight times, including in each of his final seven games of the season, lifting Newcastle from relegation peril to mid-table mediocrity. Not only did Willock equal Alan Shearer’s club record for finding the back of the net in consecutive matches, but he also became the youngest Premier League player to score in seven straight games.
Alongside Dubravka, few loan players have had such an individual material effect on Newcastle’s finishing position — and few in the club’s history have ever produced such a productive purple patch, either.
You could talk for hours about Forest’s best loan signings during the last 23 years in the EFL, from Ian Wright to Robbie Blake to Ben Olsen to the collection of loanees so vital to promotion last season.
Djed Spence, James Garner, Keinan Davis and Philip Zinckernagel will be welcome for a pint of Shipstones in the TBI whenever they fancy. However, in the Premier League pickings are slightly slim, largely because there are only five seasons to choose from.
Almost all the options come from 1998-99, primarily the coterie of loanees that Ron Atkinson brought in after taking one look at the grim old crew he had when he arrived: hello Hugo Porfirio, hello John Harkes, hello Stale Stensaas.
But the winner, almost by default, is Matthieu Louis-Jean, who arrived on loan from Le Havre to man the right-back slot on that sinking ship, before moving to the City Ground permanently the following summer and sticking around for six mostly consistent (on his part, rather than the team’s) and likeable (ditto) years.
Remember Iago Falque? No, me neither.
Southampton have not exactly been blessed with deluxe players gracing the south coast for a season before receiving a fond farewell at the end of it. It has more been a case of players signing permanently, capturing minds before then breaking hearts and leaving soon after.
Armando Broja’s impact waned after a remarkable start last year. In 2015, Eljero Elia came, saw, scored at Newcastle and did little else.
So the best loanee has to be Toby Alderweireld. Gliding around the St Mary’s turf with his yellow boots and penchant for long, raking diagonal passes from left-sided centre-back, Alderweireld and Jose Fonte’s partnership would go on to underpin Southampton’s rise into Europe. But as inevitable as a Quentin Tarantino film showing bare feet, supporters again learned all good things come to a sharp end. Tottenham stole in to sign him the following year and that was that. Although the Virgil fella who replaced him didn’t turn out half bad.
There have been some very gifted players who Tottenham have taken on loan in the past (Eidur Gudjohnsen, Stephane Dalmat). There have been plenty of fringe goalkeepers (Radek Cerny, Pau Lopez, Stipe Pletikosa, Pierluigi Gollini). There have been solid pros (Paul Konchesky, Carlos Vinicius) and talented youngsters (Fraizer Campbell, Gedson Fernandes). There have also been some very good players who arrived on loan deals that were simply a precursor to a permanent deal (Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski.)
So, by process of elimination more than anything, we are led to Spurs’ greatest loanee, Mido.
The Egyptian striker arrived in January 2005 when Martin Jol was in charge of Spurs to provide some extra physical edge to an attack that already contained Keane, Jermain Defoe and Freddie Kanoute.
It was a slow start that first half-season, scoring just two league goals, but the next year Mido was excellent. He scored 11 in the league, more than Defoe and second only to Keane, as Spurs came agonisingly close to fourth place. And while he returned to Roma at the start of the summer, Tottenham bought him permanently at the end of the window. But the magic was over, Mido scored one league goal in 2006-07, and was sold to Middlesbrough.
Not much was expected of Jesse Lingard when he joined West Ham United on loan in January 2021. He was a bit-part player at Manchester United and no longer an England international. But during his spell at the London Stadium he became a fan favourite, earned a recall to the national team and became a focal point in West Ham’s attack. Nine goals in 16 appearances means he is widely considered the club’s best loan signing in the Premier League era.
— West Ham United (@WestHam) February 16, 2021
Other arrivals haven’t come close to producing synchronised goal celebrations against Tottenham Hotspur, or winning a bet against a team-mate to stay at a five-star hotel in London. Lingard played an important role in the squad being known as the band of brothers. Should he return, the attacking midfielder would be welcomed with open arms.
From Willy Boly’s towering defending to Leo Bonatini’s vital goals in Nuno Espirito Santo’s promotion campaign, Wolves have pulled off some smart loan deals in the Premier League era.
But top billing must go to a player who, five years after moving to Molineux on loan, played in a Champions League final.
Diogo Jota played in 111 league games for Wolves, scoring 33 goals. He helped the club return to the Premier League in 2018 before establishing himself as a star in the top flight and as one of the club’s greatest players of modern times.
Now aged 25 and with the peak years of his career approaching, he looks a natural fit competing for titles with Liverpool. He became a £12 million permanent signing for Wolves from Atletico Madrid in 2018 but made his name as a loan star.