The vast majority of Premier League-to-Championship loanees are aged 22 or younger, as Squawka recently revealed. So how influential are these players on English football’s second tier?
Looking at the last five full Championship seasons — sourcing data from Transfermarkt and Opta — Squawka also found:
- The number of under-23 Premier League loanees playing in the Championship has doubled in the last five years.
- These players average 1,394 minutes of Championship football each season (across both season-long and six-month loans).
- Nine of the 10 most ‘influential’* U23 loanees of the last five years went on to make Premier League appearances.
- None of the bottom 10 least successful loans minutes-wise have played any Premier League football since their loan moves.
*Based on Championship minutes played per month on loan. Excludes goalkeepers
Naturally, plans for loanees differ greatly depending on the player and the transfer market. However, the Premier League to EFL Championship loan route is popular for young players who are very close to the first team at top-tier clubs.
In a perfect loan, the player returns more experienced and with a greater sense of who they are as footballers and even people. Meanwhile, the parent club regains a more valuable asset to sell or to play and the loan club achieves their goals through the contributions of the loanee.
So how often does the perfect loan actually come off in the Championship? And who benefits most: club or player?
In recent years, the likes of Harvey Elliott, Levi Colwill and Morgan Gibbs-White have all excelled on loan in the Championship. All are now bonafide Premier League players, as well as U21 European Champions.
These are relatively rare examples, though. So what does a zoomed-out look at Premier League-to-Championship loan market data tell us?
Championship clubs are often reluctant to take ‘first loans’. There is a commonly held belief in football that a player going out on their first loan generally won’t produce their best performances as they adapt to senior football for the first time. This idea is reflected in the most in-demand Championship loanees being between 20 and 21, still young enough to be a Premier League prospect but no longer a teenager.
The single 17-year-old loanee in the five-season sample was Elliott, who joined Blackburn from Liverpool.
The average number of minutes played by an Under 23 loanee coming from the Premier League to the Championship is 1,394. However, this figure is skewed by the fact some loans are agreed in January, when half the season has been played, and some players are recalled halfway through the season.
Despite the reluctance to take teenagers on first loans, some examples have gone on to have great success. Elliott is an obvious one but Reece James, Levi Colwill, Callum Doyle and Trevoh Chalobah are all likely to have long careers at or near the top of the game.
The reluctance is justified by real risks, though. There are examples of teenagers who have made Premier League to Championship loan moves and not even played a minute (M’Hand and Adaramola last year) or some who barely made an impression, such as highly-touted Harvey Vale, who played only 76 minutes at Hull last term. This kind of loan can set a player back in their development, as even six months at 18 or 19 is a substantial amount of time.
Current Sunderland star Jack Clarke had a similar issue in 2019/20 with a loan move from Spurs back to Leeds, where he initially broke through. Clarke managed only 19 minutes in that loan spell as an 18-year-old. Eventually Clarke had to drop into League One with Sunderland to get his career back on track and is now reportedly attracting big bids from the Premier League once more.
The Championship as a proving ground
The impact of a successful loan at Championship level cannot be underestimated for a player’s career. In terms of Premier League loanees aged 22 or under, the ten players below amassed the most minutes over the course of their Championship loans.
- Ben White: The defender won the Championship with Leeds United in 2020 along with their Young Player of the Season award. He now has four England caps and played every match of Arsenal’s title challenge last season, having signed for £50m from Brighton.
- Fikayo Tomori: The centre-back won Derby County’s Player of the Year award in 2019 when the Rams lost the Championship Play-off final against Aston Villa. Frustrated by a lack of playing time under Frank Lampard when reunited at Chelsea, Tomori joined Milan and won Serie A.
- Ryan Giles: Wolves loaned out the left-wing-back eight times before selling him to Luton Town for £15m last summer. His final loan spell was with Middlesbrough, who he helped make the play-offs with 11 assists (most in a single season for Boro since Adama Traore). Giles has since made four Premier League appearances with Luton under Rob Edwards, who coached Giles during his taste of senior football in the National League with Telford United back in 2018.
- Reece James: You have to be a special player to captain a team you’re playing on loan for. In 2019, James won Wigan’s Player of the Year, Player’s Player of the Year and their Goal of the Season awards and even wore the skipper’s armband in his final game. The right-back is now a Champions League winner, England regular and Chelsea captain. It seems the only thing standing between James and greatness is his persistent injury issues.
- Sepp van den Berg: The Liverpool-owned defender is the outlier here, having not played Premier League football since the loan in question. However, he has made nine Bundesliga appearances this season with Mainz. Van den Berg won Preston’s Fans’ Young Player of the Year award in 2021/22, playing 61 times in all competitions. Incidentally, his younger brother Rav currently plays in the Championship for Middlesbrough.
- Oliver Skipp: The Tottenham midfielder played a mammoth 45 appearances while helping Norwich win the 2020/21 Championship. Skipp was rewarded with a spot in the league’s PFA Team of the Year. He spent the next season playing somewhat regularly in Antonio Conte’s Spurs team. Under Ange Postecoglou, he’s made five substitute appearances.
- Marc Guehi: The centre-back is another on this list who endured Play-off heartbreak. Guehi was part of the Swansea team beaten by Brentford in the 2021 showpiece. Crystal Palace bought him from Chelsea that summer for £18m. This is a bargain fee in light of his 79 subsequent Premier League appearances, the quality of which has earned Guehi six England caps.
- James Garner: “We’ve got great faith in him as the next Michael Carrick,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once said of this midfielder who helped Nottingham Forest earn promotion through the Play-offs in 2021/22. Garner joined Everton the following summer for £15m.
- Harry Wilson: Liverpool sent Wilson out on loan six times before selling him to Fulham for £12m in 2022. He helped Hull City avoid relegation with seven goals in 13 games in 2018, winning a Championship Player of the Month award en route. The winger joined Derby in the subsequent summer transfer window for a season-long loan which culminated in their Play-off final defeat.
- Tammy Abraham: The ex-Chelsea striker made the PFA Championship Team of the Year in 2019 after firing Aston Villa to Play-off promotion. Abraham scored 25 goals in 37 league matches – only Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki (29) managed more – and the decisive penalty that took Villa back to the Premier League. He received a special recognition award from the club for his efforts. Nowadays, Abraham plays under Jose Mourinho at Roma, who paid £34m for him in 2021.
The key piece of information here is the number of Premier League minutes given to a player post-loan. Apart from Sepp van den Berg (now a Bundesliga regular with Mainz), every single player mentioned above went on to play Premier League football. Some did so with the parent club that loaned them. Others made it in different ways. Some were sold in big-money deals and in the majority of cases, the player contributed to the Championship club achieving their goals while on loan.
In other words, if the loan is right and the player smashes it, everyone wins.
The table obviously favours players whose loans lasted the whole season. We also excluded goalkeepers due to the feast-or-famine nature of playing time that comes with life as a shot-stopper. So to shout-out some loanees who moved on six-month deals or played in goal:
- Harvey Barnes: West Brom initially signed the winger on a season-long loan but such was his impact, Leicester recalled mid-season him six months early in January 2019. He had nine assists for the Baggies by then, the most in the side by some margin at the time, and scored nine Championship goals. Barnes won the FA Cup with Leicester in 2021 and, following their relegation, was sold to Newcastle for £38 million.
- Conor Gallagher: The midfielder won an award after just six games on loan at Charlton in August 2019 when he was named EFL Young Player of the Month. In controversial fashion, he was recalled by Chelsea mid-season and loaned out again to Swansea, deemed a more appropriate fit due to their possession-heavy playing style. Gallagher later became a key player for Crystal Palace on loan in the top flight and is now a regular in Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield (and temporary captain) at Chelsea.
- Cody Drameh: “Hopefully bringing the likes of Cody in will see people step up their game,” said Cardiff manager Steve Morison after signing Drameh on a six-month loan in January 2022. Leeds’ young defender was subsequently named Young Player and Player of the Season for Cardiff after 2021/22. The next season, he helped Luton earn Premier League promotion as right-back understudy during another temporary move. He’s currently on loan at Birmingham, just beneath parent club Leeds in the table.
- Dean Henderson: The former Manchester United goalkeeper spent back-to-back seasons on loan with Sheffield United, the first of which resulted in Premier League promotion, the Championship Golden Glove and a club Young Player of the Year award. After another top-flight loan spell with Nottingham Forest, Henderson joined Crystal Palace this summer for £15m.
How do failed Championship loan moves impact a player’s career?
So how costly are loans that don’t result in consistent playing time?
The table above details loan spells that hardly even happened.
Most of the clubs that took on these loans failed to achieve their seasonal goals. But from player and club perspectives, subsequent outcomes reflect the low-risk nature of loans. Hence their appeal to Premier League and Championship clubs and the players involved.
Leeds and Burnley actually won the title in their respective seasons, despite ‘wasting’ loan spots on Jack Clarke and Halil Dervisoglu respectively. Coventry reached the play-off final despite cancelling Tayo Adaramola’s loan as early as September.
Unsuccessful loans can be a struggle to work back from for players. Rushian Hepburn-Murphy is now at League Two level and Bright Enobakhare plays in Qatar’s second division after stints in India and Ukraine. Meanwhile Izzy Brown ended up retiring from football at 26 after a terrible time with injuries and surgeries.
However, they do not always signal the end of a player’s career at a high level. Dervisoglu has since earned a move to Galatasaray and Abdallah Sima is now on loan at Rangers. Indeed, despite the lack of playing time of these loans, most of the players in the table have gone on to make good starts to their careers in the game. Jan Mlakar is at Hajduk Split, Alexandru Dobre is in Portugal at Famalicao and we mentioned Clarke’s re-emergence earlier.
True, less than 18% of the loanees Squawka sampled went on to play Premier League football with their parent clubs. But this reflects the overall scarcity of playing time on offer to youth products. In January 2022, Premier League statistics showed 97% of players who come through Category 1 academies never play a minute of top-flight football.
Overall, the vast majority of the 173 under-23 players who have been loaned from the Premier League to Championship have gone on to make good starts to their professional football careers. The very fact that so many current international players have played in the Championship, be that on loan or on their way up, speaks to the quality of the league and how it can prepare young players. It is even shown to have helped mould future captains of elite clubs.