Is a Premier League side taking a player on loan in January a good idea?
Will Joao Felix provide the spark that Chelsea’s stuttering attack needs?
Can Wout Weghorst fill the void left by you know who at Manchester United?
History tells us there have been plenty of surprise arrivals, successes, failures and quite a bit inbetween.
As we watch to see if Joao Felix and Weghorst can star in the second half of a finely poised Premier League season, we take a look at some of the most memorable January loans since the window was fixed in 2003…
Andres D’Alessandro (Wolfsburg to Portsmouth, 2006)
At the midpoint of the 2005-06 season, Portsmouth looked every bit as doomed as a biscuit at a tea convention. Their defence was a joke and the attack barely any better. The squad looked to have been assembled by a random name generator with an atlas fetish. Even Harry Redknapp looked a bit baffled.
If there was one thing that absolutely did not need adding to the mix, it was a left-footed, South American No 10. But logic must have been on holiday, because Andres D’Alessandro’s January arrival sparked a staggering uptick in form. He only scored once — a stunner against Charlton — but the Argentinian provided much-needed silk and snarl, helping Portsmouth to clamber above Birmingham to safety.
That his stint at Fratton Park lasted only 13 games did not stop him becoming a cult hero. Case in point: Mason Mount, a childhood Pompey supporter, still has a signed D’Alessandro shirt on his wall. The playmaker was, in fact, a firm fan favourite wherever he played — nowhere more than Brazilian side Internacional, for whom he racked up over 500 appearances across two spells. He retired last year, aged 41.
There was curiosity rather than outright excitement when David Moyes loaned Mikel Arteta back in 2005.
His CV included stellar names such as Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, but he had struggled to fulfill his potential and after an impressive spell with Rangers the midfielder had failed to fully establish himself at Real Sociedad in the first half of the 2004-05 campaign.
However, Moyes’ hopes of securing an against-the-odds top-four finish hinged on adding some extra creativity and it quickly became clear the Basque was to be one the Scot’s shrewdest additions.
Arteta adapted with surprising speed to the Premier League, perhaps thanks to his spell in Glasgow, and became a firm fan favourite thanks to his expert set pieces, mesmeric ability to go past opponents and metronomic passing.
He would join permanently that summer and become a key part of Moyes’ team for the next six years, winning a string of club player of the season awards, and helping the team secure regular European football before joining Arsenal in 2011.
Dubbed ‘The Best Little Spaniard we Know’ by fans, he can certainly be considered one of the club’s best Premier League-era January signings.
Henrik Larsson (Helsingborgs to Manchester United, 2007)
Everybody agrees: Henrik Larsson’s brief spell at Manchester United was a rare example of an excellent January loan. Even though it only lasted two months, it is regarded by many as the standard bearer of a short-term, emergency signing.
Then you look back at Larsson’s record: just the three goals in 13 appearances.
There was the one on his debut against Aston Villa in the FA Cup, the third in a 4-0 win over relegation-bound Watford, then the second in a 2-0 aggregate win over Lille in the Champions League. Is this your standard bearer?
But as Sir Alex Ferguson later wrote, Larsson’s three goals were “no measure of his contribution”. His influence in his short spell at Old Trafford went beyond raw output, with Larsson earning a cult status among supporters and within the United dressing room.
Larsson’s professionalism and dedication rubbed off on a squad at the start of a new cycle, whose success would ultimately be defined by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, both just 21 years old at the time.
And perhaps the modest goalscoring record is explained by Larsson’s willingness to do whatever was required for the team, even if that meant playing in midfield, such as in the 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough in his final appearance. As Ferguson puts it, he “ran his balls off” at the Riverside and on his return to the dressing room, he received a standing ovation.
Ferguson tried to convince him to stay longer, so impressed was he by the 34-year-old’s work ethic, attitude and the mark he had left on the rest of his players. “It takes some player to make that kind of impact in two months.”
Kim Kallstrom (Spartak Moscow to Arsenal, 2014)
In January 2014, with the transfer window about to close, Arsenal made a move for Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom. A cultured playmaker with international pedigree, it was a deal that made sense for a team lacking cover in midfield.
There was just one catch: Kallstrom had a broken back. The Swede had been playing beach football during a Spartak Moscow training camp in Abu Dhabi and had fallen on a rock. With Arsenal desperate, the deal went ahead with Spartak accepting reduced terms.
Kallstrom made four appearances for Arsenal, but did make one memorable contribution, taking a successful penalty in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan.
“I walked in, hit the penalty, we won a trophy and then I walked out again,” says Kallstrom. “Who’d have thought it, the guy with the broken back?”
Kieran Richardson (Manchester United to West Brom, 2005)
West Bromwich Albion were stinking out the Premier League under Bryan Robson until the manager turned to another one of his former clubs, Manchester United, for a favour.
Coming through the development team at Old Trafford was Kieran Richardson, a winger with an eye for goal and the creativity a team like the beleaguered Albion required.
Rock-bottom at Christmas in 2004 meant only one thing back then; that relegation would follow. But Richardson’s arrival on loan alongside the signing of 34-year-old striker Kevin Campbell sparked an unlikely revival.
The 20-year-old was sensational in blue and white as he scored three crucial goals in 12 appearances. He provided a verve that rubbed off on others. His free-spirited, fearless approach also gave West Brom an unpredictable edge that saw them pull off the Great Escape on the final day of the season.
Looking back, he should have stayed at the club the following season to help further his development but instead tried to kick on at United.
Christophe Dugarry (Bordeaux to Birmingham, 2003)
A cup of tea and biscuits did the trick.
Steve Bruce, then manager of Birmingham City, sensed an opportunity to sprinkle a touch of magic into his side, so in his office, he set about luring the stylish World Cup winner Christophe Dugarry to the unfashionable Second City of England.
Birmingham were fighting for their lives back in January 2003 but nothing about signing Dugarry made any sense. Why would this majestic, silky skilled forward join a side packed with tough, hard-working battlers?
Perhaps that’s why they say opposites attract. Dugarry took some time to adjust but when he got going in April he was unstoppable.
Five goals in four games lifted Birmingham away from danger. His double in a 3-2 win over Southampton is still remembered as one of the finest individual performances for the club.
Birmingham have signed some important strikers on loan in years gone by, from the free-scoring Mikael Forssell to the Carling Cup final hero Obafemi Martins, but none have been as classy as Dugarry.
Sadly when he signed for the club on a permanent deal, his form nose-dived and the love affair was quickly over.
Alexandre Pato (Corinthians to Chelsea, 2016)
When Alexandre Pato finally made his Chelsea debut as a first-half substitute at Aston Villa, he was greeted with chants of “we forgot that you were here”.
Once considered a rising star at Brazil and AC Milan, the forward had to wait until April to make his first appearance for Chelsea after joining the club on loan in January 2016.
Such a delay would have been understandable if Chelsea were having an outstanding campaign — yet it was their worst of the Roman Abramovich era.
Pato, nicknamed the Duck, did at least make an impact in a 4-0 win at Aston Villa, playing a role in all the goals, which included finding the net himself from the penalty spot with his first touch of the game. He is one of only four players to score first half penalty as a substitute in a Premier League game, along with David Unsworth, Frank Lampard and Diego Costa.
A week later he got to start at Swansea, lasted 64 minutes and that was it. Pato was under the impression the loan could be made into a permanent deal, but unsurprisingly that didn’t happen.
Jurgen Klopp was desperate for defensive reinforcements in January 2016 after an injury crisis left Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure and Joe Gomez on the sidelines.
Liverpool’s search for an emergency loan led to the surprise arrival of Steven Caulker. He had been on loan at Southampton from Queens Park Rangers in the first half of the season but was available for a move after finding his game time limited on the south coast.
Bizarrely, Caulker made his Liverpool debut as a makeshift centre-forward in the closing stages of a thrilling contest with Arsenal which saw Joe Allen’s late equaliser force a 3-3 draw.
He enjoyed two other brief Premier League outings under Klopp as an auxiliary striker and started an FA Cup tie against West Ham United in his normal role, but didn’t feature again after the end of January.
Caulker, who returned to QPR at the end of the season, later revealed that gambling and drinking problems during his time on Merseyside led to him entering rehab.
Jermaine Pennant (Arsenal to Birmingham, 2005)
Birmingham City rated Jermaine Pennant so highly during his loan spell in 2005 that even a 31-day stint in prison didn’t stop them handing him a permanent contract.
The winger, signed initially on a temporary basis from Arsenal, added craft and creativity to the Birmingham side, but midway through his move was jailed for drink-driving offences.
Birmingham showed incredible loyalty to the 22-year-old, who was released on parole and wore an electronic tag during matches. Pennant describes that period of his life as a “ticking time bomb” and has since thanked Birmingham for the help they provided.
While he showed promise during a loan spell, his form dipped as a permanent player and Birmingham were relegated.
Pennant did go on to feature for Liverpool in a Champions League final, though.
Aston Villa’s highest-profile signing has quickly turned into one of the most disappointing, despite a bright start.
Coutinho rolled back the years during a loan spell in 2022 with a series of blistering displays where he was scoring and creating for a side full of flair.
It was Coutinho’s former team-mate, Steven Gerrard, then manager of Villa, who persuaded him to sign. Villa agreed that the benefits of signing the Brazilian would be far greater than just out on the pitch and he did help convince Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos that the Villa project was an exciting one to consider.
But so much more was expected and now he sits on the bench struggling for game time, let alone goals and assists, and looks like an expensive mistake even at the cut-price fee of £17million.
Lomana LuaLua (Newcastle to Portsmouth, 2004)
Gary Speed was incandescent. “I was the first one into the dressing room afterwards and I got both barrels — Speedo was spluttering and spitting. He couldn’t believe (Lomana) LuaLua had been allowed to play. He was raging, throwing things all over the place.”
This was John Carver speaking to The Athletic not too long ago. He was Newcastle United’s assistant manager at the time in question — February 2004 — Speed was a Newcastle player and so, too, was LuaLua, which was a bit of an issue, considering he had just scored against them for Portsmouth. An equaliser. In the 89th minute.
LuaLua, famous for his backflip goal celebrations, had arrived at Fratton Park the previous month on loan for a £100,000 fee; Newcastle had neglected to include a clause in his contract preventing him from playing against his parent club. “Maybe it was saying I wouldn’t do damage,” LuaLua said that day. He had not found the net for Newcastle that season.
“It was a crazy decision,” Alan Shearer said; a 1-1 draw cost Sir Bobby Robson’s Newcastle two valuable points when they were stretched by a long run in the UEFA Cup. Victory would have given them a four-point cushion in fourth place. They finished fifth.
It was an incident which led to the FA changing the standard rules for loan players. LuaLua signed a permanent contract at Portsmouth before moving on to teams in Greece, Turkey and elsewhere.
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls to Arsenal, 2012)
The Fairytale of North London; The Return of The King. Arsenal’s loan move for Thierry Henry has gone down in Gunners folklore.
His “second debut” came in the FA Cup against Leeds United, and was capped with a quintessential Henry finish, opening his body out before calmly side-footing into the far corner. His celebration had none of his typical poise — he celebrated like the Arsenal fan he had become. A month later, in his final Premier League game, he grabbed a stoppage-time winner at Sunderland.
It was brief, but it was beautiful.
Maniche (Dinamo Moscow to Chelsea, 2006)
Jose Mourinho wanted his fellow Portuguese to make a big impact for Chelsea, however getting sent off against West Ham wasn’t quite what the manager had in mind.
Chelsea were starting to feel the tension in the title race as Manchester United closed the gap and they fell 1-0 behind early on at home.
Maniche was making his eighth appearance for Chelsea but it was his first Premier League start. Instead of settling things down, the midfielder was rightly shown a red card for a terrible tackle on Lionel Scaloni, a January loan signing by West Ham and future World Cup-winning coach.
Somehow Maniche’s team-mates went on to win 4-1.
The former Portugal international started just two other games, which came in defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle after Chelsea had been crowned champions. Once again an option to sign him was rightly ignored.
Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua to Manchester United, 2020)
It is January 2020, Anthony Martial has a thigh injury and Marcus Rashford has a back issue so painful he has trouble sitting down.
United are in mid-table and need cover to make a march on the top four. For a good chunk of time, it looked like a reunion with former academy player Joshua King was on the cards.
Instead they signed the 30-year-old Odion Ighalo, who took a pay cut from his (rather large) salary at Shanghai Shenhua to become the first Nigerian to play for United.
Ighalo scored five goals in 23 games — a better return than Henrik Larsson — but never featured for more than 20 minutes in a Premier League game.
A stop-gap striker, signed just before COVID-19 caused football to stop, who allowed Martial and Rashford the time to return to full fitness.
Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus to Chelsea, 2019)
Not for the first time, Chelsea turned to a veteran striker in the hope he could give their season some much-needed momentum.
Higuain arrived with a fine reputation for his exploits for Napoli, Juventus and Real Madrid. There was the odd flash of quality but at 31, he looked rather sluggish and some of the Chelsea players were rather underwhelmed by his efforts and demeanour in training.
There was a so-so return of five Premier League goals, however they came against strugglers Huddersfield Town, Fulham, Burnley and Watford.
He played just 24 minutes of their successful bid to win the Europa League and was left on the bench for the final. He returned to Juventus in the summer but left them for good soon afterwards, joining MLS side Inter Miami.
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea to Bolton, 2011)
Chelsea have been accused of exploiting the loan system and farming talent out across Europe, but this was an example of it really paying off.
Sturridge had already been growing frustrated at a lack of regular game time since joining from Manchester City and then the club spent a mere £50million on Fernando Torres.
The England international wanted to prove he could make it at the highest level and so he did, scoring an impressive eight Premier League goals in just 12 games at Bolton to help them stay in the top division. A red card against former club Manchester City ended things on a sour note.
Sturridge did feature a lot more at Chelsea the following season, but it took a transfer to Liverpool in 2013 for him to fully fulfil his potential until injury hindered his career.
Javier Mascherano (West Ham to Liverpool, 2007)
Rafael Benitez was in London preparing for Liverpool’s game against Tottenham in December 2006 when he paid a visit to a plush apartment block in Canary Wharf.
Javier Mascherano opened the door and welcomed him in. Over the course of the next few hours, Benitez explained why the Argentina international would be the perfect fit for his Liverpool team.
Mascherano, who had played just seven minutes of Premier League football for West Ham United since October with Alan Pardew selecting Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker ahead of him, had his heart set on making the move north.
However, getting the deal done was far from straightforward. FIFA 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. Liverpool had to get special clearance to take Mascherano, initially on loan, for a fee of £1.6million.
That was forthcoming shortly before the January transfer deadline but then there was also the complicated web of third-party ownership surrounding both Mascherano and fellow Argentina international Carlos Tevez, who had both arrived at Upton Park from Corinthians the previous summer in moves facilitated by the agent Kia Joorabchian.
It took a further three weeks for Mascherano’s transfer to be sanctioned by the Premier League, meaning it was late February before he belatedly made his Liverpool debut in a 4-0 rout of Sheffield United. He proved to be worth the wait as fans took the tenacious midfielder to their hearts.
Islam Slimani (Leicester to Newcastle, 2018)
Five years ago, Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United could not score goals.
Promoted from the Championship the previous season, a front three of Ayoze Perez, Dwight Gayle, and Joselu needed reinforcement — and a loan deal for record Leicester City signing Islam Slimani was seen as the solution.
All in the Newcastle squad — but not playing — were three strikers who are now Premier League regulars: Aleksandr Mitrovic, Ivan Toney, and Adam Armstrong.
The decision to look elsewhere went as well as can be expected. Slimani arrived with a thigh injury, and did not play until the end of March, making only one start.
His spell at St James’ Park ended in ignominy as he kicked out at West Bromwich Albion’s Craig Dawson, and though it was missed by the referee, he was suspended for the final three games of the season. Farewell, sweet prince.
Paul Jones (Southampton to Liverpool, 2004)
It didn’t last long but Paul Jones lived the dream at Liverpool.
The experienced goalkeeper was signed by Gerard Houllier on loan from Southampton in January 2004 after injuries to Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland forced Liverpool to bring in another senior shot-stopper.
At the age of 36, Jones became the oldest player to make his debut for Liverpool since the Second World War when he started against Aston Villa at Anfield. He kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win but was then beaten twice in a 2-1 defeat away to Tottenham.
Dudek returned to the side for the next game and Jones was no longer required by Houllier. He completed a permanent move from Southampton to Wolverhampton Wanderers before the end of January and was the final Premier League player to play for three clubs in a single season.
“I was a fanatical Liverpool supporter growing up,” Jones said. “Everyone in north Wales supported Liverpool when I was younger so to get the chance to emulate my boyhood hero Ray Clemence and play in goal for Liverpool was a real dream come true. I’d never touched the ‘This is Anfield’ sign when I was an opposition player — I think that tradition should be reserved for Liverpool players — so to get to touch it and know that I was touching it as a Liverpool player meant everything.”
Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid to Arsenal, 2021)
This is about as good an outcome as you can hope for from a loan deal.
Odegaard was a squad player at Real Madrid, but is now utterly essential to Arsenal — the club captain, no less. Remarkably, Madrid compounded the decision to loan him out by agreeing to sell him for an initial fee in the region of €30million.
Interestingly, while his loan spell had some highlights, injury and form meant his performances were a bit patchy. It was only once the deal was made permanent that he began to consistently show his best form.
When Leicester City effectively swapped Adrien Silva, a seasoned Portgual international whose time at the club had been a disaster from pretty much the moment he signed, 14 seconds after the transfer deadline, for Youri Tielemans there wasn’t too much excitement.
Tielemans may have been a Belgium international but he had fallen out of favour at Monaco with French media questioning his physicality, which would hardly have been a great fit for a Premier League club.
However, Tielemans’ quality was apparent from the very start. He was the ball-playing midfield general that Leicester had been crying out for and he flourished after the arrival of Brendan Rodgers, prompting the club to spend a club record initial £32million with performance add-ons. Having scored the winner in the FA Cup final and featured in two Europa League campaigns, it’s safe to assume Leicester’s initial investment has grown over the years.
(Top photos: Christopher Lee; Julian Finney; Stu Forster/Getty Images; design by Sam Richardson)
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