The end of the transfer window is drawing close and some teams are scrambling to get deals done. Fans of all Premier League clubs will be hoping for their team to do something more between now and 5pm on Monday, regardless of what they’ve done already. There’s something intoxicating about a deadline day signing, regardless of what age you are and who you support.
The Premier League is very much an arms race. The “Big 6” compete against each other just as much off the field as on the field, battling to sign players to boost their team, their squad and their profile. The problem with this policy is that it blocks the development path for young players, players who should be the future of their clubs. Often times the “Big 6” will buy the brightest young talents from smaller clubs in England, or from abroad, and then dump that player into a failed development pathway which inevitably sees their careers stall.
Patrick Roberts is a prime example of that, and at 23 he is currently without a squad number at Manchester City, waiting to find out if he will be sent out on yet another loan. For the sake of Roberts’ career, he could really do with a permanent move. Once seen as one of the biggest talents in the English game, Roberts couldn’t get much game time last season during loans to Norwich or Middlesbrough. He needs a clean break and a fresh start.
Roberts isn’t an isolated case though, and given the spending of Liverpool, City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal over the last couple of years, there will be more like him. Players like Roberts, and others, represent a real opportunity for clubs lower down the Premier League, or indeed lower down the football league. Hugely talented young players who have been well coached and could potentially be signed on loan, or on permanent deals for fees below their value their talent should demand.
Liverpool, as defending Champions, will be in no mood to suffer any sort of drop off from last season and that has required them to dip into the transfer market for the signings of Kostas Tsimikas, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota. Many Liverpool fans were expecting to see four young players play bigger roles in the first team this season, and while it appears that Harvey Elliott and in particular Curtis Jones will become big parts of the squad, it became clear that Rhian Brewster and Ki-Jana Hoever were not. Rather than loan the pair, Liverpool have decided to sell them for £23mil to Sheffield United and £10mil to Wolves respectively.
Looking at the rest of the players, the only other youngsters who are first team ready and find their paths blocked perhaps Neco Williams could use a loan to a Championship club. Williams is tagged as the back-up to Trent Alexander-Arnold but he might benefit more from regular playing time at the Championship level. Liverpool could use James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom will likely struggle for minutes in a crowded midfield, at right back in games that Alexander-Arnold is unavailable or rested for.
Manchester City have signed two central defenders so far this window, with Ruben Dias following Nathan Ake into Pep Guardiola’s squad. With Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia and Jon Stones already at the club, City are now well stocked in the position and that blocks the path of two promising young players on their books. Tosin Adarabioyo has had two successful loans, at West Brom and Blackburn Rovers, and having just turned 23 will want to continue to play regular minutes. He won’t get them at City, but could be a good addition for a club like Fulham, who are desperate to find central defenders, or Burnley who could do with some improved depth in the position.
Also at City, and also 23, Philippe Sandler is another in need of a loan move to continue his development. The former Ajax academy graduate joined City in 2018 from PEC Zwolle and loaned Anderlecht on loan last season. He featured only nine times under Vincent Kompany, largely because of Kompany’s insistence on picking himself. Sandler would benefit massively from a loan to a Championship club where he could play 25-30 games this season.
The third City player in need of a loan is Claudio Gomes. A 20 year old French underage international, Gomes plays primarily as a defensive midfielder and has seen his development stall since joining from Paris St Germain in 2018. Gomes is very highly rated but his loan at PSV Eindhoven did not work out last season. Perhaps a loan back to France would be best to get him back on track.
City’s neighbours Manchester United possess one of the best academies in world football but the pathway to the first team has not always been clear. Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have shown that there is possibilities for young players, but with United desperate to get back to challenging for titles that pathway may not close off.
Brandon Williams seemed set to establish himself as the club’s first choice left back at times last season but lost his place to Luke Shaw, and with rumours that United want to sign Alex Telles it would seem that left back is not where Williams will play for United. Naturally right-footed, he has spent more of his youth career at right back but United own one of the world’s most expensive right-backs in Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Williams could just be used as the back-up to AWB but Timothy Fosu-Mensah appears to primary back-up right now. Williams is good enough for the Premier League but perhaps dropping down to a club like Derby could see him get really good experience within a strong developmental environment.
The other United youngster who can not afford a wasted season is Axel Tuanzebe. A very talented centre back who’s versatile enough to play multiple other positions, Tuanzebe played a part in helping Aston Villa get promoted to the Premier League during his 2018/19 loan spell at Villa Park. Might Tuanzebe be an option for Norwich with Ben Godfrey on his way to Everton?
Chelsea have long partaken in the stockpiling of young players, with very few truly making the grade since Roman Abramovich took ownership of the club. That does seem to be changing under Frank Lampard but this summer Chelsea have been heavy spenders, particularly in attack. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, at 24, isn’t exactly a youngster but he’s definitely in need of a move away from Stamford Bridge.
One player who is a youngster, and could use a loan, is Callum Hudson-Odoi. With the additions of Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner in the last year and a half, along with the impressive form of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, Chelsea have a logjam in attack. Hudson-Odoi, not long recovered from an achilles tendon injury, will not want to spend the season playing mostly at under-23 level. He’s been linked with a loan move to long time admirers Bayern Munich, but they wouldn’t help him too much as Bayern have Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry on their flanks. Perhaps Southampton, who could do with an addition in that area, could be an option.
Jose Mourinho has never been a big proponent of youth during his career, Marcus Rashford not withstanding, and with Spurs being in win now mode, it would appear that there are three young players who are unlikely to get much game time this season. Spurs have already loaned out Oliver Skipp and Juan Foyth so it appears that is the pathway they want for their young players, rather than permanent sales.
Cameron Carter-Vickers has had five loans over the last three seasons and a sixth should be on the cards. He has shown he’s more than capable at Championship level and there are a number of teams in that league who are in need of a central defenders, including a couple of the clubs he’s already had spells with. Both Swansea and Luton should be interested in him.
Jack Clarke broke through at Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa and was snapped up by Spurs immediately after his first season as a professional. It looked like shrewd business by Spurs, but unfortunately for Clarke it appears like the move came far too soon for him. He was loaned back to Leeds, but that move proved a disaster as Bielsa largely ignored him. He was recalled by Spurs and sent to QPR where things didn’t get much better. After 25 appearances in his debut season, he made on 10 across his two loans last season. The talent is there but he needs a manager who will trust him and develop him. Burnley could desperately do with a player like him to play opposite Dwight McNeil. Clarke’s ability to play both flanks would combine well with McNeil who likes to float from wing to wing. Few managers develop players better than Dyche, and it’s a move that could make sense for all parties.
The most obvious, and most high profile, player in need of a loan from Spurs is Ryan Sessegnon. Sessegnon is an enormous talent, who Spurs paid £25mil for to bring him in from Fulham. Sessegnon had been sensational in the Championship, before a hit and miss season in a bad Fulham team that relegated from the Premier League. Spurs recognised the talent, and splashed out to get him. There are question marks over whether he’s a left back or a winger, but Spurs have just signed Sergio Reguillon and Gareth Bale so they’ve blocked his path into the team in both spots. The likelihood is that he’s something in between, a wing-back. So ideally Spurs should be looking for a club who use wingbacks, and have a good development coach who could take Sessegnon and help him become the player he has the talent to be.
He’s been linked with a couple of Bundesliga teams, but Brighton seems the perfect choice. Sessegnon opposite Tariq Lamptey could be sensational for the Seagulls, and Graham Potter is a tremendous development coach who could help Sessegnon fulfill his potential. Spurs could even opt for a two year loan to give Sessegnon some stability, safe in the knowledge that he’d still have two years left on his deal with them when that loan ended.
Tottenham’s great rivals Arsenal have been more guilty than anyone when it comes to overlooking their own academy talents. Serge Gnabry, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ismael Bennacer and Donyell Malen were all at the club, and all left because they couldn’t see a path into the first team. Gnabry has developed into one of the world’s best players, whilst Reine-Adelaide and Bennacer would represent massive upgrades on Arsenal’s current central midfielders and would be perfect for the team Mikel Arteta is attempting to build.
With the signing of Willian, Arsenal risk doing the same thing again. Willian has become an immediate starter, which has pushed Nicolas Pepe into a squad role, which in turn has meant that Reiss Nelson isn’t even getting games in the Carabao Cup. Nelson is a very promising young player who proved on loan at Hoffenheim in 2018/19 that he’s ready for top flight football, and more than good enough to succeed at the top level. He’s been linked with a potential move to Crystal Palace, but would also suit Leeds United. Whether Arsenal would trust Leeds with another young player after the failure of Eddie Nketiah’s loan there remains to be seen but Nelson need to move and play this window.
The return to favour of Mohamed Elneny, plus the continued pursuit of Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar mean that minutes in midfield will be hard to come by for Arsenal youngsters, and should lead to Joe Willock looking elsewhere for game time this season. Willock’s brothers Chris, now at Benfica, and Matty, now at Gillingham, have previously left Arsenal and while he’s the most talented of the three, he needs to do so as well. At least temporarily. Southampton were rumoured to be interested in Tom Davies, but Willock might be a better option for them to give them more options in midfield.
Finally there’s Emile Smith-Rowe, the fantastically gifted attacking midfielder who doesn’t seem to have a position in Arteta’s 3-4-3. Smith-Rowe has spent time on loan at RB Leipzig and at Huddersfield, and was adored by the Huddersfield fans as he proved himself more than capable at Championship level. There are some promotion chasing teams that could definitely do with an addition like him, but there are also Premier League clubs where he could excel. Southampton would be one, Burnley another and if Arsenal were open to talking to Leeds about another loan, Smith-Rowe under Bielsa would be a joy. But Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, badly in need of creativity, could be the best fit.
Smith-Rowe could play on the right of the midfield 3 and create the type of chances that Rhian Brewster, Ollie McBurnie and Lys Mousset could feast on. A player who likes to drift from central areas into wide spaces, Smith-Rowe could dovetail perfectly with George Baldock or Jayden Bogle bombing on from right wing-back. Smith-Rowe is one of the most uniquely talented players in the country, but he needs to play regularly this season.
This list is not exhaustive, and this problem of young players having their paths blocked is not limited to the big six, but they are the worst offenders in this regard.