Learning out on loan: United's most effective loan spells
With several young Manchester United players thriving on loan at the moment, we decided to look back at some of the most effective deals from the club’s recent past – from David Beckham in the 1990s to moves involving three current first-teamers.
Thirteen Reds remain out on loan after winger Tahith Chong returned to United after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured thigh tendon. The 21-year-old had been making waves at Birmingham City, whose supporters were gutted to see him go.
Ethan Laird and Di’Shon Bernard are showing particularly impressive recent form for Swansea City and Hull City, respectively, in the Championship, but they’re not the only ones. See our weekly loan watch for further details.
The success of a loan move can come down to many factors. A successful loan move doesn't rely on a string of goals or Man of the Match performances, but is about the experiences picked up while away from the club. Those experiences include living away from home, learning how to be more independent, picking up new languages, working under different coaching styles, playing football under different pressures and much more.
In a recent edition of United Review, Steve Bartram looked at some of the best examples of successful loan moves at the club across the last three decades...
All The Goals: David Beckham
All The Goals | Becks scored 85 goals during his legendary United career: you can watch them all here...
While the latter stages of his career were punctuated by high-profile cameos in Milan and Paris, David Beckham picked up some of his formative experiences in the altogether starker climes of Preston.
“I was shocked,” Becks recalled, of being told that he was heading to Deepdale for a month in February 1995. “I thought it was a sign that a club was trying to get rid of a player.” He quickly amended his thinking. Having been immediately put on set-piece duties for third-tier North End, the 19-year-old duly scored direct from a corner on his debut, then cracked home a sublime free-kick in his next outing.
In just five games with Preston, Beckham’s productivity soared, including one right-wing assist slung in with his left foot, and at the end of his loan he felt sufficiently emboldened to ask Alex Ferguson if he could extend his stay until the end of the campaign.
The Scot’s emphatic no put paid to those hopes, but also underlined the plans he had for young Beckham in the near future.
For all his promise, gifted midfielder Bojan Djordjic found his Reds career stalling in the years after winning 2000’s Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award. A lack of senior action at United prompted him to search for minutes elsewhere and it was in his third loan spell, with hometown club Red Star Belgrade, that he found his mojo. Alongside future Reds defender Nemanja Vidic, Djordjic established himself as a key squad member, notching 25 appearances, netting his first senior goal in a UEFA Cup win over Odense and picking up winners' medals in the Serbian league and cup.
Having made the step up to senior football two years earlier but finding his route to regularity blocked by Ryan Giggs, Kieran Richardson joined West Bromwich Albion, then rock bottom of the Premier League and in need of creative inspiration. A dozen outings later, the 20-year-old was being chaired from the Hawthorns pitch on the shoulders of supporters.
During that time, Richardson netted thrice, including the clinching second goal in West Brom’s final day win over Portsmouth at the Hawthorns, a victory which gave the Baggies the unique honour of being the only club to avoid relegation after starting the final day of the Premier League season in bottom spot.
Speaking later in his career, the winger advocated the benefits of his move, stressing: “I left United on the periphery and I came back as a full England international. It’s good to go on loan, get experience and show what you can do, I am evidence of that.”
A cultured left-footed midfielder unfortunate enough to be competing with Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and, later, Michael Carrick, David Jones took the seldom-trodden path to Holland’s Eredivisie for the 2005/06 season. After a few weeks on NEC Nijmegen’s bench, the England youth international got his opportunity in an unfamiliar 4-3-3 approach and duly thrived, netting four goals in two games and becoming a mainstay for the second half of the season. By term’s end, he’d earned runners-up spot in supporters’ Player of the Year voting and a new, three-year contract with United.
Having caught Sir Alex Ferguson’s attention during a loan at Wrexham from Stoke City, goalkeeper Ben Foster continued to thrive in temporary surroundings by embarking on back-to-back seasons with Watford after signing for United. An outstanding campaign in Watford’s promotion from the Championship was a prelude to Foster’s sensational debut term in the Premier League, where his form for the Hornets led to a first full England cap. “He's better than Edwin van der Sar in my opinion,” voiced Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd, who further confirmed Foster’s positive impression by adding: “He is going to be the best goalkeeper in the world, I'm convinced of that.”
“Playing under Roy was fantastic, I loved it,” grinned Jonny Evans, reliving his two loan stints at Roy Keane’s Sunderland either side of his 20th birthday. “He was very demanding of his players, but that’s what I was used to. That was such a fantastic period of my career.”
Driven up to Wearside by Keane to complete his initial switch in late 2006, Northern Irish defender Evans instantly slotted into the centre of Sunderland’s defence. Joined weeks later by fellow Red Danny Simpson, the two youngsters were integral to the Black Cats’ successful promotion surge.
Named the club’s Young Player of the Year, Evans was so popular at the Stadium of Light that Keane tried to resurrect a second loan for the entirety of the 2007/08 season. The move materialised for the second half of the campaign, with the United youngster once again outstanding as Sunderland preserved their Premier League status. The following term, Evans slipped neatly into Sir Alex Ferguson’s senior squad.
The role of loans in providing the next step up for young talents was seldom better illustrated than in the case of Tom Cleverley who, in successive seasons, went from League One promotion with Leicester City to goalscoring freedom in the Championship with Watford and then a sensational stint at Wigan in his first taste of the Premier League. Having convinced Sir Alex Ferguson of his readiness for the top flight, and with Paul Scholes freshly retired, Cleverley returned to Old Trafford and was a Premier League champion within two years.
While his close friend Cleverley was slotting in neatly at Premier League level, Danny Welbeck proved himself equally adept with a sterling season’s work at Steve Bruce’s Sunderland in 2010/11. A brief but promising taster of senior action at Preston North End midway through the previous campaign had toughened up the tricky youngster, and his fuller physique, trickery and devastating pace made him a star performer for the Black Cats. Six goals in 28 outings may make meagre reading, but Welbeck’s form on Wearside catapulted him into a starting slot at Old Trafford the following year.
Aston Villa supporters will have fond recollections of Sam Johnstone’s season-and-a-half between the sticks at Villa Park between January 2017 and May 2018. The United stopper, at his seventh loan club during his time on United’s books, produced outstanding form while playing in every minute of Villa’s 2017/18 Championship campaign. Unfortunately for the Villans, his excellence prompted West Brom to snap him up in the summer of 2018, and his subsequent displays ultimately led him into England’s Euro 2020 squad.
Though an injury prompted his enforced withdrawal from Gareth Southgate’s roster, Johnstone’s Old Trafford stablemate Dean Henderson also found his way to the Euros via a path lined with loans. The gifted young stopper spent last term locked in a compelling battle for the no.1 spot with David De Gea, having previously shone on a string of temporary deals elsewhere. His form with Sheffield United in the Championship – where he won the Golden Glove – and Premier League was startlingly good, but also continued the trend of previous campaigns. Looking back, Henderson cites his 2017/18 season at Shrewsbury Town as a watershed term. “That was a big year for me,” he admitted. “I learnt so much and grew into a man because you learn off the pitch as well as on it. You’re surrounded by men. You've got to win. You've got to get the win bonus because it pays the bills and that's the bottom line. That was when I really turned from a boy into a man, I think.”
Lingard: My United journeyArticle
Ahead of our 4,000th game with a youth-team graduate in the squad, Jesse spoke about his Reds development.
In his formative years, Jesse Lingard extracted maximum value from his temporary spells with Leicester, Birmingham (where he scored four on his debut), Brighton and Derby, but earlier this year the 28-year-old demonstrated another side to loan deals. Struggling to play his way into the picture at Old Trafford, Lingard embarked on a four-month spell with West Ham and duly scored nine goals and assisted four more, dramatically earning himself an England recall. “It was a reset for me personally,” admitted the attacking midfielder. “With the run of games I had, the confidence kicks in. It was one of the best half-seasons I've had.” Now back and scoring for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reds, Lingard’s loan is proof that it’s never too late to reap the benefits of a well-executed loan.
In a similar vein to Lingard’s reinvention at Upton Park, Diogo Dalot took last season’s campaign with AC Milan and used it to reignite his Reds career. A serial feature as the Rossoneri finished second in Serie A and reached the knockout stages of the Europa League, the Portuguese defender has come back into United’s squad in fine fettle this season. “I think it was very important in terms of confidence and game time,” he admitted. “I feel very energetic, fit and more mature. I’m ready to show to everyone what I can do. I think I’ve learnt a lot of things that can help me succeed this year.”
Back at Villa Park for a third stint, Axel Tuanzebe made a huge impact under Dean Smith in his first two spells, most notably with a starring role in the Villans’ 2018/19 promotion campaign. “He's got a terrific attitude, which will stand him in good stead with his career,” said Smith. “I can't speak highly enough of him. I loved working with him, and I would like to think I helped in a small part in his development.” With Axel signed up for another season in the Midlands, here's hoping all parties benefit from another sterling campaign from the young Reds defender, who will be working under a new manager in the coming weeks.