Footballers are expensive. At the top tier of the sport the fees that clubs are willing to cough up for players without any concrete assurance that they’ll perform well is truly staggering when put in a wider context.
However, the executives with a keen eye on the club’s coffers practice the age-old business principle of ‘try before you buy’ through the loan market.
While Radamel Falcao’s Manchester United misadventure will forever serve as a disastrous example, Sheffield United’s capture of the Red Devils’ Dean Henderson can be considered as glorious evidence of an outcome at the other end of the spectrum.
As the Blades rapidly secure Manchester United’s approval for an extension to Henderson’s contract, let’s take a look at some of the other great examples of temporary employment across Europe in the last decade.
Real Madrid’s current number one cut his teeth in La Liga on the other side of the Spanish capital during a three-year loan spell with Atlético Madrid, which started one day after Chelsea snapped him up from Genk in 2011.
Courtois missed three league games in his time with Diego Simeone’s Atléti, his 6’6 frame forming a formidable figure behind a parsimonious backline as he crowned his spell in red and white with a La Liga title.
Given the sheer volume of Chelsea loanees which populate the footballing ether, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find two entrants on this list.
A 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku, desperate for minutes at senior level after spending most of his debut campaign in blue with the Under-21s, found an opportunity in the Midlands with West Brom.
The Belgian smashed in 17 Premier League goals that campaign which somehow couldn’t convince Chelsea to give him a regular starting berth. Nevertheless, Lukaku still fondly looks back at that time with The Baggies, simply summing it up as ‘dank memories’.
Newcastle were among the first to snap up some of the highly-paid talent that had gone down with QPR in 2013. Rémy swapped his hoops for black and white stripes, netting 14 goals in what would prove to be his only season on Tyneside as Mike Ashley was reticent to stump up the necessary sum.
Chelsea swooped in for the Frenchman as Newcastle dropped from 10th to 15th, but Rémy has never been able to replicate that blistering form since.
At perhaps the peak of their player recruitment powers, Toby Alderweireld joined Southampton in the summer of 2014, the same day Sadio Mané arrived on the south coast.
The Belgian centre-back had struggled for opportunities in his debut season in Spain but Saints boss Ronald Koeman, remembering Alderweireld’s time with Ajax, secured him on a season-long loan. A spell which was impressive enough to earn him a move to Tottenham Hotspur the following summer.
Three years after finishing as the 2014 World Cup’s top scorer, James Rodríguez had fallen drastically down Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order. But his loan move to perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich looked to have revamped his career.
James thrived in midfield or as part of Bayern’s front-three, floating menacingly all over the pitch with a particularly memorable display coming in a 6-0 evisceration of Borussia Dortmund.
Having never hit double figures in a European top-flight campaign before donning that famous gold shirt, Jiménez seemed like something of a risk as the first-choice striker for a newly-promoted side (and so, a perfect use of the loan system).
But the Mexican knocked 13 past what the English top flight had to offer, laying on a further seven assists as Wolves produced one of the most impressive campaigns from a freshly promoted club in years.
Zapata more than doubled his previous season-high goal tally when he powered 23 Serie A goals in for Atalanta in 2018/19.
The Sampdoria loanee finished three goals short of the Capocannoniere crown, but Atalanta eased into the Champions League places and recorded the club’s highest ever Serie A finish, thanks in no small part to the Colombian’s goals.
The jet-heeled Morocco international is in the midst of a superb two-year loan spell with Borussia Dortmund. After ending his first campaign early with injury (leaving the team top of the table only for their lead to be squandered in his absence) the 21-year-old’s second season has been even more impressive.
The stamina and frightening pace which he possesses has been maximised from his new role of right wing-back. As he attempts to cover every blade of grass on that flank each match, Hakimi has added assists to his ever-expanding arsenal of skills.
Dortmund will surely be doing everything in their power to make this loan a little more permanent.