The regular EFL season is coming to an end over the coming weeks, with promotions, play-offs and relegations still to be decided across the Championship, League One and League Two.
Individually, footballers will be playing for their futures. And for those on loan, those futures can shift and change depending on what happens in these weeks, over pre-season and into the next campaign.
Every Premier League club has players out on temporary deals in the EFL — but which ones are worth keeping an eye on? The Athletic’s experts have taken a look at the rising stars who are out on loan in the Football League, assessed how they have performed and report on what their state of play is ahead of their return to their parent clubs.
Player: Brooke Norton-Cuffy
The right-back turned 18 in January but was given an opportunity to accelerate his progress by joining Lincoln City on loan mid-season.
He took to League One extremely well and has amassed 15 senior appearances with two league games to play. During his spell at the LNER Stadium, he has played both as a full-back in a back four and a wing-back in a back three/five to aid his development further.
At Lincoln, his ability to seamlessly progress the ball with his left foot in build-up and dribble through central and wide areas has been particularly impressive.
“He’ll go back to Arsenal a better player and I’ve got no doubts — it might not be for a year or two — but he will play in their first team regularly,” said Lincoln City manager Michael Appleton in early April.
State of play for next season: Arsenal are already reassessing their plans for Norton-Cuffy on the back of his positive loan spell. The Athletic revealed the 18-year-old was offered a new contract in March, with talks still ongoing in early April.
Whether it is next season or beyond that, Arsenal want Norton-Cuffy to be part of their future.
Art de Roche
Player: Keinan Davis
The powerful forward has made a huge impact at Nottingham Forest, not just with his pace and power, but because he is far more than just a battering ram. Davis has shown he has craft and intelligence to go alongside his obvious physical attributes.
“Keinan is an excellent footballer. He is a strong, strong boy. He has good feet and he can see a pass,” says Forest boss Steve Cooper. “What I love about him is that he is so selfless. He is such a team player.”
Davis has scored a relatively modest five goals since joining in January, but it is his all-round contributions that have made him such an asset — and has kept him in the team ahead of Lewis Grabban and Sam Surridge.
State of play for next season: It seems that he might be surplus to requirements at Villa but, at the same time, his performances will only be adding to his price tag. Forest would like to sign him.
Player: Marcus Forss
Brentford caused some confusion in January when they allowed their back-up striker Marcus Forss to go out on loan to Hull City. The 22-year-old was mainly used as an impact substitute for Thomas Frank’s side in the Championship in 2020-21 and scored the winning goal in their play-off semi-final victory over Bournemouth.
However, the Finland international’s game time in the Premier League this season was limited and Brentford decided he needed more experience. Forss has scored once and registered one assist for Hull in his first eight appearances and there is hope he can add to that tally in the final few weeks of the campaign.
He has described his time with the second-tier side as a “learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed it and playing week in and week out is brilliant”.
State of play: Forss is viewed as an important part of Brentford’s future, which is why he signed a new contract in December 2020 which runs until the summer of 2026. The club felt it was crucial he went out on loan and played regularly before returning to compete for a place in the squad.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Player: Reda Khadra
Blackburn now have an outside chance of making the play-offs, but their challenge has been a great learning curve for Reda Khadra at Ewood Park alongside Brighton team-mate Jan Paul van Hecke.
The 20-year-old has contributed five goals and four assists in 28 appearances for Tony Mowbray’s team. Those encouraging numbers are accompanied by the benefit of further education under the vastly experienced Mowbray.
Khadra has been good at doing what he does best — beating opponents with a combination of trickery and speed.
The former Borussia Dortmund academy product has a “rocket in his right foot”, according to Mowbray, combined with a strong work ethic, often staying late after training to hone his skills.
He’s shown character too, scoring the winner against QPR in February days after a costly penalty miss in a defeat by Sheffield United.
“KHADRA ENDS THE DROUGHT” 💪
Ewood Park ERUPTS as Reda Khadra bamboozles David Marshall and nestles his superb dipping effort into the bottom corner! ☄️ pic.twitter.com/8omDgDVq4q
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 26, 2022
Only a calf injury prevented Khadra from representing Germany Under-21s last month.
He still has work to do in his responsibilities out of possession, but there’s no doubt about his raw talent and potential.
State of play next season: Graham Potter has already handed Khadra his Premier League debut in a challenging environment as a late substitute away to Manchester City during the 2020-21 season. He could provide a different dimension to the head coach’s attacking options.
Failing that, Brighton may decide Khadra would be better served by one more year out on loan. He won’t be short of admirers.
Player: Bailey Peacock-Farrell
Last summer, it was viewed as vital that Bailey Peacock-Farrell was allowed out on loan to get some vital first-team game time that he had been lacking since arriving at Burnley in 2019. Ideally, the club wanted to loan him to a Championship side, but when a lack of interest was forthcoming he was allowed to join Sheffield Wednesday in League One.
It has been an encouraging season for the Northern Ireland international, who is now 25. He has been a regular starter, making 43 appearances, and has become a key player in Wednesday’s promotion push, making several impressive saves in important moments. He has contributed to 17 clean sheets in all competitions.
It was exactly what Peacock-Farrell needed to continue his development. Behind the scenes there was encouragement with his development but it did not always transfer onto the pitch. He did not feature for the first team during his first season, and when he did play in his second season after moving up to second-choice he failed to lay down a marker.
There were a handful of good performances in cup competitions but he conceded 14 goals in four Premier League games. At the end of last season, he lost his place to third choice Will Norris.
State of play for next season: Peacock-Farrell’s future will depend on what division Burnley are in next season. If they manage to survive then it is expected that Nick Pope will remain at the club and remain No 1. In March, the club opened contract discussions with the England international, who has two years left on his deal. It is understood he is open to staying and signing a new deal, blocking Peacock-Farrell’s pathway.
However, if Burnley are relegated it is expected that there will be plenty of interest in Pope and he will want to move back to the Premier League to improve his World Cup chances. That would open the door for Peacock-Farrell to battle with Wales international Wayne Hennessey for the No 1 shirt.
Player: Levi Colwill
The 19-year-old has shone in the Championship and played a major part in Huddersfield Town’s challenge for promotion. Such is the centre-back’s progress, several clubs are watching him and could make bids this summer.
However, Chelsea will lose Antonio Rudiger when his contract expires this summer, and the futures of Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are also uncertain, so Colwill’s impressive form couldn’t be timed any better.
The plan all along has been for coach Thomas Tuchel to take a closer look at Colwill in pre-season, when he will have three years left on his contract.
Tuchel isn’t afraid to promote players from the academy. Trevoh Chalobah, who also had a loan spell at Huddersfield, has been picked regularly this season.
State of play for next season: Should be part of Chelsea’s senior squad.
Player: Rob Street
A striker who impressed in Palace’s youth teams, Street finally earned an opportunity in senior football with National League side Torquay United last season but was not afforded opportunities for minutes.
This season has been better for the 20-year-old, who joined League Two Newport County on a half-season loan in January having initially impressed new Palace manager Patrick Vieira in pre-season. Since moving to Newport, he has two goals and an assist in 16 appearances and has established himself as a regular starter.
The feeling is that Street may be a late developer who establishes himself as an EFL regular due to his professionalism and endeavour.
Depending on who is available, he may travel to Australia with Palace’s first-team squad for their pre-season tour.
State of play for next season: Expected to be loaned out again for first-team experience.
Player: Lewis Warrington
“The young lads these days talk about No 6, No 8 and No 10, but we just said he saw him (Warrington) as an all-round midfielder,” Vaughan said. “It was, ‘Go and win the ball back for us, create chances and score goals’.
“He’s taken it all on board and run with it. You can see he’s having an impact at both ends of the pitch.”
Tranmere would like to keep the Everton loanee beyond his loan this season, but doing so may prove to be a challenge. After excelling in a box-to-box role at Prenton Park, Warrington has plenty of admirers — most notably at his parent club.
The priority for the boyhood blue, who has a season ticket in the Lower Gwladys, would ultimately be to make the grade at Goodison.
The big strides taken over the last couple of months mean he is likely to at least get the chance to attempt to do so in pre-season.
State of play for next season: His contract is set to expire this summer but he is in talks over a new deal. He should be afforded an opportunity to impress during pre-season if he does commit his future to the club.
Player: Cody Drameh
Drameh’s temporary move to Cardiff City was a bone of contention when it happened in January — it was a loan driven by him and against the wishes of Leeds’ former head coach, Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa wanted Drameh to stay at Elland Road. Drameh was looking for more first-team minutes and knew that he would get games at Cardiff.
Leeds rate the 20-year-old, though, and when they signed him from Fulham in 2020 they genuinely felt that he could be a successor to Luke Ayling at right-back in the Premier League. Drameh had made five appearances but his involvement was fairly limited under Bielsa, even when Leeds’ injury list was at its height this season.
Cardiff have quickly discovered why Leeds went after him at Fulham in the first place and Drameh is a fixture in their line-up. He is relatively quick and likes going end to end, and his performances in the Championship have been impressive: so much so that he is nominated for Cardiff’s player of the year award despite having been there for less than half a season.
State of play for next season: Drameh has a contract to 2024, so from Leeds’ perspective he is tied down for now. Had Bielsa remained as head coach at Elland Road it was hard to see a future for Drameh. Bielsa was extremely frustrated by the defender’s decision to push for a loan. But with Jesse Marsch in charge, the door might open again — and if not, there will be plenty of interest from the Championship.
Player: Daniel Iversen
Leicester’s other Danish goalkeeper has been in outstanding form on loan at Preston North End. He had good loans at Oldham Athletic and Rotherham United in the EFL and then at Leicester’s sister club OH Leuven last season, where he gained invaluable experience. However, he has stepped up his level of performance at Deepdale this season, keeping 13 clean sheets in the Championship.
𝙏𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙨𝙖𝙫𝙚 🤯
An incredible piece of goalkeeping from Daniel Iversen to keep the score at 1-1 yesterday!
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) April 16, 2022
State of play for next season: Iversen signed a long-term contract with Leicester in 2020, committing him to the club until 2025, so another loan is likely. There will be no shortage of interest from Championship clubs after this season.
Player: Neco Williams
In a short space of time, Williams has made an important contribution to Fulham’s promotion push. He signed on deadline day in January as a loan replacement for the outgoing Denis Odoi, and he has since made the right-back position his own. That’s no mean feat, considering his competition comes from Netherlands international Kenny Tete.
Williams joined to find game time before Wales’ crucial March World Cup play-off clash with Austria and he has started nearly every game for which he has been available.
He has been effective, too. Thriving in Marco Silva’s attack-minded set-up, he picked up an assist on his debut against Millwall and then added two more in the games that followed against Hull and Huddersfield. He has scored twice too, both against Swansea, with the second being a brilliant chest and shot from distance.
STUNNING VOLLEY! 💥
Neco Williams sealed Fulham’s 5-1 victory over Swansea with a SUPERB volley from just outside the box 🙌 pic.twitter.com/RfscwrKqov
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 8, 2022
“His offensive game has been fantastic for us,” says Silva. “He’s a young lad, but always working hard and doing his best. I’m pleased to see the way he has adapted to this football club and our philosophy.”
State of play for next season: Williams has made a big impact at Fulham and it is no surprise that they want to keep him permanently. Fulham will hope the prospect of regular Premier League football next year will sufficiently appeal, but Liverpool will need to decide on their next steps with him. Williams signed a five-year deal in 2020, but opportunities ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold will not come easily.
Player: Gavin Bazunu
Bazunu has been earning rave reviews for Portsmouth, where he’s on loan, and the Republic of Ireland. At 20 years old, he is already No 1 for his country, and saving a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty is always going to help with his profile.
City signed him from Shamrock Rovers, where he made his first-team debut at 16, in 2019. Last season he was loaned to Rochdale, where he developed under Brian Barry-Murphy, now City’s Under-23 manager.
His work at Portsmouth this season has been praised by boss Danny Cowley: “Gavin for me is top. A brilliant journey for him. A great year for him last season, he learned so much playing in a Rochdale team that got relegated.
“He lost his place in that team, but we could see from the moment I met him, I just knew. You just know when a boy is going to be the best they can be. What an unbelievable mindset.”
State of play for next season: Most likely another loan — from City’s point of view ideally to a Championship club pushing for promotion, so he can feel the pressure of playing for a big club in front of lots of fans. Should Zack Steffen look to move on for whatever reason, Bazunu could be in the conversation to become Ederson’s understudy, but it’s most likely that City would prefer him to get regular playing time.
Player: James Garner
Garner made a slow start on his return to Nottingham Forest on loan but, once he found his feet, he has grown in stature steadily, making 43 appearances in all competitions and scoring four goals.
The England Under-21 international is capable of making Forest tick with his passing range in midfield. But he also possesses the work rate and desire to win the ball back.
“He’s got really good technique. His out-of-possession game might go a little bit under the radar, but that’s been really good as well. He reads and intercepts some really important passes, and that’s as pleasing for me as the other stuff,” says Forest boss Steve Cooper.
State of play for next season: Forest would love to bring him back for a third spell but his progress has been such that, unless they win promotion, another loan feels unlikely.
Player: Elliot Anderson
Anderson has been getting rave reviews at Bristol Rovers, with Joey Barton — never knowingly understated — comparing the midfielder with one of football’s greatest players after the youngster scored the only goal in a victory over Colchester United last month.
“I’ve been listening to Bill Shankly tapes a lot today,” Barton said. “He talked a lot about a 19-year-old Diego Maradona and how he slows down in the penalty area, exactly like Elliot does. He is such a talent. Elliot has been brilliant for us from the first day we brought him in.”
Anderson, also 19, has scored six times in 19 appearances in League Two this season, with Eddie Howe’s only frustration stemming from Newcastle’s inability to get him “slightly higher up the pyramid because I felt his talents deserved that”.
Howe sees big things ahead. “He’s a very, very talented player, also with a great mindset,” the Newcastle manager said. “Elliot’s very driven, very focused, wants to do well, wants to achieve. He’s got a slight edge to his game as well, where nothing will stand in his way to help him get on and progress.”
State of play for next season: Howe acknowledges that progressing from youth team to the Premier League is “probably one of the hardest transitions” and that “if I can’t guarantee him that game time, then definitely a loan spell will be an option again”. He expects interest from the Championship next time.
Player: Danel Sinani
Norwich have a lot of players out on loan across various clubs, but working out which ones have done well or might still have a future at the club is tricky.
One that has caught his eye is Onel Hernandez, who has been with Birmingham City since January and may yet have earned himself another chance at Norwich.
However, the most impressive loanee has arguably been Sinani.
The 25-year-old forward arrived from his native Luxembourg, where he played part-time football. That meant a rawness that needed refining via games away from Norwich, which he has got in the Championship with promotion-chasing Huddersfield Town.
He has made 38 league appearances, 30 of them starts, scoring six goals and making four assists. The majority of those goal involvements have helped earn points and take Carlos Corberan’s side to a play-off spot.
His efforts have not been universally appreciated by the Huddersfield supporters, but Sinani has still shown considerable progress from where he was 12 months ago.
State of play for next season: This is where it gets a little muddy. Huddersfield’s season loan includes an option to buy Sinani. Promotion would likely trigger a permanent move, although if they were to reach the play-off final at Wembley and earn an unexpected financial bonus from that game — even without promotion at the end of it — then Huddersfield may have the resources to complete the permanent move anyway. If not, Norwich will at least have a striker with fresh experience of contributing to a Championship promotion push.
Player: Dynel Simeu
Simeu joined Carlisle United on a six-month loan in January after it became clear he needed to be playing first-team football. The central defender left Chelsea for Southampton last summer and went into the club’s B-team squad.
Since heading out on loan, however, Simeu has excelled at the League Two side and has established himself as a fans’ favourite through his performances and brilliant attitude on and off the pitch.
The 20-year-old deserves credit for heading to the other end of the country and leaving his family behind in a bid to gain invaluable experience in a challenging environment.
State of play for next season: Southampton are set to target a new centre-back in the summer, but pre-season might afford them the time to take a closer look at Simeu. At the very least he has shown he deserves to be in and around the first-team squad, where he will almost certainly develop faster. However, you would expect Carlisle to be desperate for him to return for another loan spell given his success so far.
Player: Troy Parrott
Parrott has been on fire in recent weeks, scoring three excellent goals in his last five games to help MK Dons with their push for promotion from League One.
His industriousness has stood out throughout the season, but the fact he’s now chipping in with goals as well has made him even more popular. Parrott also scored for the Republic of Ireland in the recent international break, and things appear to have clicked for the striker who was once held up as the next big thing at Tottenham.
ABSOLUTE SCENES 🤯
Troy Parrott wins it for the Republic of Ireland in the 97th minute! 🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/FhWXuRQPfi
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 29, 2022
It’s been a cheering return to form after two difficult loans at Millwall and Ipswich Town last season.
State of play for next season: Spurs will trigger the one-year extension in his contract in the summer to keep him at the club until 2024. He will then be loaned again next season, most likely to a Championship club. That club could be MK Dons, who are bidding for promotion to the second tier and would love to have Parrott for another year.
Player: Domingos Quina
It feels like it’s now or never for Quina at Watford. The 22-year-old’s stop-start career since he was snaffled from the fringes of West Ham’s squad in 2018 needs a kick-start. His 16 games in the Championship since joining Barnsley in January is the highest league tally for a single club in any season of his career.
His summer deadline day loan move to Fulham didn’t work out as he failed to fit into Marco Silva’s plans. Watford know there is a supremely gifted player in there — he can score spectacular goals — but the next step is maintaining consistent form and working out his best position.
State of play for next season: Last summer, he extended his contract at Watford to 2024. His agent plans to sit down with Watford’s hierarchy at the end of the season to find out their plans for him. If a new manager is appointed this summer he will want to assess his squad, and in the Championship there is more chance of game time at Watford. If someone can unlock the potential Watford have a player on their hands. If he’s deemed surplus to requirements and a move away can be brokered then that may only be seen elsewhere.
Player: Conor Coventry
Conor Coventry has impressed during his loan spell at MK Dons. The 22-year-old has made 19 appearances for the League One side and has only been on the losing side three times.
With West Ham United captain Mark Noble retiring at the end of the season and the club unlikely to convert Alex Kral’s loan into a permanent move, Coventry is aware there could be an opening for him next season.
“I have more belief in myself, more experience, knowledge of the game, and I’m hungrier,” said the midfielder in a recent interview with The Athletic. “It’s my club — I’ve been there since I was 10 and it’s where I want to play.”
State of play for next season: It is thought Coventry will be given an opportunity to impress in pre-season. Last summer, the midfielder did well in friendlies against Northampton Town, Reading, Celtic and Brentford.
Player: Morgan Gibbs-White
Gibbs-White had been part of Wolves’ first-team squad since 2017 but the majority of his appearances had come from the bench and it was felt he needed a full season to start unlocking his undoubted potential. That’s exactly what has happened at Sheffield United.
With 10 goals and eight assists, he’s had the most productive season of his career by a mile, thriving in an advanced midfield role that makes the most of his incessant positivity and creativity.
WHAT A GOAL! 🤯
Morgan Gibbs-White with an INCREDIBLE flick for Sheffield United tonight ⚽ pic.twitter.com/kFdg2CzCR3
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 8, 2022
His end product was always an issue at Wolves but seems like less of a problem now he is playing week in, week out. Gibbs-White has enjoyed his time at Bramall Lane so much that he turned down a return to Wolves in January, knowing a first-team spot would be hard to keep.
State of play for next season: Contracted until 2024 but, unless Bruno Lage sees him as integral to their first team for 2022-23, Wolves may decide now is the time to cash in.
(Photos: Getty Images)