Garry Monk and his team of scouts deserve the utmost recognition and praise, as their signings within the loan market have been the key to a rise into the top ten of the Championship early on in the 2016/17 season. Jansson, Bartley, Hernandez, and Sacko... these aren’t just bit players; they’re part of the new core of Leeds United.
This simple fact got me thinking about all the players we have seen step out onto the Elland Road pitch on a temporary basis over the last 13 years.
Leeds have had 102 players on loan since 2004. Out of the 102, some have become Leeds legends in their own right, some became world class footballers after they returned to their clubs, and others have been forgotten and lost within the walls at Elland Road.
So, I thought I’d try to list the best 11 loan players we have seen at Leeds United since relegation. Here’s my best Leeds United loans starting XI, let me know if you think I missed anyone.
GK: Casper Ankergren
Casper Ankergren joined Leeds on loan in January 2007 when the club were going through a difficult time. Financial problems and the prospect of relegation lumped heavily over the club. Ankergren would be one of the few positives towards the end of the 2006/07 season, gaining the number 1 shirt from Neil Sullivan and also in the process gaining himself a permanent deal at the club.
Ankergren’s inclusion comes because he was an integral part in our first season within League One, and also for his performance in the FA Cup victory against Manchester United in January 2010. He was brilliant that day and made some vital saves to preserve the clean sheet and ensure we knocked out our Lancashire rivals.
LB: Danny Pugh
Danny Pugh is the only player in the XI to have played for the club and returned on loan. After an indifferent first spell at Leeds, Danny Pugh returned a better player having gained promotion with Stoke to the Premier League and having experienced the difference in quality between the divisions.
The thing I liked most about Danny Pugh was how versatile he was as a left midfielder by trade. He easily alternated between left-back and central midfielder, if called upon. I felt that he didn’t get a fair crack at either spells at the club. For me, we under-utilised Pugh throughout his Leeds career.
CB: Pontus Jansson
This man needs no introduction to any Leeds fan in 2016. The 6’5” Swede with the magic hat has become a cult hero at Leeds United over the last 8 weeks. His positional and defensive awareness is second to none within the Championship. He has shown the desire of a true Leeds United player and might possibly be the greatest loan signing we have ever made (okay, it’s only been two months, but still). All we need now is to see his name on the dotted line on a permanent deal.
CB: Kyle Bartley
The second of three current loanees who feature in my XI. Bartley’s the more reserved defender of #Bartsson, but he’s no less important. The forgotten man at Swansea has found his new home at Leeds. Bartley has been one of the most consistent players this season, leading the team superbly in Bridcutt’s absence. His cool and collective approach to defending has given the Leeds faithful a confidence in the backline which has been missing for quite a few years.
RB: Richard Naylor
Richard Naylor is a centre half; but in my XI he is starting at RB just because I had to ensure Naylor’s inclusion in my team. When we signed Richard Naylor from Ipswich, I knew we would see him give everything for his boyhood club. He joined Leeds in January 2009 and straight away Leeds became defensively more sound. His no-nonsense approach to defending and his ability as leader ultimately ensured we reached the play-offs in the 2008/09 season.
We signed Naylor in the summer of 2009 permanently from Ipswich. However, injuries hampered his Leeds career and he never reached the heights he had during the first six months at the club. However, you could see how much he loved Leeds and that’s why he made my team.
CDM: Liam Bridcutt
If I am honest, I didn’t know much about Liam Bridcutt when we signed him in November last year. However, straight away you could see the quality he possessed. As a defensive midfielder you’re required to control the game and break up the play and Bridcutt is master of these two attributes. He wins every duel in the centre of the park and last season he was one of the best players we had.
Credit to everyone at Leeds for ensuring he’s now a fully-fledged member of the Leeds United family and will deservedly be leading the team towards the Premier League, once healthy. Bridcutt might turn out to be the most important after-loan signing we have made this decade.
CDM: Neil Kilkenny
Neil Kilkenny only played one game on loan for Leeds United, and off the back of his performance would be signed up on a permanent deal and become an instrumental part of Leeds during our crusade to get promoted back to the Championship. Kilkenny won’t be remembered for his midfield flair but for his workman style of going about the important business in the centre of midfield. Like Ankergren, Kilkenny was an integral part of the FA Cup run when we beat Manchester United and after 123 appearances for the club clearly deserves his place in the XI.
LM: Hadi Sacko
Hadi Sacko has a €60 million release-clause his in contract at Sporting Lisbon, so I expect we will only get to experience the lad’s quality for one season. Sacko has won us more points this season than any other player. He hasn’t played fantastic in every game, and sometimes his shot is less than accurate, but the type of player he is means that he doesn’t need to. As we watch him drive at the defenders, you can see the fear in their eyes. His ability to find players in the box might be the difference in where we finish this year.
RM: Max Gradel
I believe that if we had kept Max Gradel at Leeds United we would now be playing Premier League football. A bold statement I know, but I truly believe the quality of Gradel would have made a massive difference in the season since his departure. When he joined on loan, straight away you could see the quality. He had something different and was a cut-above the rest in League One.
However, he really became a legend at the club when we got promoted. He was brilliant during our first season in the Championship, scoring goals for fun. He deservedly won both the Leeds' 2010–11 Player of the Year Award and the Player’s Player of the Year. Out of every player that has left in the club in the last decade, I miss Max Gradel the most and hope one day to see him back at Elland Road.
CF: Connor Wickham
I struggled with my centre-forward partnership and, after a discussion with a member of our TIAT family, I decided to go with Connor Wickham. Wickham differs from everyone else selected in the XI because he only played five games and didn’t score, but I have included him in the team purely on the quality of player he could have become at Elland Road. After he returned from Leeds, he single-handedly ensured Sunderland’s safety. You could see that, given a little more time at the club, he would have flourished and become a great leader up-top for the whites.
CF: Rob Hulse
Rob Hulse made 51 appearances for Leeds and scored 20 goals. He played an important part in our push for promotion back to the Premier League. We were unlucky not to return the Premier League that season and I often wonder, if we had signed Rob Hulse the season before, would we have returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
So that’s my best loans XI; a group of players who came to Leeds and left their mark on the club. I wonder where the above 11 men would finish in the Championship, or if they’d head on up in their first attempt together.
I noticed that the majority of players listed ended up joining Leeds permanently. Hopefully the current loanees will follow suit as we push to get back to football’s elite. MOT.