Since our ill-fated 03/04 campaign, Leeds United have heavily relied on loan players to help fill out the squad. At one stage, it was not uncommon for us to go into double digits for the number of loanees that came in, in some cases, the player didn’t even make an appearance.
Throughout this series we will highlight a loanee from each season, starting with 03/04, as well as looking at who else graced, or in some cases, disgraced us with their presence.
Leeds United Loan Player of the Year 03/04: Jermaine Pennant
At the dawn of the new season things were not looking good for Leeds United. More big names left with Olivier Dacourt, Harry (spits on the floor in disgust) Kewell and England’s best goalkeeper Nigel Martyn departing - whilst the only permanent addition was ‘Frank Lampard’s Jody Morris’ (who wouldn’t last the season) and who legally cannot talk about his time at the club.
Former Sunderland manager Peter Reid was forced to look to the loan market, all supplied by agent and *better not go into any more detail* Willie McKay.
Aside from Didier Domi who had spent three years at Newcastle United, most of us had no idea who the first batch of players were. Cyril Chapuis, Cameroon international Salomon Olembe, Lamine Sakho and Zoumana Camara (whom no-one could believe had a solitary France cap) came in to bolster the squad but none of them would make any lasting impression.
Even the arrival of Brazil’s World Cup winning defender Roque Junior on loan from AC Milan could do nothing to halt Leeds’ slide towards the Championship, if anything he exacerbated the problems with his terrible performances (seven appearances, four yellow cards, one red card, 24 goals conceded), his performance against Leicester City being dubbed the “Roque Horror Show”. He did manage to score twice in a League Cup match against Manchester United in his only positive contribution for Leeds.
Instead, it was the arrival of a young English winger that would provide the flair and attacking impetus that Leeds could require attempt to remain a Premier League side.
Jermaine Pennant arrived from Arsenal, initially on a short term loan but Leeds would quickly look to extend it until the end of the season. With the likes of Kewell and Lee Bowyer departing, Leeds had been left with a squad lacking in creativity. Lamine Sakho looked promising during the opening weeks of the season but quickly faded away when the true extent of Leeds’ fight became apparent. Pennant had been signed by Arsenal for £2m from Notts County at just 15 and like many young players under the learning tree of Arsene Wenger, made his debut in the League Cup at the age of 16, making him Arsenal’s youngest ever player.
After a couple of loan spells in the First Division, Pennant arrived at a Leeds team that was falling apart both on and off the field. Maybe it was because he was only on loan that the club’s situation didn’t seem to weigh on him too heavily. He played in all but two games in the campaign and when given the opportunity, was a pacey threat to defenders that relieved the defensive pressure and helped create chances.
He managed to score two goals for Leeds making him joint fourth top goalscorer, one of which was a fantastic goal in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in December 2003. Sadly, and this is a real indictment of the season, this was one place behind Michael Duberry with his three goals.
Of course, Pennant couldn’t stop the inevitable, no-one expected him to, but his direct attacking style of play was enough to give Leeds fans some optimism on the rare occasions we were able to get the ball up field. For this, I am pleased to name Jermaine Pennant as the inaugural Leeds United Loan Player of the Year.