• John Gilding


It was the best of loans, it was the worst of loans. With coronavirus keeping many stadiums empty, strangling the budgets of clubs across Europe, the winter deadline day was a quiet one this year, with a fraction of the signings we have come to expect, and many of them temporary loans.

As always though, some of the best young players in the world were on the move, either making a step up into a different league, or on the hunt for more minutes. The biggest name this window was undoubtedly Ozan Kabak, moving from Schalke to Liverpool, but here are five young talents who signed last minute deals, who you need to keep an eye on.

Joshua Zirkzee: Bayern Munich to Parma (Loan)

The problem for young players at the best clubs in the world is often playing time. Especially when the system your team plays has a single striker, and the first-choice striker is Robert Lewandowski, who is the best in the world at what he does, and refuses to be injured. Last season, as Bayern were bullying teams in the Bundesliga, Zirkzee grabbed a handful of starts, and a few substitute appearances in the league, impressing on occasion. However that pattern hasn’t carried over into this season, as he has made only three appearances, with one start.

A loan is the right move for everybody concerned, and Parma is an unusual choice. Zirkzee allegedly turned down Everton to move to Parma, who are 19th in Serie A, and have scored just 14 goals in 20 games, seven fewer than any other team in the competition. Zirkzee brings a superb finishing instinct, and an ability to find space anywhere in the box to get a shot away.

The loan deal includes an option to buy for Parma, if they can survive relegation, and if they do, it is likely that they will have Zirkzee to thank. If he does start to rack up consistent minutes and consistent goals, one of two things can happen. Either other clubs are going to realise Zirkzee’s potential as a poacher, or he returns to Bayern to properly act as Lewandowski’s understudy, as even the best have to start slowing down at some point.

Chris Richards: Bayern Munich to Hoffenheim (Loan)

Another Bayern talent has been sent out to get some more playing time, Richards can play in the centre or on the right of the back line. In his few appearances for the first team, he has shown the vision and passing ability Bayern want from their centre-backs, and has a fair amount of pace, which is vital with the high defensive line that they play.

He moves to a Hoffenheim side lost in mid-table in the Bundesliga, hoping not to be dragged into a relegation scrap come the end of the season. It’s a low-pressure environment for Richards to stake his claim to be more involved with the Bayern first-team next season, something which he is very capable of doing.

Having been recently capped for his country, Richards is a well-known name in the States, but less so in Europe. In a few years, potentially with another couple of loans under his belt, and some more time in the first team, that should change dramatically.

Bryan Reynolds: FC Dallas to Roma (Loan)

From one young American talent to another. Reynolds joins the Italian side on loan initially, but with an option to buy that could make him the most expensive home-grown American talent in MLS history. In the MLS, Reynolds played as a right-back, but his career started out as a winger, which could be very useful if he is to impress in Roma’s wing-backed system.

His attributes are in a similar mould to an early Trent Alexander-Arnold, with an instinct to attack down the right and whip in a cross or a cutback for the striker. He is more suspect defensively, and can be caught out 1-on-1. His build lends itself to defensive work too, he is tall, and capable in the air, which can be helpful offensively as well as on the back foot.

With Roma sitting fourth in the league, and doing well, Reynolds isn’t under pressure to perform instantly. He can be gently worked into the team, his qualities assessed, and if he passes that test, which he should, he can make it permanent in the summer. This is pretty much a trial period. A €100,000 trial period, but to a club of Roma’s size, that’s a small price to pay to make sure they’ve got the right man. Which, on the evidence from his MLS career, they have.

Moisés Caicedo: Independiente to Brighton & Hove Albion (£4.5m)

This was the story of the window. Brighton and Manchester United duelling over the latest in young South American talents. Caicedo is a battling central midfielder, in the same vein as Brighton’s own Yves Bissouma, who was also linked with a move in January. He is strong in the tackle and hard-working, a good fit for Graham Potter’s set-up.

Brighton are a few points away from relegation but won’t want to be drawn into the drop zone towards the end of the season. Caicedo provides a useful backup option in a packed schedule in the run-in, as he is worked into the team.

He has signed a four-year deal with Brighton, and by the end of that deal, it’s likely that he will either be a mainstay on the south coast, moving on to bigger and brighter things, or he will have already moved.

Paulos Abraham: AIK to FC Groningen (Loan)

The most unknown name on this list, Paulos Abraham could be a big name in the future. He is on loan at Groningen as of deadline day, and will move there permanently in the summer. A tricky winger, most natural on the left, but could develop anywhere in a front three.

He spent just a year at AIK after moving from his first club, and the Eredivisie feels like the perfect step up from the Allsvenskan. Groningen also happens to be the best club in the Eredivisie right now for a young winger, because their current captain happens to be one of the best wingers of this century, Arjen Robben. His contract expires in the summer, but Abraham will still have five months with him, which can change a lot.

Abraham is a bright talent, and a name to remember for two or three years’ time, when his name will pop up again in the rumour mill, linked with a Wolves, or a Leverkusen. Keep an eye out.