Long-Term Loanees And First Team Phonies: Nine Forgotten Players Still On The Books At EPL Clubs
A Premier League transfer caught my eye over the weekend, not because of the notoriety of the player, but actually for the exact opposite reason. Chelsea midfielder Lewis Baker joined Stoke City on a permanent deal following 17 years with the Blues.
Not familiar with the name? Don't feel too bad. Baker made just two first-team appearances during his time in London — FA Cup cameos during the 13-14 and 21-22 seasons. Instead, the 26-year-old had eight loan spells in four countries after being promoted to the Chelsea senior squad in 2014.
Baker's narrative is a familiar one for former Chelsea youth players, who often find the Blues' expensive history of outsourcing leaves them on the fringes at the club.
Just over the summer, three other long-term players permanently left the Chelsea ranks after making a single first-team appearance between them.
Izzy Brown — known for his promotion-winning exploits at Huddersfield Town in 2017 — joined Preston North End, goalkeeper Jamal Blackman — who was a member of Chelsea's 2012 Champions League-winning squad — became a free agent and Serbian winger Danilo Pantic returned to boyhood club Partizan Belgrade. All three were at least 25 years of age.
Then there is the curious case of American international Mix Diskerud. I could write a whole piece on Diskerud, but here's the summary: Born in Norway to an American mother, Diskerud earned a couple of dozen USMNT caps while playing in Norway and MLS with NYCFC. He joined Manchester City in 2018 (technically the U-23 side) then went out on loan a few times after a transfer to IFK Göteborg fell apart. He eventually left for Turkish side Denizlispor on a free transfer in January 2021 — with Man City never earning a cent off of him.
Manchester City and Chelsea are full of forgotten players, but so is the rest of the Premier League. So let's remember some guys who are far too often forgotten.
Nine Forgotten Players Owned By EPL Clubs
Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City)
Once one of the most promising American defenders, Palmer-Brown is a forgotten player who has seemingly been around forever but is still only 24 years old. At 16 he was subject to a $1 million bid from Juventus, and it wasn't until a few months later that he made his first-team debut with Sporting Kansas City.
After intermittent playing time in MLS, Palmer-Brown made a surprising move to the Manchester City U-23s in 2018 on a free transfer, the same month fellow American Mix Diskerud joined the City U-23s only to immediately go out on loan.
Palmer-Brown has spent the last few years on loan in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and now in France with Ligue 1 side Troyes. It's unlikely he ever sees time in a Man City shirt, but he's a part of Manchester City's interesting strategy of investing in cheap players and looking to sell them for a profit down the road.
Matt Miazga (Chelsea)
Unlike with Palmer-Brown, there was a palpable buzz around Miazga's move to England. Chelsea paid $5 million to purchase the American defender from the New York Red Bulls and Miazga even played in two Premier League matches for the Blues in 15-16. Then came the loan spells: first Chelsea feeder club Vitesse, then Nantes, Reading, Anderlecht and now LaLiga side Deportivo Alavés.
Although he is unlikely to become a Chelsea starter, Miazga has become a regular for the USMNT, earning 22 caps during his winding career.
Michael McGovern (Norwich City)
It's easy to single out backup goalkeepers on this list, as most Premier League sides have a random keeper who receives the occasional bi-monthly cup start. But Norwich City's Michael McGovern might have the most interesting career of any goalkeeper in the league.
McGovern didn't become a regular starter until he was 25 and even then only spent seven full seasons as a No. 1 goalkeeper — with most of them in the Scottish second tier.
He signed with Norwich City as a 32-year-old in 2016, joining the Canaries on the back of an impressive showing at Euro 2016 with Northern Ireland. While McGovern has only made 32 league appearances for Norwich, more than half of his international caps have come following his move to England. Two years ago, McGovern gave up five goals in his only EPL start, but he's still a Premier Leaguer nonetheless.
Marlos Moreno (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola's first transfer window as Man City manager brought in a talented group of players that gave the club a strong platform for moving forward, with John Stones, Leroy Sané and Ilkay Gündogan representing the club's biggest signings from that summer window.
The club also heavily invested in young South American players that year, signing four players from South American clubs. Gabriel Jesus was the biggest of these Latin signings, but teenage winger Marlos Morenos also made headlines, with City paying $6 million to procure the 19-year-old from Colombian side Atlético Nacional.
"Marlos is an excellent prospect who has already broken into his national team," Man City director of football Txiki Begiristain said at the time. "He’s a versatile player, still learning, but we believe he has a fantastic future in the game and with City."
Five-and-a-half years later, Moreno has yet to earn another Colombian cap nor has he made his Manchester City debut. The winger has gone out on loan seven times and his market value is just 15 percent of what it once was.
Laurens De Bock (Leeds United)
Those of a certain age will remember De Bock as an underrated left back option in FIFA career mode in the mid-2010s, lining up opposite Thomas Meunier during their Club Brugge days. Meunier went on to great things — playing for PSG and Borussia Dortmund while becoming a regular at the international level for Belgium. Things never quite panned out for De Bock.
The left back moved to Leeds United for around $2 million in January 2018, but the Belgian never found success in England. He made seven appearances for the Yorkshire side that season and has been out on loan since. De Bock has been with Belgian First Division side Zulte Waregem since the start of the 20-21 campaign, a far cry from Elland Road.
Jaroslaw Jach (Crystal Palace)
Let me begin by saying this: Unless you're a Polish native, anyone who has heard of Jaroslaw Jach needs to spend less time on Transfermarkt and more time with their family. The defender joined Crystal Palace back in 2018 for a very modest sum from Ekstraklasa side Zagłębie Lubin.
He was named in the Palace matchday squad once in the second half of the 18-19 campaign, and that has been the closest the Pole has come to making a Premier League appearance. Jach has spent time on loan in Poland, the Netherlands and even Moldova but is back in the Crystal Palace squad this year occasionally playing with the U-23 side as he still hopes to make his EPL debut. For now, an English League Cup start against Bournemouth in 2020 is as much as Jach has achieved in England.
Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace)
What is it with Crystal Palace and its random assortment of unplayed defenders? In addition to Jaroslaw Jach (one League Cup appearance last season), you also have Nathaniel Clyne (three appearances across all competitions this year, including a pair of late-game substitutions) and Martin Kelly (last EPL start was January 2020).
Martin Kelly will be our focus today mostly because he has played a single Premier League minute in the last two years. His last start came in the League Cup in September of 2020, when he started alongside Jaroslaw Jach, Sam Woods (now with fifth-tier Barnet) and Ryan Innis (now with League One side Charlton). Talk about emptying the bench.
In Kelly's defense, he has been named to the Palace bench 43 times in 69 matches in the EPL since the start of the 20-21 season, which I guess is better than being left out of the squad altogether. His Palace purgatory might soon be over though, as the club transfer listed the English fullback last week.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin (Everton)
When Jean-Philippe Gbamin joined Everton in 2019 as a $34 million replacement for the exiting Idrissa Gueye, the Ivorian was drawing comparisons to fellow countryman Yaya Touré and his $34 million transfer fee was described as a "steal."
Yet three years later, Gbamin's Everton career has yet to get going. He played a significant role in both of Everton's matches to begin the 19-20 season before a hamstring injury and then a ruptured Achilles kept him out until 2021. He played 11 minutes against Crystal Palace in April 2021 before a knee injury ended his campaign.
Finally healthy this year, the Ivorian has played six times for the Toffees as he works his way back into the Everton squad.
Matt Clarke (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Clarke has been on loan in the Championship for so long it's easy to forget he actually has a parent club. His aging looks and consistent defending suggest Clarke is a second-tier yeoman, a permanent loan player who floats between clubs without ever returning home.
The 25-year-old Englishman joined from Portsmouth in 2019 but has yet to be part of the Seagulls' first-team set up, instead spending two years at Derby County and this season at West Brom.