Everton loaned out 14 players this season, and in this new feature, we’ll be getting the lowdown on how each of them fared at their temporary homes in 2020-21.
In the first of this three-part segment, we chatted to those who saw more than most of Jarrad Branthwaite, Lewis Gibson, Beni Baningime, Dennis Adeniran and Anthony Gordon this season:
Jarrad Branthwaite (Blackburn Rovers)
Position: Centre-back Age: 18 Contract Expires: June 2023 Blackburn Appearances: 10 (all starts) Clean Sheets: 2
Story of the Season: Having made four Premier League appearances at the end of last season, Branthwaite was loaned out to Championship side Blackburn in January for more regular game time.
He was initially a consistent starter, but only one of his ten outings for Rovers, who finished 15th, came after the end of February, and he then suffered a season-ending ankle injury in late April.
RBM: Did Branthwaite play anywhere else besides centre-back at all? And in what formation(s)?
Rich: Of his ten appearances, all of them were starts, and all at centre-back. For the defeat at Barnsley, he did play on the left side of a back three due to a switch in formation.
RBM: Branthwaite seemed to start well at Blackburn, then lost his place and made only one appearance after February (was injured from late April). What did you make of him?
Rich: One goal conceded and seven points out of nine in his first three appearances was a great start, but things then started to unravel for the team, with five straight defeats - not easy for any player to deal with, never mind someone trying to find their feet at a new club.
Because Rovers were so short of defensive options going into January, they also added Taylor Harwood-Bellis from Manchester City, and his arrival, form, and an injury for Branthwaite made it difficult to get back in.
RBM: Hopes are high for Branthwaite at Everton. Did you see a potential top-flight centre-back in him while at Blackburn?
Rich: He certainly has all the attributes necessary and seems a very grounded character. He wasn’t dealt the best hand at Rovers: the team were struggling, and for three of those appearances he partnered Harwood-Bellis (19), with captain Darragh Lenihan unavailable, and playing alongside a fellow inexperienced centre-half was far from ideal.
There were moments of indecision, but I think more experience will help with that. He said himself that previously he’d really let mistakes affect him, and you could see there was still an element of that in his game, an incident at Middlesbrough a case in point. While there’s a lot of growth in him, there’s also a rawness to him.
RBM: What do you think would be best for Branthwaite’s development next season? Could you see him returning to Blackburn?
Rich: I think for a centre-half in particular, playing games at this stage of their career is vital, so as long as Everton have the options to accommodate it, I think another loan move would be a step forward.
I think it needs to be remembered just how far he’s come in such a short space of time. There’s a reason there’s not many players making a step up from League Two to the Premier League and cement their place.
I don’t see a return to Rovers, who will hopefully have more of their own defensive options available, and would probably pursue Harwood-Bellis ahead of him should that opportunity arise.
Lewis Gibson (Reading)
Position: Centre-back Age: 20 Contract Expires: June 2022 Reading Appearances: 13 (7 starts) Clean Sheets: 4
Story of the Season: After impressing in his nine-game loan spell at League One Fleetwood in 2019-20, Gibson moved a level higher this season, joining Championship side Reading.
But Gibson, who has not yet made his senior Everton debut, was a bit-part player for the Royals, who just came up short in the race for the play-offs, finishing seventh.
RBM: What position(s) did Gibson play and in what formation(s)?
Simeon: He made his Reading debut against Stoke in November on the left of a back three, a system we rarely used this season.
When he got game time later in the campaign, it was usually as a left-back in our 4-2-3-1 in place of first-team regular Omar Richards, although injuries to centre-backs in the later stages of the campaign meant he was used there a few times too.
RBM: Gibson made only 13 Reading appearances. How did he do when he played, and why do you think he wasn’t more of a regular?
Simeon: His lack of game time was, in the first half of the season, primarily due to the performances of Reading’s other defensive options. He was probably originally signed as a back-up for both our centre-halves and left-back, but excellent displays in the first few months of the campaign from Michael Morrison, Liam Moore and Richards meant opportunities didn’t arise. In fact, his appearance against Stoke only came after Moore had been injured and back-up Tom McIntyre had played poorly in the previous match.
He did manage to get a few more starts in the second half of the season, but they came randomly, as opposed to being part of a proper run in the side.
An injury to Richards gave him an opening at left back in December, but ironically, Gibson was himself then injured, meaning centre-half McIntyre came in. Gibson got a couple more appearances at left-back in February (a start against Millwall and 45 minutes off the bench against Middlesbrough), before a run of three starts in four across late March and early April. Two of those (Watford and Barnsley) were at left-back, while the other (QPR) came at centre back. His last start (and appearance) came in the match Norwich City sealed the Championship title with a 4-1 win at Carrow Road.
Given that lack of game time, it’s tricky to properly assess Gibson. He never got a proper chance to show how good he actually was. That said, at left back he was a useful, if limited, option. Veljko Paunovic valued Gibson as a more physical, aerially solid option in matches against direct sides like Millwall and Barnsley, and Gibson put in decent shifts in those games. He did, however, badly lack the mobility and attacking quality to be a threat going forward, which we needed from our left back in a 4-2-3-1, given that our left winger (Ovie Ejaria) frequently cuts inside.
However, in the closing stages of the season, he put in some rough performances against top sides. He was at fault for both goals in Watford’s 2-0 win at Vicarage Road – a night he played left-back up against Ismaila Sarr – and then looked shaky at Carrow Road a few weeks later.
RBM: What do you think the next step in Gibson’s development should be?
Simeon: He badly needs regular first-team football. You can tell Gibson’s got some good attributes – he’s physically imposing, likes to play the ball out from the back and didn’t seem to strop when he was denied a chance in the side for so long – but he’s very raw. That’s understandable, though, given both his lack of appearances this season and shortage of game time as a centre-back - only three of his 13 appearances were starts as a centre-half.
My sense is that a season in the first team of a lower-half Championship side, ideally one that likes to play out from the back, would be appropriate. Just so long as he gets regular game time at centre back, which we couldn’t offer him.
Beni Baningime (Derby County)
Position: Central midfielder Age: 22 Contract Expires: June 2022 Derby Appearances: 2 (1 start) Goals/Assists: 0/0
Story of the Season: Looking to revive an injury-ravaged career, Baningime was loaned in February to Championship strugglers Derby, who had recently appointed former Blue Wayne Rooney as full-time manager.
But Baningime featured only twice (once as a starter, once as a late substitute) for the Rams, who secured Championship survival on the final day. Those two games they lost by an aggregate score of 7-0; still, it was at least his first taste senior football for two years.
To find out more about Baningime’s loan spell, we spoke to Jason Straw of the Rams Review Podcast:
RBM: What position(s) did Baningime play and in what formation(s)?
Jason: Beni was used as a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in his couple of appearances.
RBM: Baningime has been beset by injuries at Everton and only played twice for Derby - was this solely due to injuries, or any other factors?
Jason: He did suffer an injury while at Derby which clearly didn’t help his game time. I think he was unfortunate to not play more in a position where we really needed a natural, especially with Rooney praising him on his arrival.
He was part of Derby’s 4-0 hammering at Cardiff, a game that started the Rams’ dire run at the end of the season, and I’m really not sure what happened behind the scenes as he was nowhere near the first team after that game, in which he actually looked quite comfortable.
RBM: I appreciate you barely saw Baningime play, but would you be surprised if he returned to Derby next season?
Jason: I think he was brought in for a reason - it was certainly a position Derby needed bodies.
It’s a difficult question because of Derby’s financial difficulties at present. If he was available, then it could be a possibility as I think loans will feature heavily next season. I do again wonder why he didn’t play more this season, though, which does put question marks on a possible return.
RBM: Finally, slightly off-topic but I’m sure many Evertonians will be keen to know how Wayne Rooney has taken to life as a manager. What have you made of him since he became Derby boss?
Jason: This spilts the fan base a lot. I think it’s been a tough start to his management career, but ultimately he did what was tasked when he took over: keeping us in the division.
He needs funds and his own players in the team; then he can be judged properly. There have been questions on his tactics this season, but he was playing cards with a poor hand. With his own stamp on next season, we would hope for a better campaign.
Dennis Adeniran (Wycombe Wanderers)
Position: Central midfielder Age: 22 Contract Expires: June 2021 Wycombe Appearances: 22 (19 starts) Goals/Assists: 0/1
Story of the Season: Unlike Baningime, fellow midfielder Adeniran had yet to make his Everton bow while Championship newcomers Wycombe loaned him in September.
He played 22 times for Gareth Ainsworth’s side, who could not pull off an unlikely survival act and were relegated back to League One on the final day. Adeniran announced earlier this week he will leave Everton following the expiry of his contract at the end of June.
RBM: What position(s) did Adeniran play and in what formation(s)?
Tom: We used him pretty much exclusively as a box-to-box midfielder, mainly in a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 or, towards the end of the season, in a 3-4-1-2. We’ve lacked someone truly suited to that box-to-box role since Luke O’Nien left for Sunderland in 2018, so he was a very welcome addition.
RBM: What did you make of Adeniran during his year at Wycombe?
Tom: He was excellent, really - probably one of the best loanees we’ve had under Gareth Ainsworth - and there have been quite a few, including a certain Eberechi Eze.
As I say, he gave us something we’d lacked for a couple of seasons, especially with his ability to carry the ball out from the back and break lines to rapidly turn defence into attack.
RBM: Adeniran is leaving Everton this summer when his contract expires. Could you see Wycombe signing him despite their relegation to League One, or did he do enough to prove he is at least Championship level?
Tom: Potentially, although his Instagram post after the end of the season suggested that he probably won’t be coming back. And that’s fair enough - never say never, but I think he’s shown that he’s very capable at Championship level.
That said, if Derby end up with a points deduction [due to breaching FFP rules] then we might still be playing Championship football next season anyway (although for what it’s worth, I think that’s very unlikely).
Anthony Gordon (Preston North End)
Position: Winger Age: 20 Contract Expires: June 2025 Preston Appearances: 11 (5 starts) Goals/Assists: 0/0
Story of the Season: One of Everton’s most fancied young talents, winger Gordon was allowed to move on loan to Deepdale in February after just one Premier League start for the Blues this term.
He made 11 appearances in an up-and-down spell at Preston, who finished 13th in the Championship and whose manager, Alex Neil, was sacked midway through Gordon’s time at the club.
RBM: What position(s) did Gordon play and in what formation(s)?
Dave: Anthony played on the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 when he first came. A couple of times when he came on as a substitute, he played more centrally, just off the striker. But his starts were, in the main, out wide.
RBM: Everton have high hopes for Gordon, yet he seemed to be used sparingly at Preston. How did he do when he played, and why do you think he didn’t feature more?
Dave: He had a bright debut and excited the fans, as someone prepared to get on the ball and run with it. A little injury kept him out of the following game and it was all a bit stop-start from there.
Anthony came in during a mad transfer window of eight in, eight out, so the place was unsettled. The team was struggling and Alex Neil swapped and changed looking for a reaction.
When Neil was sacked, his assistant Frankie McAvoy took over. He switched to a 3-5-2, which Anthony didn’t really fit into. He’s not a wing-back, so the only other option would be to play him in the middle, where Preston had other players better-suited. So, I think his lack of game time towards the end was more down to the system change.
RBM: From what you saw of Gordon, did you see a player with the potential to become an Everton regular?
Dave: I saw potential there. When he got on the ball, he looked to make things happen.
Anthony came on as substitute in games at Cardiff and Wycombe when Preston were losing, and there was a genuine spark when he came on. He won a penalty at Cardiff (which a team-mate missed!) by getting the ball and being direct, running at the defence. At Everton, he has tough competition, but time is on his side.
RBM: What would you do with Gordon next season if you were Carlo Ancelotti?
Dave: I think another loan would help his development. He’d be fine in the Championship at a club who play a 4-3-3 or similar, and who encourage him to run with the ball and take people on.
This loan didn’t work out particularly well but it would have been character-building and showed him a bit of life outside the Premier League bubble.
Our thanks to Rich, Simeon, Jason, Tom and Dave for their time and contributions.