This certainly isn’t an easy question.
First off, how do you define ‘best‘?
Is that the player who had the biggest impact? The one who scored the most goals? Or the one who went on to gain an international reputation?
A couple of weeks ago we put a post out on the Preston Updates Instagram account to try and spark a debate, by asking you to name PNE’s best ever loanee. And by asking such a broad question, we naturally expected plenty of self-determination.
The post received over 80 comments, with suggestions ranging from Paul Gallagher to Simon Makienok (we hope you were joking…), but there were a number of loanees who stood out.
In July 2015, Jordan Pickford joined Preston on a season-long loan from Sunderland.
Sam Johnstone, who had featured for a large part of the 2014/15 promotion season, was unavailable for a second loan spell due to a goalkeeper crisis at Manchester United, meaning manager Simon Grayson had to dip back into the loan market for a fresh pair of gloves.
Following the signing of Pickford, Simon Grayson described him as,
A good, young, up and coming goalkeeper who has some good experience.BBC Sport, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/33743071 (31 July 2015)
The Washington-born stopper had featured in the National League, League Two and League One, meaning Preston would be his biggest test yet.
At first, it was inconceivable that Pickford would reach the heady heights of Sam Johnstone. But the youngster, in just 24 appearances, showed signs of international potential.
Keeping three clean sheets in his first three league appearances, Pickford set a new club record, before making further history with a sixth consecutive clean sheet against QPR.
Pickford quickly became a fan favourite, with his incredible kicking ability and authority in the box.
Unfortunately for Preston, Pickford was recalled halfway through the season.
This was to be expected and just 18 months after departing Deepdale, Pickford joined Everton for an eye-catching fee of £25 million – making him the most expensive British goalkeeper of all time.
Since joining Everton, Pickford has cemented his position as the club’s number one, but more impressively, he has made an international name for himself.
England’s top stopper, Pickford made some phenomenanal saves in the 2018 World Cup, before he scored and then saved the decisive penalty as England finished third at the UEFA Nations League Finals.
It’s safe to say that this working-class lad from the North East has come a long, long way since his Deepdale debut on August 9, 2015.
A name that sparks fierce debate.
The insanely tricky Irishman was arguably one of Preston’s most skillful players in the last couple of decades.
Yes, he’s a bit of a wanker, but nobody can question McGeady’s immense ability.
In 34 Championship appearances under Simon Grayson at PNE, the vastly experienced midfielder scored 8 and assisted 8 – making a goal contribution every 174 minutes played.
It might be a horrendously overused cliché, but McGeady was the spark in our team. His energy and dynamism got bums off seats and the perfect example of this was against Arsenal in the FA Cup Third Round.
In the opening minutes of the game, the classy attacker latched onto the ball in the centre circle, before jinking past one Arsenal player, doing a roulette turn around another and slotting a deadly pass into the box which Callum Robinson would eventually bundle into the net.
The crowd often looked on in awe at McGeady’s ability to turn a game on its head and his exploits were rewarded at the end of the season with the Sir Tom Finney player of the year award.
Another hugely popular choice was Jermaine Beckford.
In November 2014, Beckford joined PNE on loan from Bolton Wanderers, linking up with former boss Simon Grayson.
It was the perfect match, as Grayson provided Beckford with the platform to reignite his career lower down in the football pyramid.
Beckford relished this opportunity, forming a memorable bond with Joe Garner, as the pair became the most formidable strike force in League One.
As the season gathered pace in the New Year, so did Beckford. The Ealing-born talisman bagged 18 goals during his loan spell, firing Preston to promotion.
The pick of those goals came at Deepdale in the play-off semi-final. It was the game that sent us to Wembley and with the seconds beating down towards 90 minutes, Jermaine Beckford drilled the ball over the keeper and into the net from the halfway line.
It was a breathtaking finish that prompted scenes of pure, unadulterated jubilation. A moment immortalised in the history books.
But the season didn’t finish there for Beckford.
Two weeks later, in the play-off final at Wembley, Beckford singlehandedly broke Preston’s play-off hoodoo with a stunning hattrick – becoming only the third player in history to score a hattrick at Wembley in a play-off final.
It was a momentous occasion for the city of Preston and one which we can all thank Beckford for.
He played a major part in that promotion campaign, not just because of his play-off heroics, but because of the vital goals scored when we were struggling.
Even if his time as a permanent Preston player was overshadowed by injury woes and ill-discipline, Beckford is a club legend.
Vote below in the poll for the player you would choose as Preston’s greatest loanee: