Loans are a hot topic that incites emotion from plenty of people. No, I’m not talking about student loans or any of the kinds of loans you get from a bank. Actually, I’m speaking about the loaning of a football player from one club to another.
“The way Chelsea hoard these players is ruining their careers, and unfair for the smaller clubs”
“Why are we loaning him out? Give him a game or he’ll never amount to his potential!”
“Another loan? Why can’t we just sign players who will stick around?”
These are all familiar complaints about the loan market in football, how it operates and how it’s utilised by clubs. The likes of Chelsea, Juventus and Manchester City have massive squads of so- called #loanarmy players. In-fact in most cases they’ve got more players farmed out to other teams than they have playing for them.
Not only does it in the mind of much of the public, limit and ruin the chances of a player amounting to the ability they could have done, but it also effects other clubs. Many of the smaller sides could have these players playing for them, but instead they at best can only loan them. Meanwhile, clubs like Vitesse Arnhem and Girona benefit from their ties to clubs like City and Chelsea by bringing in players they otherwise couldn’t afford.
The other side is of course the frustration of the club taking these players on loans – or more-so the frustration of their supporters. Often seen within the supports of SPFL clubs, many fans are not all that infused with a player coming in for a year, using their club to better their chances elsewhere, and then watching the rebuilding process all over again. The system is much more popular however, with managers and owners. They see it as their opportunity to bring in players of a quality (and wage packet) they otherwise couldn’t attract – even if it is just on a short term basis.
Last week Fifa announced their proposal – which will be discussed with the game’s other stockholders – to limit the amount of players a club can loan out each season.
The likely proposed number is six. With the overall aim to prevent “stock-piling” of players and to increase player growth.
“Fifa said the plans were endorsed by representatives from clubs, the World Leagues Forum, players’ union Fifpro and member associations and confederations at a meeting on Monday. The Fifa Council will aim to sign off the proposals next month.”
So let’s dive deeper into these complaints of the usage of the loan market, while also investigating changes that have been put in place.
Let’s begin with the negatives of the current loan market. We’ve already mentioned the main issues observers take with the market but just how true are these complaints?
Well first of all it’s no lie that many clubs “hoard players”. Chelsea have 40 players out playing for other clubs this summer. This includes senior players looking to get minutes they otherwise wouldn’t get such as Kurt Zouma and Michy Batshuayi, younger players looking for senior team experience like Tammy Abraham and then a group of players who will blatantly never play for Chelsea’s senior team who are simply money making tools – such as Michael Hector, Nathan and Kenneth Omeruo.
These players are the ones most commonly complained about and they are kept around as Chelsea likely receive fees from the loaning clubs for the period they spent on loan, and of course they hope to sell them for profit at some point. There is also an element of ‘fear of missing out’ with these particular loans. Clubs keep players under contract in case they have a breakout season and become of interest to the senior side. This is pretty rare but Chelsea have been burned in the past by letting go of young players they didn’t think are up to standard – Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
It wouldn’t be fair just to single out Chelsea for this – although many do. Manchester City have loaned out 12 players, and loaned out a much higher 41 last season, Juventus have 33 at other clubs and Real Madrid have leased out 18 players.
So how does this obsession of collecting as many players as possible effect the clubs, other clubs and the players themselves?
Clearly it’s a tactic that is working for the clubs doing the loaning out. They keep their clutches on players until they are positive they aren’t missing out and generally make profit, or at least only a small loss by making deals like this.
It’s not so great for other clubs in the long term, but in the short term it’s certainly a boost more often than not. Looking at Chelsea as an example again. Swansea didn’t get the best out of Tammy Abraham, but you can bet that Bristol City were overjoyed to have had him on loan the season before last. Lewis Baker and Mason Mount have had excellent spells at Vitesse – with Mount starting brilliantly at Derby this term – and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was certainly a successful endeavour for Crystal Palace.
The long-term isn’t so bright for clubs relaying too highly on loans though. In some cases the player may return on another loan, or they might even sign permanently. However, in most cases, just like those mentioned, the player will be elsewhere the following season.
Aberdeen are a club who have been left in the lurch by loans in the past. Derek Mcinnes has spoken in the past of why the market suits them, specifically after Manchester United player James Wilson joined the dons this summer. Mcinnes said: “The loan market gives us the opportunity to bring in players we otherwise couldn’t.”
James Maddison, Michael Hector and Danny Ward all came to Pittodrie and got off to flyers becoming important parts of Derek Mcinnes’s side. All three were then recalled by their parent clubs in January. Ryan Christie became a key part of the side before departing back to Celtic and leaving Derek Mcinnes with a position to fill.
Of course Mcinnes might point towards the opposing belief that while loans aren’t exactly long term solutions, they are better off with the addition of these players for the time they manage to get, than having not had them at all.
The biggest losers in most of these deals are generally the players. Chelsea are one of the most well regarded youth setups in England. Winners of the Premier League Developmental League in 13-14, but most impressively, the winner of seven of the past ten FA Youth Cups. Chelsea possess and have possessed some of the most highly rated young players, not just in England, but in world Football.
While it’s just the nature of football that not every much talked about young player will progress to being a world class player, Chelsea’s conversion of talented youngster to established first team player isn’t perceived to be good at all. If you ask football fans to name a Chelsea academy product, without a doubt the most common answer – and by far – would be John Terry. Since the domination of the FA Youth Cup began, Chelsea have realistically only produced a handful of academy graduates that now play for them or another top club. Is this really a Chelsea problem though? Or is it a trend across all of football.
Obviously this isn’t an issue being discussed around the overall quality of Chelsea’s academy. While that’s an interesting discussion to have, this is specifically about how the culture of loans at the club – and other clubs – has effected the development of players.
A success story that Chelsea can point too is Andreas Christensen. Christensen was part of the 13-14 season’s squad that won the FA Youth Cup. The Danish centre back then went on to spent two years on loan at German side Borussia Mönchengladbach. Following that loan, Christensen has earned twenty caps for his country – including playing at this summer’s World Cup – and has returned to Chelsea, making 27 Premier League appearances last season. The Dane is yet to work his way into new Chelsea coach Mauricio Sarri’s team, but at this point he can be seen as a success of the developmental team at Chelsea.
The issue is for Chelsea, that Christensen doesn’t have much company in the recent years of being an academy graduate that has went on to either play for Chelsea or play for another team in the same bracket. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has shown he’s good enough to play at Crystal Palace, he’s been included in Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup squad and he has also been given the opportunity to fight for a place in his new manager’s plans at Stamford Bridge. However, it’s not yet clear if Loftus-Cheek will manage to earn that place.
Of the previous five Chelsea managers, 20 players have been given their debut for the club. Of those twenty players, Christensen and Loftus-Cheek are at Chelsea but not actively first choice. Dominic Solanke is a back-up player for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Nathan Ake is a regular for Premier League side Bournemouth. Bertrand Traore regularly plays for French side Lyon – he spent most of his time at Chelsea out on loan, playing in the Netherlands with both Vitesse and Ajax.
While those are all relatively positive stories, some players are not fairing quite as well. John Swift currently plays for Championship side Reading. Jake Clarke-Salter is with Vitesse on loan after a difficult spell with Sunderland. Lewis Baker struggled to kick on from his purple spell with Vitesse, he struggled with Middlesbrough and is currently on loan to Leeds. Thomas Kalas has had five consecutive loans in the Championship as well.
While the Championship is still a decent level of football, many would have anticipated that these highly touted players would have been active at a higher level by now, back when they were dominating in youth football.
The question of course comes down to, if not this, then what else?
With the new enforced changes, it’s unlikely these large amounts of young players produced by Chelsea will end up getting first team minutes. The senior team will retain its players and will still be looking to actively add to the squad. So if Chelsea suddenly need to find a purpose for 34 players, what happens?
The unfortunate effect of this rule is that many might actually end up worse off than they otherwise may have been. While the youth football set-up fits a purpose, eventually talented youngster need to begin to play week-in-week-out for a senior side. This is the of course really why loans were established in the first place. Clubs will be unlikely to want to lose their grips on prospects, so if they can’t loan them out, many of them might just end up sitting in the youth team longer than they should be, just to ensure Chelsea still have them – of course this will only further limited the players potential.
The potentially positive effect of this will almost certainly mean less stockpiling. While youth squad probably will grow bigger, a team like Chelsea cannot fit an extra 32 players into their developmental side. So some players will probably be moved on. This is likely the best case scenario for many. They’ll go somewhere that they’ll get first team football and the club benefits because that player is actually theirs and not just borrowed. However, of course this does mean fewer players will be trained in the top class facilities of the top clubs.
So obviously there will still be some clubs arguing that this limiting of loan deals is in fact a bad thing. But why? It seems all we ever hear about loans is mostly negative.
Well, the first is of course the afore mentioned stockpiling in the youth squads. This would be the same problem as before – the richer teams hoarding away players with a grain of potential – but likely even worse because instead of being loaned out to Championship clubs or say a Dutch or Spanish club, youngsters will sit in a youth set-up they’ve already outgrown, getting even less game time due to the bloated nature of the squad.
This could also effect the clubs taking the players in on loan. Earlier we mentioned Aberdeen and Derek Mcinnes. The dons have this season taken Manchester United striker James Wilson in for the season. This is of course possible because the English side will almost certainly paying all of – or at least the majority of – the Englishman’s rumoured 30K a week wage.
Well in the scenario that there are these limits on loans, United may not have chosen to loan out Wilson in the first place. They may have of course let him play for their developmental side – a waste of Wilson’s talent and potential at this age, or they might have decided they still wanted rid and offered Wilson out for sale. That would almost instantly rule the likes of Aberdeen – or any Scottish Premiership club other than the Old Firm for that matter – as the transfer fee and of course wage would be well out of their price range.
There is no doubt United might have found a buyer in the English Championship, or even abroad, but would that be best for Wilson at this stage? It most certainly not be the best in the interest of equality in Football. Many may be worried that by restricting the loan market, football may well be restricting smaller clubs access to players of a certain quality. This would only widen the gap between the richer clubs and those less fortunate.
So is this change really a good thing for football overall, and what about its effects on Scottish football.
The change will certainly provide joy to many mid-range clubs with a bit of money behind them. The mid-table to lower table Premier League sides, richer Championship sides, other mid-range sides in Europe’s top five leagues. These are the teams that will benefit the most. Chelsea and Manchester City, among others, will likely have to sell off unrequired players next summer – players these particular clubs may have been interested in taking on loan, but would be overjoyed with having full time. High potential young player will also be more readily available to these clubs as the “big clubs” cannot take as many as they once did. The prices paid for these talents will likely drop too.
The issue is, while fans of Bournemouth or Derby for example may think of themselves as small clubs with a fraction of the budget of the “big clubs” – because that’s true in comparison to a Manchester United or Arsenal – these clubs, along with basically all top flight and many second tier clubs in Europe’s top five leagues are already ahead of clubs outside of those leagues. They can pay higher wages, they’ve got better TV deals, better sponsorships. The idea behind this rule change is a good one – Clubs should not be able to hoard players, especially not young players with a lot of potential that in a lot of cases is inevitably unrealised.
However, it may be ill-conceived, with a focus more so on how to prevent these bigger clubs from holding onto too many players. But the rule change didn’t take into effect how it will impact some of Europe’s teams outside the top five leagues. Unfortunately, we all know that it’s simply reality that these inequalities exist and they are only growing larger. Even if this rule wasn’t instated, these inequalities would grow, however, this change will speed up that process.
The bright side, is that now the jokes about Chelsea having a “loan army” of 400 are no longer fit for purpose.