Leave it or loan it?

Craig Bellamy showing off his Cardiff shirt

Leicester and Derby ended with five, Swansea had just two (albeit very good ones) and Hull City and Cardiff City had 6 apiece. I am of course talking about loan players. The practice of loaning out youngsters from big clubs to smaller clubs is hardly new, yet this season, loan deals were firmly in the football headlines. Whether it was Manchester City’s jaw dropping decision to allow Craig Bellamy to be loaned to Cardiff, Manchester United and Preston North End’s spat over the recall of their Manchester United youngsters, or the continuing practice of Premier League to Premier League loans, loan deals have never been a bigger talking point for fans. League clubs have long enjoyed relationships with bigger sides, allowing them to take loan players, usually youngsters and it has always seemed a ‘win win’ situation for all parties included in the deal:

WIN: the parent club – the parent club can loan out any promising youngster and watch him develop at a ‘smaller club’. If he exceeds expectations, they can expect to recall him back at the end of his loan deal, and enjoy having a rejuvenated player, with more confidence and experience and can then go on to establish himself at his parent club. Recent examples of loans benefitting the parent club, include Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, using a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers to become stronger, develop as a player and ultimately nail down a permanent place in the Arsenal team. There was a similar story with Manchester City’s young goalkeeper Joe Hart, who had struggled to get a foothold in the team since arriving from Shrewsbury, his only taste of action, short loan spells at Blackpool and Tranmere and unable to dislodge Shay Given, Hart spent the 2009/10 season on loan at Birmingham City. By the time Hart returned, he was ready to stake his claim as the Manchester City number one, and hasn’t looked back since, not to mention becoming England’s first choice goalkeeper.

WIN: the player – loans are an ideal opportunity for players to get some match experience, instead of kicking their heels on the bench or in the reserves at the parent club. It’s also an opportunity to show their manager, or any potential new suitors that they do still have it in them and have the potential to succeed.

Recent examples of loan’s reigniting a player’s career include Jermaine Beckford, using a productive loan spell at Scunthorpe United and Leeds United. He earned a hero status at the two clubs and eventually sealed a dream move to the Premier League with Everton. Another example is Billy Sharp’s loan, and later a permanent move to Doncaster Rovers, after a frustrating two years at Sheffield United had stalled his promising career.

WIN: the loan club – the players that move to a lower league club, can really benefit the club itself, they’re not owned by the club but in the time they are there, they can really aid a club’s progress, either helping them to promotion, or saving them from relegation. Recent examples of clubs profiting from loan stars include West Brom’s incredible great escape, securing survival in the Premier league, against all odds which was spearheaded by Manchester United loanee Kieran Richardson.

So loans are certainly nothing new, indeed Preston North End fans will always be proud to say England captain and Manchester United legend David Beckham played on loan at Deepdale. There can be no doubt however, that the loan market has changed markedly since then. There is now an increasing trend for Premier League clubs to loan players to each other with current examples including Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, previously loaned at Championship clubs, this season they spent season long loans with Wigan Athletic and Sunderland respectively. Arsenal have loaned Carlos Vela to West Brom, Spurs have loaned Jamie O’ Hara to Wolves, Aston Villa have loaned John Carew to Stoke and Daniel Sturridge was at Bolton Wanderers from Chelsea. These are all top names, and the loan system in general does appear to be changing. No longer do loans seem to be an emergency option to clubs in dire need of personnel. A relaxing of the rules on loans has led to an exploitation on behalf of the team doing the loaning, as much as the club in receipt. The catalyst for the huge upturn in loans, and of some considerable quality at that, is this season’s twenty five-man squad Premier League rule.

A young David Beckham during his Preston days

Suddenly, lots of perfectly decent players have been deemed surplus to requirements, the Premier League clubs were quick to make the best of the situation, sending many of their players out on loan, either to fellow Premier League clubs, or to the Championship, ensuring they gain vital experience. Arsenal led the way with twenty members of their first team squad out on loan. However, a question has been raised, has the Premier League’s over generosity, which has seen football league clubs bloated by loans all season, actually damaged the integrity of The Championship?

Concerns have certainly been raised by fans, journalists and even by the players themselves. Richard Williams of the Guardian, is of the opinion that reform is needed. He argues that the current rules allowing football league clubs to borrow up to ten loan players at a time, and play up to a maximum of five in any one starting line up is too much. He writes: “How can we be expected to care about our team, if it is stuffed with loanees?” It’s a valid point for sure, and one I have increasingly seen reflected by fans of various clubs this season. A few message boards have been inundated with opinions about the many loan players of the club, for every overwhelmingly positive loan, Bellamy playing for his beloved Cardiff, there is an avalanche of negative opinion. One Championship loanee was the subject of so much vitriol, he became the scapegoat for that specific clubs poor performances and it’s not just teams at the bottom of the table.

I’ve seen lots of disgruntled fans questioning the desire and commitment of certain loanees at their club. The main phrases that seemed to crop up were ‘he’s lazy’, ‘he doesn’t care about this club’,  ‘atleast our youngsters would be more passionate than this lot’.

Normally fans are happy to welcome loan signings but this season, more and more supporters are questioning the desire of their loans, and even being fed up with the endless cycle of loan players coming into their clubs. Obviously the quality of the loan is a big factor in how they are perceived, so let’s look at the impact of the loan deals in question.

This season’s bottom three in the Championship were: Preston North End, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United. Each have had more than their fair share of loan signings, Yes, there has been quality: Freddie Sears (Scunthorpe) and Ricardo Gardner (Preston) to name a few but overwhelmingly they have been deals from clubs in and around them. Scunthorpe ended the season with loan players from Chelsea, Middlesborough and Nottingham Forest and more than a handful of short-term loan deals peppered throughout the season, that didn’t really go anywhere. Fans of the struggling clubs have long since wondered whether the incessant loan policy has actually become a hindrance.

Prior to relegation, the captain of Sheffield United, Nick Montgomery was in no doubt what was to blame as the Blades stared relegation in the face, firmly pointing the finger at the thirteen, yes thirteen loan players who have been in and out of Bramall Lane this season. He said:

There have been so many loan players in this season. When you are under contract it means a lot to you, because at the end of the season, you have to face the consequences”

There is a clear insinuation from Montgomery, of a lack of desire in the case of the loan players, who even after a disastrous campaign, can return to their parent club and start-a-fresh.

Many fans have also questioned the logic of some of the loan deals this season. Is there really much point in signing a player who can’t get into the team of a club in or around you in the table?

There is certainly a less than favourable opinion by the struggling teams of loan deals this season but I also noticed throughout the season, a fair bit of rumbling by clubs in the upper echelons of the Championship, was it fair that Cardiff City had so many loan players considered to be of a very high standard? There was certainly a perceived feeling that they couldn’t fail with such quality, but we all know what happened in the Championship play offs – Cardiff suffered more heartbreak, perhaps showing, even with all the extra talent at their disposal, it still doesn’t guarantee you success.

I’ll leave you with this, some interesting thoughts from David James about loan players in his Guardian column:

“Could we potentially end up with “Rent-a-team United”, a Championship side largely made up of Premier League players on loan, as clubs attempt to gain promotion? In my experience, loan players are something of a mixed bag, often a player who has just been bombed by his own club brings a lot of unhappy baggage with him. Certainly being sent out on loan can have a major psychological effect. It could be a young player on the brink of breaking into the first team; he gets a call from the manager to say he is suddenly being sent out on loan. It can feel like rejection, and I’ve seen youngsters suffer because of it. Or perhaps it is an older player; they get sent out on loan and feel they are on their way down, a career nosedive. They lose all motivation and can no longer be bothered to work on their game.”

What now for next season? How do you feel about the loan signings that your club makes?

By Nicola Kilmore – Scunthorpe United fan – @Footychick25


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One Response to Leave it or loan it?

  1. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the article!
    I think the loan system is very good, largely beneficial to all parties.
    Strange situation this season with Udinese loaning 6 players to a Spanish side that gained promotion to Primera Liga. They go up a division and lose half the team that got them there.
    Interesting too how some players are big successes at loan side but don’t continue this back at parent club, despite competing in same league (thinking of Ben Foster when he was at Watford).

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