Loans are a useful addition to the transfer system. They allow promising young players to gain experience. They help rejuvenate footballers stagnating at the wrong club. They enable cash strapped teams to add extra players without paying exorbitant transfer fees.
Unfortunately this system is being abused.
These days a rich club will buy a player and immediately loan him out. Sometimes the signing will spend several seasons on loan, hardly visiting their parent club, until finally being sold.
There are several ways in which the system is being “played”. Rather than buying players to improve the team, clubs make signings to:
1. Make money on the transfer market
It’s simple, buy a promising young footballer on the cheap, maybe even on a free. Loan him out to get experience. Then sell him at a profit. Never mind that the player in question was taken from a smaller team that developed him, a team where he would actually have got a game.
2. Prevent rivals from strengthening
Worried your rivals might strengthen and challenge your league position? Money no object because you’re bankrolled by a petrochemical billionaire? Just wait until a rival identifies a transfer target and outbid them. It won’t even cost you in the long run, because you can make your money back by loaning them out, then selling them at a profit (see 1).
3. Improve other teams so they take points off rivals
Now we get to the murkiest loan practice of all. If you buy a top player who you don’t need, you can then loan them out to one of the smaller teams in your division. This extremely generous act might even help them take points off the teams around you. The best bit is, when it comes time for the smaller team to face you, helpfully the FA have created a law which means the loaned player can’t play, thereby weakening the opposition and making them field an unfamiliar line-up.
On top of that, after a couple of years on loan you can then sell them for a profit (see 1). Oh, and if it stops your rivals from strengthening their squads, then so much the better (see 2).
Of course the “loanee” may turn out to be a be a valuable player in which case they can be added to the first team. You might as well buy as many players as possible, maximising the chances of ending up with a superstar.
Chelsea are the worst offenders and currently have 11 first team members and 17 reserve or academy players out on loan. That’s 28 players owned by Chelsea that play elsewhere, pretty much a full squad.
Most of these are at clubs abroad but two of the most high profile, Romelu Lukaku and Victor Moses, are at Everton and Liverpool respectively. Both clubs are unlikely to challenge for the Premier League title, but in an individual game pose a strong threat even to the top teams. Lukaku has made an obvious impact, on loan at West Brom last season he contributed 17 goals despite never having scored a single goal for his parent club.
Another Chelsea signing now out on loan is the exciting German play-maker Marko Marin. He was bought by Chelsea in 2012 after being linked with Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool. He made six mostly substitute appearances and can now be found playing his football at Sevilla.
Kevin De Bruyne, another attacking midfielder, was bought for £7 million, loaned to Werder Bremen, then sold to Wolfsburg for £17 million, a £10 million profit. The most recent addition to the squad, 19 year old French defender Kurt Zouma, was bought and then immediately loaned back to St Etienne.
This isn’t only Chelsea’s problem, many other clubs play the system. Manchester City may have far fewer players on loan (4 first team and 5 reserve players), but three of these are at Premier League clubs including Gareth Barry who has figured prominently in the Everton team this season.
In fact worryingly for Everton supporters, their team’s good form relies heavily on two players that they don’t own. If the parent clubs decide to recall them where does that leave the team? There will be two huge holes in their first XI with no transfer receipts to replace them. West Brom suffered after losing Lukaku in the summer and currently sit just one point clear of relegation; it’s not easy to replace 17 goals. Arguably this contributed to their manager, Steve Clark, being sacked.
This is not to say all loans should be banned, they clearly have their place. The problem is how do you distinguish between a good loan and a bad one? It’s not easy. Currently the rules on loans in the Premier League limit the number of players a club can bring in (set at 4). Surprisingly, there is no limit on the number a club can loan out.
There is also the rule that prevents a player from facing his parent club. This used to be commonly added to a loan contract but is now an official rule defined by the Premier League. Presumably the reasoning is that the player may have a conflict of interest and not want to play well against their owners but surely this is a decision that should be left to their current team’s manager?
These are the problems but what are the solutions?
- Firstly I would propose a limit on the number of players that can be sent out on loan by a Premier League club. This could be set at 5 players of any age and a further 5 youth team players.
- I would also consider limiting the number that can go to other teams in the Premier League or maybe even banning this.
- As far as the rule that prevents players facing their parent club goes, I would go further than just removing it. I would ban clubs from even stipulating this condition in the loan contract.
Football tactics / statistics on Amazon