Is The Loan System Crooked?


The loan system has been under the spotlight in recent years with clubs such as Chelsea and Liverpool loaning out 40 or more players a season.

It’s a debate that has been raging a lot in recent years, just how many players should a club be permitted to loan out? What are the reasons for loaning out players?

It seems that there are a few Premier League clubs who use the loan system to develop players as a money making scheme instead of for potential first team stars of the future. They can afford to buy young players in the hope that some of them turn out to be stars but do more players suffer from that system than benefit?

Chelsea are a club who in recent years have loaned out upwards of 45-60 players a season to clubs across Europe and they rarely see first team action. There has been a few occasions where the player then leaves without breaking in to the first team and goes on to make it big elsewhere.

Think Lukaku and De Bryne, to name but two. But sometimes they can break into the first team. If they are lucky and have patience.

Financial Advantage

One such player was Victor Moses, who started out life at Crystal Palace before being sold to Wigan in 2009 when we went in to administration. He was then sold to Chelsea a few years later on where he was sent out on season long loans to Liverpool in 2013/14, Stoke City in 2014/15 and West Ham in 2015/16.

It could be argued that it was a smart move by Chelsea to sign a player for £10m and then loan him out, recouping most of that transfer fee.

Just the season long loan to Liverpool alone is rumoured to have cost the Merseyside club £1.3m.

So while it can make good business sense, it is morally right to run the loan system in such a way?

Of course it is a case of supply and demand. Big clubs can afford to sign a lot of young talent, spreading the risk.

On the flip side, there are clubs who manage to sign players on loan who they could not hope to sign on a permanent basis. A young rising star could sign for Chelsea from Brentford only to go out on loan at Fulham. Or to put it in to a real terms think when Cardiff signed Zaha from Manchester United on loan.

But how much do big clubs develop talent if they are sent out on loan for the season?

If a player is signed by Chelsea but are shipped out on loan for 10 months at Southend are they benefiting from the Chelsea academy? They certainly don’t benefit from their coaching system because they are out in deepest, darkest Essex at Roots Hall.

So, all in all, is it a win-win situation? A player gets game time but suffers by receiving poorer coaching. The parent club receives a nice fee for a player they wouldn’t be using and the feeder club gets a better standard player for a cheap price.

Everyone wins… Except the player. Maybe.

Loaning Players For Development

Back in 2012/13 season the Championship Play-off Final was contested between Crystal Palace and Watford. At the time there was a lot of controversy because Watford had 13 season long loan players and 2 half season loan signings in their first team squad.

Of the 15 loan signings, 13 of them were from either Udinese (10 players), Granada (2 players) or Standard Liege (1 player) who were also owned by the same family that own Watford.

So in essence Watford were a feeder club for their ‘parent’ clubs.

For the record, the other two players taken on loan where from Chelsea (season long loan) and Fulham (3 month loan).

It was because of this blatant exploitation of the loan system that Uefa tightened up the regulations and imposed limitations on loan signings. The rule now limits a club to 8 loan signings per season.

But who exactly are being punished? Is it the clubs or the players? Is it better for players to waste away in the reserves of the parent club or get game time at a lower league club?

As usual it is all about contacts. Using my example from 2012/13 it was lucky for Watford that they had owners with other clubs. It appeared that we didn’t have any good contacts, for whatever reason.

Of course that didn’t help Watford in the end because we beat them but I am a firm believer in not hating the player, hate the game. Watford were exploiting the rules but they were not breaking them.

Take a look at the Red Bull franchise. They own a few different clubs in the world. Is it a bad thing for them to loan players between clubs? I guess it can be if it is at the expense of local talent, which in the case of Watford it clearly was, but what if the boot was on the other foot?

What if Watford were loaning out 40 English players to their sister clubs around Europe? The problem with the English league is that it is too appealing. We take in foreign players, help develop them and our national team is suffering because of it.

We wouldn’t be complaining if there were English players scattered far and wide so should we complain when they are coming in to the English game?

The Solution

There isn’t one. Well, not a straightforward one.

Scrap Loan Fees

Back in the day (before the Premier League) I don’t recall there being fees paid for loan signings. I am not even 100% sure that the feeder club paid the player’s wages because they were not as many of them as there are today. They were generally young players or players on their way back from injury.

It was a mutual agreement. The feeder club gets a player, the player gets game time and the parent club gets their player developed.

It could be a risky business if the player gets injured or plays poorly it would see their value drop.

So, how about scrapping loan fees all together and just let the feeder club pay the wages?

God knows how much Sakho cost Palace last season but it is public knowledge that Palace paid £1.1m to loan Tom Ince back in 2013/14 under Tony Pulis. We paid £1.1m for a 3-4 month loan deal. That is just sick!

Baby Come Back

What did Watford do? They signed a couple of their loan players on permanent deals then sold them back to their original clubs on the cheap a season or so later.

How could they do that? By inserting a buy back clause in the contract, which is perfectly legal- But this is a prime example. Any rule implemented can be circumvented.

The B-Team

There has been talk of allowing B-teams to enter the English leagues, like they do in Spain, but I and the a lot of clubs are against that. It would be to the detriment of the smaller clubs.

We have 92 league clubs in England. If the 20 Premier League clubs were allowed to enter B-teams in the lower leagues it would cause controversy and probably end up with the Championship having 10 or more B-teams in it.

Of course, as in Spain, the B-teams would not be permitted to get promoted to the Premier League and I think they can’t enter the second tier either but it would still be a cause for corruption.

Owning Multiple Clubs In One Country

As things stand today, no one person or company can have a controlling interest in more than one club in the English league. In the eighties the Maxwell family, who owned the Daily Mirror, owned three clubs. Robert Maxwell and his two sons owned a club each but were ordered to sell two of the clubs because of conflict of interest.

So why doesn’t Uefa forbid a company from owning multiple clubs across it’s jurisdiction?

Sure, it doesn’t stop Red Bull owning RB Leipzig and New York Red Bull (to name buy two) but then they are at the mercy of the work permit rules for the respective countries.

The Sad Truth

We are in an age where a player can become a millionaire by being a reserve team player.

No, worse than that, there are no reserve teams any more! They are called development squads and most first team squad players don’t play for the development team, even though they are allowed.

This means a player can sign a contract and just turn up for training every day and still pocket £50,000 a week or more.

Think of Momadou Sakho. Before Crystal Palace took him on loan he was picking up his £100,000+ a week wages for just training. He wasn’t in the Liverpool 25 man squad and didn’t play for the development squad.

That isn’t a slight on him, it wasn’t his choice to be in that situation. He wanted to play football and fair play to him he took his chance to come to Palace. He gave his all for our cause and it is a shame more players don’t follow his example.

If a player is really ambitious then it has to be better for him to sign for a smaller club for less money but more chances to play. However, I think their though process is that they may as well sign for a big club on big money and then get loaned to the smaller club because at least they’ll be on a bigger wage.

Did you know?

A club can loan a player and then loan that player out to another club. Any loan lasting a season or more is classed as a permanent signing under Fifa rules and so can be sub-loaned.

In January 2017 Leicester signed Mali international Molla Wague on loan from Udinese, where he is already on loan from Granada.

Both Granada and Udinese had to agree for the defender to make the move to the King Power Stadium.

Udinese and Watford owners the Pozzo family have become specialists in the ‘three-club loan deal’.

In 2012/13, the Hornets sent Udinese loanee Steve Leo Beleck on loan to Stevenage.

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