18 January ~ If the 2011-12 season will be known as anything, it should be the season of the loan. An incredible amount of loan deals have been struck already, at all levels of the league. The super-rich clubs have become something of a lending library for top quality players who are surplus to their requirements. Manchester City have fulfilled this role particularly well this season. Roberto Mancini may have put his foot down when it was rumoured that Carlos Tevez would be leaving on loan, but he didn't intervene when out of favour Emmanuel Adebayor was lent to Tottenham for the season, a dangerous move given that Spurs are now troubling the top of the table, thanks in part to the Togolese forward.
Then we have the influx of players from the MLS. Semi-retired players who were once deemed no longer good enough for the Premier League are being welcomed back with open arms. Is this really a progressive step? If Aston Villa really need Robbie Keane, surely they should attempt to sign him permanently. If not, then why not invest the time he spends playing into upcoming youth players instead?
The biggest problem with this loan culture is in the lower divisions. Lower-league clubs are becoming dependent on loaned players from bigger clubs. Northampton Town are lying bottom of League Two, but new manager Aidy Boothroyd's solution of mass loaning has to be questioned. Last weekend he fielded a starting 11 that featured four on-loan players, including strikers Saido Berahino and Akwasi Asante – both of whom are on one month (albeit rolling) emergency youth loans.
What does the manager expect to happen when these players leave? Any form found by the team (which, as an aside, they're still searching for) will be lost. Meanwhile, the players who have been shoved onto the bench to make way for the loanees will be out of form and feeling pretty dejected.
It is short termism at its worst, and Northampton are by no means the only club guilty of it this season. A look at the January transfer window shows that a number of League sides are looking to the loan market for a quick fix to poor starts to the season. League Two strugglers Aldershot have already taken four players on loan in this window alone, while League One's Rochdale and Championship side Crystal Palace have three apiece so far.
These additions might help improve the clubs' positions, but they create a strange atmosphere for fans, who know their best players for the season are only sticking around for as long as they have to. Once the loanees move on, be it after a month or at the end of the season, managers are back to square one, left with the players they didn't trust in the first place.
Perhaps managers need to spend less time looking for players in the leagues above, and invest a bit more time in managing the talent they already have in their own squads. Tom Shepherd