Sunday 12 July ~
Recent seasons have seen player loans become a fact of life at all levels of the professional game. They are an important part of managing playing budgets and squads, and provide a chance to bring in players from a higher level without paying a fee. As Bryan Gunn, Norwich City’s manager, put it: “A player from one of the elite clubs comes in to impress, to make sure he either goes back to that club and forces his way into the first team or has given himself an opportunity to better himself.” But are loans deals really a good thing?
Such deals are often presented as a chance to give a player first-team games or to kick-start his career. Jermain Defoe is an outstanding example of how this can work. He made one appearance for West Ham in 2000-01 and spent most of the next season at Bournemouth, making 29 appearances and scoring 18 goals. On his return his Hammers career was up and running with over 70 appearances in the next two seasons. Harry Redknapp summed it up: “I sent him to Bournemouth to get some experience playing League football and he’s coped marvellously.” But it doesn’t always work that way. When promising midfielder Mark Hughes went out on loan from Spurs, Chris Hughton commented that Hughes would make a career in football, the only question was at what level. Seven clubs and a couple of Northern Ireland caps later – with his most recent contract at Barnet – Hughes is still trying to answer that question.
A successful loan spell doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending. Jack Hobbs was an important part of Leicester City’s promotion winning defence, but if he returns to Liverpool, and despite Sami Hyypia leaving, it is by no means certain that he will have progressed up the pecking order. Chelsea’s England Under-19 left-back Ryan Bertrand is in a similar, but even more difficult, position after a personally successful couple of years at Norwich City. Bertrand found himself behind Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole; now Bridge has gone but so too have the manager and coach who agreed to his loan. A return to Stamford Bridge will involve establishing himself with a new managerial team. Setting Bertrand’s case in context, Gunn illustrated another aspect of the loan market when he commented to the Eastern Daily Post that last season’s 17 loan deals had been disruptive for the club, and was something not to be repeated next year.
It’s easy to see the attractions of the loan system for clubs, but it has more than a hint of unpredictability. Manchester United youngsters Fraizer Campbell and Manucho, who both now look like leaving Old Trafford, must have hoped for better from their spells at Spurs and Hull respectively. Instead, they have been usurped by the likes of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. Last season my team, Oldham Athletic, took three loan strikers from Championship clubs and one from Hull City. They had over 1,500 appearances and 400 goals between them, but conjured up only two goals in 32 appearances. Unpredictability may be part of the appeal of sport, but a few goals towards promotion would have done nicely. Brian Simpson