The loan system was first introduced to football in 1966. However, it was temporarily banned, except for loaning goalkeepers, in 1980. Could it be time for another review of the system now?
There had been unofficial loans taking place for many years, whilst WWII saw the introduction of guest players due to travel restrictions and footballers being stationed in different areas with the forces. The rules surrounding loan transfers would be changed over the years, beyond the 1980 ban on outfielders, there was notable shake up in 1995 after the Bosman ruling – and then in 2003 – with the lifting of a restriction on loans having to be made between clubs in different divisions.
For some players, a loan deal has been the kickstart needed to boost their career. The system has also benefitted clubs in this regard. Indeed, the likes of David Beckham went out on loan to Preston North End, before returning to become a Manchester United great. However, for others their careers have been ruined by this transfer method. I think of the likes of Paddy Roberts and Filip Benkovic who were sent to Celtic with high hopes, only to have their careers derailed upon their return.
Many rich clubs sign players with no intention of playing them. Sometimes this is to prevent others from getting talented players, at others it is simply a gamble to loan footballers out and sell on for profit. This is especially prevalent since the introduction Financial Fair Play. Indeed, in the case of Paddy Roberts, Manchester City shelled out some £10m to bring him in from Fulham. He was effectively a development squad player at the Etihad and was loaned out to Celtic. Excelling in Glasgow, it was hoped that Roberts could be sold but Celtic couldn’t afford the fee to make it profitable for City and there wasn’t much external interest. As such, Roberts was loaned again to Girona where things didn’t quite work out. He didn’t feel settled or valued and once the wheels came off, his career went into free fall. Currently, he is failing to get into the team at Middlesbrough, having been loaned out by Norwich City.
Similarly, Filip Benkovic has just been recalled from his loan spell at Cardiff City. He made just one appearance with the Welsh club so Brendan Rodgers has called him back to the midlands and is looking to offload the player somewhere else. Benkovic was a Croatian international with European experience when he signed for the Foxes. However, he has since been farmed out to Celtic, Bristol City and Cardiff, where he has been considered a decent calibre of back up to the defence without clubs needing to risk a transfer fee. Therefore, Benkovic has rarely played in the last few years and when he has done it has been at a lower level than where he started before Leicester signed him. His career has been on a downward trajectory since.
This cannot be right. The loan system was introduced to give young players an opportunity to play, and to fill the gaps in emergency positions. Instead, it is often exploited by those wanting to bolster their squad without paying a transfer fee. It is the players who then suffer.
For me, the system should be regulated. Players should have to make a minimum number of appearances at their loaned club (excluding injury/suspension) and players should not be loaned out for more than two consecutive seasons.
If someone is consistently being farmed out to lower leagues, it often leads to regression and suggests that their parent club only signed them as a gamble that he’d become good enough, or perhaps for no reason other than to sell on for more money than originally paid out.
Of course the rules need to be amended in such a way that big clubs still take a chance on talented prospects. In that sense, a loan spell for experience and growth is beneficial. However, the issues arise when clubs sweep up all the talent from the league and then loan them out without intention of ever picking the player. It is also a farce when the loan system is used to boost a player’s value so that he can be sold on for a profit to manipulate Financial Fair Play figures.
Mistakes happen. Sometimes signings don’t work out and a loan spell is best for all parties. Financial circumstances can dictate that reducing the wage bill leads to a loan exit, and at times a club will want to sell a player but only they only receive a loan offer. There should be a panel to discuss and allow for these things, whilst protecting young talent and stopping the rot among young players.
It is criminal when a player excels on a loan spell, but is then loaned to another club where he is considered a squad player, and ultimately becomes a sub left to rot.
To summarise, the loan system can be of great benefit, but we need to do it right.