The Football Loan Market – A Sweet Science for Clubs
By Drew Farmer
The football loan market is an instrument that can offer great rewards for those that use it. Yet, it can be a double-edged sword, one which teams rely too heavily on the system to provide talent for their teams.
For decades it has been a tool used by clubs to send young footballers out to gain professional experience, a learning on the job type position. With a lack of first team minutes at a club, especially in today’s game, the loan market offers opportunity to play regularly rather than sit on the bench.
Former England captain David Beckham experienced a loan spell at Preston North End before he was able to crack the Manchester United starting XI. The time away from Old Trafford gave him the chance to learn and grow away from the spotlight of Manchester United. The rest is history. Beckham is an example of the loan market helping a player before going on to mega stardom. But what about the system for modern players looking for experience and a chance to play?
For teams in the Premier League, the loan market has worked to develop talent, or at least test youngsters in other competitive leagues. Chelsea have used the loan market in recent times to send youngsters away. In January 2017, the club had 35 players out on loan. While some have accused Chelsea of being a football factory, developing players, loaning them and then selling them, the team have used the market to its advantage.
One player that benefitted from a loan is Thibaut Courtois. Although he never came through the Chelsea academy, he was bought and sent out on loan to Atletico Madrid. The goalkeeper excelled with the Spanish team, earning the chance to return when Petr Cech’s Chelsea career finished. Courtois is an exception as loans haven’t always worked for all Chelsea players.
In Italy some teams, especially those with less money, tend to use the loan system as a crutch. Genoa, a nine-time Italian champion all coming before World War II, are a club guilty of abusing the loan market. Yet, the club are one being sought out by other clubs for its ability to bring out the best in underperforming footballers. Former Liverpool winger Suso spent an extremely successful six month loan at the club before returning to AC Milan. Since re-joining the San Siro outfit, Suso has been an integral part of the team. He isn’t the only one or last player to arrive at Genoa. The Grifone have five players in on loan currently.
Fellow Serie A club Udinese have created their own way to use the loan market. The club’s owner Giampaolo Pozzo owns Spain’s Granada and English Premier League side Watford. The three clubs have shuttled players between them. Sometimes it has worked out well and it allows the team to build up players before selling them to other teams. Again, it looks like the clubs have created a football factory. All three teams are currently in the top-flight of their respective countries.
For leagues like Major League Soccer, a still growing entity, the loan market offers the chance to sign foreign talent without investing heavily in transfer fees. At one time, the league was set against paying high transfer fees. The league still refrains from spending big in the foreign transfer market preferring to bring in loan players.
The loan market can be hit and miss. For some it is to send players out for seasoning, for others it is to shop around talent. Worked correctly, and the loan market can be successful for everyone involve.