As the role and profile of loan players continues to rise Prozone analyse the loan player system & its affect on the England national team.
England manager Fabio Capello recently called for Chelsea’s Josh McEachran – at 18-years-old one of this country’s brightest young talents – to seek a loan move away from Stamford Bridge in order to gain regular first-team football and further his claims for a place in the England set-up. Loan deals have become increasingly popular in recent seasons, such arrangements affording clubs greater flexibility and financial freedom in a difficult economic climate. Furthermore, as the Europe-wide implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules draws nearer, loans are an extremely attractive option for clubs in the current footballing landscape.
The Rise of the Temporary Move
The increase in the role and profile of loan players across all levels of the Football League suggests that loans are mutually beneficial for both clubs involved as well as the player. As clubs burdened with debt struggle to recruit in an inflated marketplace, loans now form a central part of transfer policy at the elite level, and by using Prozone performance data we can ascertain exactly how such deals affect the form of the players who are subject to them, and look at the possible reasons and benefits for the increasing number of loans in and out of the Premier League.
In this year’s January transfer window 42.3% of completed moves were loans, that a sizeable increase in comparison to the figure of 19.7% in the corresponding month in 2008 and the highest figure in the last 5 seasons. Indeed, in the 2010/11 season 26.9% (42) of the 156 transfers in the Premier League were on a loan basis and 18 of those loans were for English players. The most notable of these was Chelsea’s 21-year-old forward Daniel Sturridge, his loan spell with Bolton Wanderers yielding eight goals in twelve games and seeing him selected to lead the line for England during this summer’s U21 European Championships.
The Efficiency of the Loan Deal.
Of the squad which competed at the U21 tournament, 54.5% of England’s players had been shipped out on loan for at least part of the 2010/11 campaign, many of them having seized the opportunity to refine their skills and gain a greater familiarity with first team football. As the Prozone data shows us, the average performance ratings of the four most high-profile young loanees (Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Kyle Walker) were all above average for their positions during the time they spent away from their parent clubs; their experiences of regular top-level football appearing to improve the level of their performances within a relatively short time-frame.
For example, Walker’s average rating last season stood at 72.7, fully nine points clear of the average rating for the division’s full-backs. This data suggests that loan moves are of great benefit to young players, the consistency engendered by regular football improving their overall game before they return to their clubs and attempt to win a first-team place. Keen to emulate the success of Jack Wilshere; who’s successful loan spell at Bolton in 2009/10 provided the youngster with the valuable first team experience needed to establish himself as a first team mainstay in Arsenal’s midfield and emerge as a senior England national team player; on the face of it, the evidence would suggest that Capello is right to urge McEachran to seek a temporary move elsewhere as a springboard to a long career, particularly as the young midfielder is unlikely to become a Chelsea regular in the short-term.
What the data also demonstrates is the potentially important role loans can play for emerging players at leading clubs with regard to the senior national team. Without loan deals, there’s the risk players such as Sturridge would be left to stew in the reserves or on the benches of some of the country’s biggest clubs, not having the chance to showcase and develop their talents. However, when sent out on loan, not only are they able to improve as individual players, their transfers facilitate a slight levelling of competition within the Premier League as they join clubs towards the lower end of the division. Many of the players loaned by the clubs in the upper echelons of the Premier league head out to clubs nearer the bottom who are looking to maintain their Premier League survival without spending millions in the transfer market, while clubs at the bottom are able to send out promising players to gain valuable experience throughout the football league.
A Deconstructive Process?
While the benefits to the loan system are clear, it is important not to overlook the negative impacts that it can have for clubs over a longer period of time. Such is the ease and convenience of loaning players, it is possible that newly promoted clubs and those with smaller budgets are liable to rely more heavily on dealings in the loan market and on the players brought in on a temporary basis (over 30% of Newcastle United and Blackpool’s signings last season were loans), but such short-termism can lead to problems further down the line. While the top four clubs loaned in no players at all during the 2010/11 season, for the bottom 10 teams' loan deals accounted for an average 39.6% of all transfers dealings.
It is the upper echelons of the league (and those in contention for European qualification in particular) that loan out more players. The top six teams loaned out a total of 70 players in the 2010/11 season with a number of those players (such as Welbeck, Cleverley and Kyle Walker) destined for other Premier League clubs.
While loans may provide quick fixes, when those players are recalled by their parent clubs or sold on at a higher price the same gaps and shortcomings remain in the team which they had joined. This can lead to an unstable platform for clubs short of resources and unable to replace key components in their systems.
While the loan system has both its positive and negative aspects, what is clear by assessing the Prozone performance data is that loans often benefit the development of the players involved as well as having mutual benefits for the clubs concerned. What is more, with young English talent being valued extremely highly in the current transfer market, loan moves for talented home-grown players of McEachran’s ilk give clubs with limited financial strength a means of accessing a higher bracket of talent. And with Walker, Welbeck and Cleverley all looking to feature prominently for their parent clubs this season after successful loans spells and set to be involved at international level the effect on the national team could be imminent.
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