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Have Loan Deals Shaped Modern Football?

Loan deals are becoming more common in football as it is a cheaper alternative to buying the player and they can return the player if they are unsatisfied with their output. Top clubs typically have a squad of 30 with some extras out on loan all over the world. The hope is that their market value will rise, or they will show themselves to be a useful asset for their parent club. But is the loan system being abused by the big clubs to help with Financial Fair Play (FFP) or is it future proofing?

Michael Hector knows a lot about loan deals. The 27-year-old has been on 15 loans since 2009 but has only moved club permanently twice. He was loaned out shortly after signing his first professional contract and was often moved on quickly by his parent club for their benefit. He quickly adapted to his new clubs and improved as a player. Chelsea signed him in 2015 but this didn’t stop the loan moves as the Blues quickly loaned him to former club.

Loan moves were originally designed so younger players could experience game time. Philipp Lahm is a great example of this. Bayern Munich didn’t think the young German was ready to be a first team regular so loaned him out to Stuttgart. When Lahm returned, he was arguably the best fullback in Germany and went on to win a lot at the Bavarian giants. Bayern also loaned out Toni Kroos when just after his 19th birthday, at Leverkusen he quickly became on of the biggest young stars in Europe. Bayern aren’t afraid to loan out young stars to Bundesliga clubs for top level experience and this is a case of how loan deals can help club and player.

Chelsea signed a 19-year-old Thibaut Courtois but immediately loaned him to Atlético Madrid. In Spain he became recognised as one of the best goalkeepers, after three years in the capital he returned to Stamford Bridge. Since, loans have changed, it is now becoming a business in itself.

In 2009/10, clubs averaged having 2.30 players out on loan, this had rose to 3.31 by 2014/15. Out of the 10 clubs with the most players out on loan, nine of them are Italian. Atalanta top the list with 54 players out on loan, 19 more than anyone else. This is a small number compared to Parma Calcio as in 2013 they had 184 players out on loan. Simon Rolfes, Bayer Leverkusen Sporting Director said “I don’t think its good for football”.

Bayer Leverkusen themselves only have three players out on loan but have similar finances to Atalanta. Despite their different stances on loaning players out, both have been in the hunt for securing Champions League football for next year. It isn’t just these two who are different, out of Europe’s top 5 leagues, the Bundesliga is lowest for players loaned out per club, 1.69, and the Serie A tops the list on 4.87.

The loan system paid dividends as a business models to Chelsea, the London based club are renowned for loaning out players. They loan out players from their youth academy in hope they will come back with an increased transfer value. Many of these players won’t play a single game for the Blues, they’ll move them around like stock. They will sell these players to the highest bidders when it suits them without thinking of the players.

On Chelsea’s YouTube channel they have a playlist about loaned out players. The London giants even have a loan coach, former player Tore André Flo, his job is to visit loaned out players and track their performances. Many see Flo’s job as assessing the asset and seeing if its worth cashing in the next transfer window or if they should be farmed out on loan again.

Josh McEachran only made 11 appearances for the Blues over his five years with them although he did go out on five separate loans. Despite his handful of appearances, he didn’t get a proper chance with the first team and was essentially surplus to requirements. This is one of many examples of players who have “lost” in Chelsea’s loan system.

Few players benefit after loan spells away from Stamford Bridge. Romelu Lukaku is one of the few as after impressive loan spells at West Brom and Everton the Toffees signed him permanently. This helped his career as he has since gone on to represent Man United and Inter Milan following huge transfers. Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah have also benefited with all three going on to win various trophies and personal accolades.

Chelsea may have been profits on Lukaku, De Bruyne and Salah, the clubs that bought them off the Blues made a bigger profit. They are examples of the young players that impressed out on loan but didn’t get a chance to shine at Stamford Bridge. They would have saved the club million in transfer fees as well as helping them become more successful.

Due to Chelsea hording players, FIFA intervened. As of 2021 clubs will be able to loan out a maximum of eight players who are 22 or older and a year after that, it is reduces to six. However, this may not work.

Some clubs have the same owners which means there are “farm clubs”. An example of this is the Red Bull family or the City Football Group. Man City will often loan players out or sell player with a buyback option to clubs who are part of the City Football Group such as New York City, Melbourne City and even Girona. RB Leipzig do the same with RB Salzburg and New York Red Bulls as the Red Bull GmbH own all three clubs. Although they aren’t breaking any rules, this is frowned upon and often criticised as people think it ruins the integrity of football and is immoral.

Immoral or letting young players gather first team experience? Either way, loaning and sending players to sister clubs is here to stay for now at least especially with the coronavirus hurting clubs’ finances. This means loan deals with an option or obligation to buy will become a lot more popular for the 2020/21 season.


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