There are many fans who feel vindicated by Watford’s loss to Crystal Palace in the Championship playoff final, believing they are abusing the loan player system and bolstering their squad with Udinese and Granada players.
The Hornet’s owners, the Pozzo family, own both the Italian and Spanish club and find it mutually beneficial for all their investments to share resources, either to produce league winning teams or get valuable assets the experience they need.
Chelsea and A.C. Milan, like the Pozzo family, are under scrutiny for the way in which they operate in the loan system. The Europa League champions currently have 25 players on loan throughout the world, while the Rossoneri have an incredible 33 players plying their trade elsewhere.
Many pundits and fans are calling for reform of the loan system, saying that it is destabilising for individuals, devalues youth academies and means that managers are gaining from someone else’s players. However, the value of being able to send players away for experience has regularly been proven. Chelsea player Romelu Lukaku has had a fantastic season playing for Premier League rivals West Brom, scoring 17 goals in 35 league games and surely earning himself a first team place when he returns next season.
The way in which Steve Clarke has managed Lukaku has enabled the Belgian to have such a prolific season, and no one would take away the credit from the Scottish manager. In the same way which nobody can take away what Gianfranco Zola has done with all his loan players at Watford. This season in the Premier League you would have to argue that Sam Allardyce has managed and got the best out of Andy Carroll more than Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, so the loan system doesn’t devalue any achievements that they bring to their new clubs.
Young players or those on the fringes of squads are always being berated for not getting enough opportunities to develop their skills and being able to loan themselves out to competitive teams is the perfect solution to this problem.
Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge enjoyed successful periods at Bolton Wanderers and arguably got the chance they needed at a pivotal age. Although, critics would point out that Wilshere and Sturridge would have taken the place and opportunity available to youth players at Bolton who, after working their way through the academies and being on the receiving end of much funding into that academy, were prevented from doing so because of the loan system.
But what would the club or youth player benefit from fast tracking them to the first team? Many lambast Arsene Wenger for his belief in not rushing young men to the match day squad but the damage that can be done can be substantial. Time may show the damage done to Jack Bonham, the third choice Watford goalkeeper brought on after Jonathan Bond was injured in the final game of the season against Leeds. The 19-year-old goalkeeper was at fault for the two goals in a 2-1 loss, meaning they lost out on an automatic promotion place.
There is no doubt that teams loaning players to rival clubs can have a detrimental effect through a conflict of interests, and at a time when hundreds of players and clubs across Europe are being investigated for match-fixing, league authorities will be vigilant to eradicate any misdemeanours.
However, it is wrong to lambast the loan system when it is no more volatile than the normal transfer market and actually eradicates financial catastrophes. Manchester City are recruiting and then turning out players constantly, in Scott Sinclair’s case it has set back his development and he will be hoping this summer he can get his career running again.
Very much like the transfer market, the loan system results in as many success stories as it does lessons to be learnt.