Jason Harris discusses the impact that loan spells can have on a footballer’s career.
To an outsider, a footballer’s life is one of great privileges. Flashy cars, nice houses, beautiful women and a weekly income that the average person would take home in a year are seen as normal for them.
However, the truth is somewhat different. It is a fact that footballers earn substantially more than the common man or woman, but for a great number of them, their road to recognition has had plenty of bumps along the way.
Every player develops at a different rate. Not everyone is blessed with the natural skill of a Diego Maradona, Pele or Lionel Messi and more often than not, need to take a few steps back before moving forward with their careers.
The loan system is a way that a footballer can go to another club, hone their skills for six months or a season and return to their parent club as a better player.
That, of course, is the ideal scenario. The player concerned has to be a willing party to the loan move and not see it as a kind of demotion and drop their head, instead see it as an outstanding opportunity to broaden their football education.
Over time there have been some high profile success stories in regards to the policy.
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea to Bolton), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea to West Brom), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal to Bolton) and Andy Carroll (Liverpool to West Ham) are just four examples of players who have used the loan as a very important stepping stone to establishing themselves in the game.
In the case of Carroll, it was a career re-boot as he did not fit in the plans of Brendan Rodgers and had reached a crossroad in his career. Likewise, Wilshere was loaned out to Bournemouth last season by the Gunners after suffering from a long list of injuries in the last few seasons.
The likes of Harry Kane (Millwall), Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth), John Terry (Nottingham Forest) and David Beckham (Preston) all dropped down to the lower divisions in the early stages of their careers to gain some invaluable experience.
Kane spoke about his experiences at the South London club before Tottenham played Millwall in the FA Cup quarter final in March.
“My loan at Millwall was a big part of my development. We were in a relegation battle and it turned me into a man. I played in difficult, high-pressure games and I managed to come out of it positively.”
However, for all the success stories, there are examples of players who get lost in the system and are virtual ‘nomads’ moving from club to club and getting no real continuity to their career.
Chelsea have made an art form of the system for a long period of time and at one stage in the recent past had close to 40 of their players (youth team as well as senior players) on loan at other clubs.
The strategy of the Blues has opened a wide reaching debate on whether that manipulation of the system is good for the players concerned and a good look for the game. However, there is a risk that players can feel disheartened or lose a sense of direction if they are sent away year upon year.
The policy of Chelsea certainly disillusioned players such as Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne who each left for more permanent opportunities at other clubs while Thibaut Courtois threatened to do the same if he was not given a chance to show his wares at the West London club.
Victor Moses became the public face of the Chelsea policy in the Premier League having spent seasons with Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham before finally finding his feet at the Blues under Antonio Conte.
For those players who look to move on, their parent club can look to make a tidy profit on the player(s) concerned, hence why they look to use the system to their advantage.
Loan spells can also be a career changing for international players as shown by Aaron Mooy who was signed by Man City as a virtual unknown from the A-League in Australia and was then immediately sent on loan to Huddersfield.
His excellent play throughout last season was a key part in the Terriers’ promotion to the Premier League and saw him earn a permanent deal with the club.
Liverpool had 15 players on loan in 2016/7 with differing levels of success. Danny Ward was a revelation in goal at Huddersfield, Ryan Kent produced some eye-catching performances at Barnsley and Andre Wisdom managed to win a title in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg turning in some strong performances along the way.
After four seasons “on the loan circuit”, Wisdom finally left the club in July, signing a permanent deal with Derby County where he had spent the 2013/14 season.
On the other side of the coin was Jon Flanagan who had a superb season in 2013/4, which led to him getting a call-up to the England squad, but sadly has been crippled with injury ever since.
After being on the comeback trail once again, Jurgen Klopp saw it fit to send the full back on loan to Burnley, but unfortunately, the 24-year-old had a wretched campaign where he only played 10 games for the club which included just six games in the league.
Another season on loan could be on the cards, but that may not be such a bad thing as the much-loved defender needs game continuity after missing so much action in recent times.
Likewise, after an encouraging start under Klopp, Cameron Brannagans’ development stalled at Fleetwood Town in the second half of last season where the 21-year-old midfielder only made five starts.
Clubs have a tough choice to make when it comes to their young stars. Do they send them away with the hope of them playing an important role and coming back as a more rounded player, or keep them in the ranks of the U18 and U23s and look to use them in cup games and the odd Premier League fixture which Klopp has done in his tenure?
There has been a fair bit of discussion that England U20 star Sheyi Ojo will be one of the more high profile young loanees from the club in the 2017/18 season.
A number of teams are very keen on his services and Liverpool are keen for the youngster to get some high-level exposure at the top end of the Championship. Fulham are said to be the most likely to snatch the winger this summer.
It remains to be seen what path the club takes with the likes of Danny Ings, Ovie Ejaria and Connor Randall. Lazar Markovic, who is 23 years of age, is nearing an Anfield exit with opportunities at the club growing scarcer for him.
In the case of Grujic, the fanbase is eagerly wanting to see what the Serbian youngster can do on a regular basis as he struggled to overcome a hamstring injury in his first season with the club.
In reality and like anything in life, loan spells have positives and negatives attached. However, to be the best footballer you can be, you need to have a starting point.
For those who have to take a slight detour along the way, it may be just the thing they need to progress to the next step of their footballing career.