Are loan players distorting the Championship?
This season, more than any other, high profile loan signings from the Premier League are a huge feature of the Championship.
Only one club in the current top ten Championship sides, Coventry City, has taken to the field in the last month without a Premier League loan signing in its starting eleven. Rich Prew investigates.
Why the expansion in loan signings in 2010?
Part of the reason is the ever-increasing quality and depth of squads within the Premier League which, together with the new 25 player squad rule, means that players who previously would not be seen outside the top division are now expendable to their managers.
Another reason is the sheer laxity in the loan rules. Championship clubs can loan up to six players at a time and play up to five of those loans (if domestically sourced) in any one eighteen man match-day squad. This has seen Leicester City, for example, take to the field with an entire back four made up of Premier League loans.
The previous problem of the availability of top players for loan out of the Premier League is disappearing and, furthermore, financial restrictions to the loans are disappearing too.
Of course, Premiership clubs will always be willing to loan players out for match practice, a return to fitness and possibly as a prelude to a sale. However, there now exists a far greater willingness by the top clubs to fund the majority of the wages for the loan period.
The obvious example here is the highest profile Championship loanee of this season, Craig Bellamy, and it has been reported that Manchester City are paying £65,000 of Bellamy’s £85,000 per week pay packet for Cardiff.
This is unpopular with many figures within the game. Watford chairman Graham Taylor, who helped his club stave off administration last Christmas, said:
“Manchester City can afford to do what they want, and that includes refusing to let a very good player join another Premier League club who could threaten their challenge for a Champions League place.
“But what they have done is to let one of the best players in the Premier League last season drop into the Championship to join a club who have survived four winding-up orders.
“I am not privy to all the facts in the case of Craig Bellamy joining Cardiff, but something is not right. Realistically, how many Championship clubs can afford to loan a player of his quality and on his wages? Under normal circumstances, I would suggest the answer is none.
“This shows there are still things happening in football, including the loan system, where the rules and regulations need tightening up. Many fans do not know, for instance, that a lot of loan deals these days come with a fee attached.
“But in a competitive division like the Championship, loans like this could unbalance everything.”
Fighting alongside Cardiff at the top of the table are QPR, whose chairman Gianni Paladini said:
“It is crazy, it is madness but with the new rules and limits of 25 players in a Premier League squad you will see more and more players coming to the Championship. We have signed players who are on £20,000 per week and only paid £6,000 per week, but this is a whole new level”
The evidence that Premier League pragmatism is extending is all around us. Aaron Ramsey’s arrival at Nottingham Forest is the latest example.
For the casual fan of a Championship club, the opportunity to see such players in your division on a regular basis is an unexpected treat. For managers, the opportunity to boost your squad and at the same time stay within the realms of financial discipline is attractive.
So it is “win-win” then? The loan players benefit, the clubs benefit and the spectacle of the Championship benefits?
Well, not quite, because loans are by their very nature short-term. Who is to say that any on-the-field improvements engendered by an influx of quality can be maintained when the loanees revert to their parent club?
What about young squad players in the Championship, now further away from the first team than before? Logically, I suppose, more loans into Leagues One and Two would seem to be likely.
Finally, not all Championship clubs are beneficiaries of the system. Premier League clubs are not loaning throughout the division, presumably because the smaller clubs cannot even finance the part-wages necessary to make many loans happen.
Until the rules around the loan system change, though, we can expect some Championship managers to enjoy their time resembling computer game players, plucking squad names from the top flight with impunity.
Here, just for illustration, is a Championship All-Loan XI…
- Frank Fielding (Derby County, on loan from Blackburn Rovers)
- Kyle Walker (Queens Park Rangers, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
- George McCartney (Leeds United, on loan from Sunderland)
- Curtis Davies (Leicester City, on loan from Aston Villa)
- Jack Cork (Burnley, on loan from Chelsea)
- Liam Lawrence (Portsmouth, on loan from Stoke City)
- Aaron Ramsey (Nottingham Forest, on loan from Arsenal)
- Andy Reid (Sheffield United, on loan from Sunderland)
- Freddie Sears (Scunthorpe United, on loan form West Ham United)
- Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City, on loan from Manchester City)
- Garry O’Connor (Barnsley, on loan from Birmingham City)