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…

  1. Frank Fielding (Derby County, on loan from Blackburn Rovers)
  2. Kyle Walker (Queens Park Rangers, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
  3. George McCartney (Leeds United, on loan from Sunderland)
  4. Curtis Davies (Leicester City, on loan from Aston Villa)
  5. Jack Cork (Burnley, on loan from Chelsea)
  6. Liam Lawrence (Portsmouth, on loan from Stoke City)
  7. Aaron Ramsey (Nottingham Forest, on loan from Arsenal)
  8. Andy Reid (Sheffield United, on loan from Sunderland)
  9. Freddie Sears (Scunthorpe United, on loan form West Ham United)
  10. Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City, on loan from Manchester City)
  11. Garry O’Connor (Barnsley, on loan from Birmingham City)
The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Lanterne Rouge
    December 8, 2010

    Excellent post in particular because it spells out the current very generous allowance 5 players in an 18 player match day squad is probably too much and the fact that Cardiff and Portsmouth have been the main exploiters is particularly annoying for fans of other clubs in the division. That’s also an incredibly strong XI of players you have picked out.

    But I guess it’s within the rules…Bloggers Mirko Bolesan and Lloyd indulged in a ding dong debate on this in the comments section of this recent post.

  2. Martyn
    December 11, 2010

    A good read. Interesting nonetheless to note that the three top performers so far this season – Sinclair, Taarabt, and Bothroyd – are all owned by their respective clubs.

    With regards to Bellamy, his worth can actually be measure in what he can’t do. By drawing opponents across, his presence has opened up space for the likes of Burke and Whittingham to shine!

    • theseventytwo
      December 12, 2010

      Definitely agree with that. Looking at the key goalscoring midfielders for the East Midlands sides, too, they’re all permanent despite the presence of excellent loan players alongside them (Commons, King, McGugan).

  3. Dominic Walton
    February 2, 2011

    The January transfer window generated £225m worth of spending in the Premier league, however, only £12m made its way down to lower league clubs. I believe this is a symptom of the academy system and the way now Premier League clubs hoover up all available youth talent from the age of 7. It is rare these days for non-Premier league clubs to develop talent which stay at the club until first team age and then sell them on – even players which start at lower league club youth systems such as Mica Richards are poached by the likes of Manchester City as children so their original clubs don’t get the benefit of the player playing for them nor do they get decent transfer – yet the media then would tell us that players like Richards came up through Man City’s youth system when in fact they were stolen at a young age from a football league club!!!!
    Anyway, another symptom of this problem can be seen in the number of young, generally English, premier league players who are on loan in the football league. This creates an artificial feel about the whole competition – someone like Preston have over the last few years had up to 6 players who were on loan, and the spiteful recall by Alex Ferguson of 2 loan players (and then his mate from Stoke followed suit) goes to show that relying on them puts you at the mercy of events. How long before a team just pays a manager and coaching staff and just relies on loan players to make up the team? Not too long at the present rate!!
    The whole system of Premier league players stock piling youth players and then loaning them out because they then fill their teams with mainly foreign players is killing English football, both at the football league level and is obviously having a effect on our international team. Not too long ago you would maybe get 1 or 2 players on loan in an entire season at most, sometimes not even 1. Now its normal to have 6 or 7 in a season and I don’t think its healthy.

    • theseventytwo
      February 2, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, I completely agree with the general sentiment.

      For me, that “artificial feel” you mention is important to pick up on. It’s a very short-termist approach but nearly all clubs rely on these loans now. You’re in danger of getting left behind if you don’t opt for any.

      Kyle Naughton is the most fitting example today – a good young Championship player who was transferred to Tottenham (along with another Sheffield United right-back at the same time) despite Spurs already having two or three decent players in that position. He’s been loaned out before and now finds himself back in the Championship with Leicester. Last night he played against Sheffield United, his boyhood club, who are struggling at the bottom of the league while Leicester benefit from loan signings like Naughton. The whole thing sits very uncomfortably with me (and I’m a Leicester fan…!)

      It would be interesting to see whether any of the top sides don’t have any loan signings. I’d say, of the current top six, only Cardiff have relied heavily on loans?


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