Season Long Loans and Interclub Alliances

Siqueira
Image available under Creative Commons (c) Olmo1981

‘You’re actually rooting for the clothes,’ goes the Jerry Seinfeld quip about what it means to be a sports fan. The same person that you once cheered for, he explains, turns into the object of your resentment if he ever has the temerity to face your team in the colours of another side: ‘BOO! Different shirt!’ You could say that deconstructing the relationship between fan and team to such a superficial level is just standard observational humour, but then it wouldn’t be funny were there not an element of truth to what is being said.

Not all returning players are met with hostility, but the manner of the contrasting receptions offered to Carlos Tévez and David Beckham on their respective returns to Old Trafford during the 2009/10 season still throws up an interesting point. While Tévez was heckled and booed like a traitor on his way to the scaffold, Beckham was greeted with all the gusto and garlands of a monarch returning from exile. Tévez’s crime, of course, was to swap United’s red for City’s blue; the affection for Beckham, by then a Milan player, was shown by throwing him a green and gold scarf, back when they outnumbered the red and white ones at Old Trafford, which he then picked up to huge cheers from the Stretford End. In both cases, the importance of team colours as signifiers of identity played a central role.

The essence of Seinfeld’s joke, namely that fans’ loyalty is to the colour of the shirt not the individual wearing it, came to mind when considering the effect of the Pozzo takeover at Watford. As has been mentioned elsewhere, including in Ben’s recent post for TTU on the sacking of Sean Dyche as manager in order for the new owners to bring in Gianfranco Zola, a likely scenario from a playing perspective is that certain positions will be filled by exotic loanees contracted to the Pozzos’ main interest, Udinese, at the expense of those with longer ties to the club or the area. The feeling is that fans will find it harder to identify with these players, and perhaps their whole club, if Watford’s starting eleven begins to resemble a second string for the Serie A side transported to the Championship.

Though no loanees have arrived at the time of writing, some Watford fans could have reservations about cheering for what might seem like a fairly alien side when the season kicks off next month, even if the players concerned are most certainly wearing yellow rather than black and white stripes. While that familiar English obsession about players needing to be fit to wear the shirt might not apply to the technical ability of whoever pitches up in the Hornets’ dressing room – it is not in the new owners’ interest to send Watford any duds – there might be a few anxieties regarding the players’ commitment to the club’s cause set against the desire to progress their own career. Put simply, if a player moves to Vicarage Road aware that it is the experience and exposure he should gain in the Championship that will increase his market value and thereby possibly earn him and his parent club a lucrative transfer, will he play as an individual or as part of a team?

To answer this, and perhaps allay a few fears, it is useful to look at the example of Granada in Spain, who the Pozzos bought in 2009. The club from Andalusia achieved back-to-back promotions and returned to La Liga after a 35-year absence two years later. What’s more, Granada preserved their top division status on the final day of last season, despite a dramatic defeat to fellow strugglers Rayo Vallecano, and so will be welcoming Barcelona and Real Madrid to their Los Cármenes stadium for at least another season. That Granada have been able to pull this off thanks in large part to a stream of players filtering down from Udinese is widely known. What has been made less clear, though, is that this policy is not about short-term deals that might make it hard for a team spirit to be forged, but season-long loans that have allowed players to grow with the club.

Indeed, three loan players are preparing to start their fourth season with Granada. Winger Dani Benítez and defenders Diego Mainz and Allan-Roméo Nyom remain contracted to Udinese but have been turning out for Granada since their Segunda B days. Despite the fact they technically still belong to the Italian side, after contributing so much to the club’s rise over the past three years it would be churlish to deny that they feel like Granada’s players. Furthermore, the left back Guilherme Siqueira is about to start a third campaign with Granada, while striker Odion Ighalo, who was particularly popular with the fans thanks to a crucial goal in the 2010/11 Segunda play-offs, also featured in all three divisions for Granada, although his loan does not look like it will be renewed this time.

The situation at Granada is often referred to as a project, a term that some English fans might balk at. It betrays the fact that Giampaolo Pozzo and his son, Gino, are businessmen and that their well-publicised ownership model – scout talent from all over the globe, stockpile it for a relatively small investment, then aim to sell high later on – is about financial success as well as sporting achievement. It is important to note, though, that so far the model is working on both counts for both clubs. Udinese have qualified for the Champions League play-off round, Granada have retained their top division status, and the pair of them remain that rarest of beasts: a well-run football club.

The success enjoyed by Granada would have been impossible without Udinese loaning them players, but they had to be the right sort of players. They needed to be hungry to prove themselves, as individuals and as part of a collective, for the benefit of their own careers and the fortunes of the club. They needed to arrive in Granada with the mentality that only by being part of a successful team would their own reputations grow. Take Siqueira, who originally joined on loan in 2010 and then signed on a free prior to the start of last season following the expiry of his contract with Udinese. With Valencia having lost Jordi Alba to Barcelona, Siqueira’s dynamic performances down Granada’s left flank have not gone unnoticed and he is being strongly linked with a move to Los Che that would earn him Champions League football and Granada a sizeable financial boost. (As an aside, Siqueira also knows his way around a Panenka.) Additionally, right back Nyom became a full Cameroon international last season after helping Granada up through the divisions.

It’s still true to say that this type of ownership arrangement encourages a high turnover of players. By the end of last week, a dizzying 20 players had been added to Granada’s squad so far this summer – some returning from loans elsewhere, including a number who were stationed in Segunda B at Cadiz, with whom Granada have their own relationship – with 10 already having left (thanks to @LaLigaLoca for the maths). Such a state of affairs is not unique to a club reliant on its own loan players, as any fan of a club once managed by Harry Redknapp would testify, but Watford fans might end up with more names to remember than you’d find in a Game of Thrones box set. Nonetheless, owing to a core group of players regularly augmented by careful additions, it has clearly not done Granada any harm to have so many comings and goings. Watford fans will be hoping that this proves to be the case at their club too.

Speculating about the identity of Watford’s starting eleven against Crystal Palace on 18th August is one of the most intriguing elements of the build-up to the Championship season. The only real certainty – bearing in mind there is no clash of shirts – is that they will be wearing yellow. Perhaps the constancy offered by a team’s colours, to return to Seinfeld’s point, is why they are regarded more highly than anything else. Fans know that they’re the one thing about their club that can’t change. With one exception in the Championship this year, of course…

is a Manchester United fan but don't blame him, blame Rupert Murdoch and Mark Hughes. No sooner could he kick a ball than he was trying to dribble like Andrei Kanchelskis. Born and raised in Norwich, however, he still takes an interest in events at Carrow Road as well as the rest of the league pyramid. In 2010 he moved to London with the words of Alan Partridge ringing in his ears, asserting that he would either be mugged or not appreciated. He resides on Twitter as @WilliamAbbs.

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10 Comments on "Season Long Loans and Interclub Alliances"

  1. Lanterne Rouge says:

    As elegantly written a post as we have come to expect Will and an intriguing thesis. Certainly season long loans seem to be the best kind – Ryan Bertrand’s spell at Reading was very successful and let’s not forget David Bentley’s time at Norwich – knowing that the relationship will last a full year does allow for deeper roots to be laid down, even if they are not permanent.

    That said, the issue of interclub alliances is problematic and is perhaps the successor to the ‘nursery club’ notion – Reading recently entered into an agreement with Boreham Wood and the Manchester United-Antwerp tie in is well known of course. As long as Watford can retain their yellow, all should be Ok but let’s watch this space with caution.

  2. Rookery MIke says:

    As a Season Ticket holder at Watford, I’ve obviously been monitoring the situation and gauging reaction with interest.

    A lot has been made of Watford maintaining their identity in the face of fielding a number of loan players from the other clubs in the Pozzo stable. I understand this to a degree, but clubs at Watford’s level have been reliant on loans from elsewhere for some time now – indeed two relatively recent loanees (Ben Foster and Tom Cleverley) have been awarded the Player of the Season Award, which is voted for by the fans. This indicates that the modern day supporter has no problem identifying with a player, even if he is temporary. Ask Watford fans about some of their favourite players over the last five years or so and you’ll hear them mention Ben Foster, Adam Johnson, Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley – all loanees.

    For a club like Watford with small gates, a modest stadium and until recently an uncertain financial future, it has long been accepted that loans play a part in keeping things ticking over. Does the fact that future loanees are likely to come from Udinese and Grenada make a difference? It’s obviously a more formalised link, but previous managers have had much publicised ‘strong links’ with Wenger at Arsenal and Ferguson at United, ensuring we’ve had decent loans from those clubs. Is this set up all that different?

    Much has also been made of the ‘feeder club’ issue. The cold truth is Watford have been a feeder club for the majority of it’s existance. Even during the heady days of Division One we knew we were going to lose John Barnes to a ‘bigger’ club. That trend has continued, and with the success of the Harefield Academy has actually been amplified. Ashley Young and Marvin Sordell are two of the higher profile players to be moved on for a large profit after coming through the ranks, and it’s a brave man who would put money on Sean Murray being a Watford player this time next season. Watford have always nurtured talent. And then sold it. It’s the only way it has been able to survive. Some argue it smacks of a lack of ambition. These people can’t grasp that it isn’t about ambition. It’s about survival.

    So again, losing our best players will be nothing new for Watford fans.

    Of course, the fact that we’re used to both aspects doesn’t mean it is right. I’m just surprised that so many neutrals are so animated by it when in reality it’s been the case for us and many clubs like us for so long.

    I obviously have no idea how the Pozzo regime will pan out. I’m uneasy about the sacking of Dyche who performed wonders last season, but these guys have a plan and I guess, like all football fans, we have to wait and see what happens. After staring into the abyss under the Bassini regime, the truth about which I hope will one day come out, I’m just glad to have a vaguely functioning club to support.

    Forza Watford.

  3. Tom says:

    Very well written indeed.

    I’d be interested to know what the loan regulations are in Spain because of course in England you can only have five loanees in your matchday squad – is this the same in Spain? If not, then we probably don’t have too much to worry about on that front, though there’s nothing to say we won’t have more than five on-loan at any one time.

    Almen Abdi and Daniel Pudil (Udinese & Granada respectively), both played very well at Borehamwood last night in our first friendly this summer. No sign of Matej Vydra and of the three, he’s the one I’m struggling to get excited about. A prospect he may be, but with severe injury last season and very few games under his belt in a short career, I’m not sure whether he’d be up to it or not.

    The bigger fear for me certainly, and some other supporters, is that this is looking more and more like the second-coming of Luca Vialli. A big-name manager in place and now a constant stream of big-name has-been’s are being linked – Pippo Inzaghi and Alex Del Piero for example. Give me a youngster from Udinese or Granada over a pensioner any day!

  4. Andy M says:

    Good and thoughtful post but a look through Watford’s recent seasons (and indeed quite a few Championship clubs I suspect) throws up a long list of players we had on loan.

    Tom Cleverley, Henri Lansbury, Craig Cathcart, Liam Bridcutt, Danny Drinkwater, Marcello Trotta, Tomas Kuszczak, Ben Foster and loads more if i could be bothered to look through a few teamsheets/programmes have all passed though Vicarage Road contributing from a lot to very litte to bugger all.

    The fact that some/the majority of this season’s loanees will be coming from a ‘family’ of clubs is something to be embraced in my opinion. After a sketchy few years the vast majority of Hornets fans are looking forward, albeit with a degree of caution, to the new regime, and being owned by football people, with a plan that works…

  5. William says:

    Thanks everybody for the comments. As Mike and Andy have mentioned, Watford fans are already familiar with seeing a relatively high number of loan signings come and go every season so, in that sense, they are prepared for what the takeover might bring. The difference with the loan players likely to come from Udinese and Granada, though, is that they should be arriving with the clear intention of improving the side rather than plugging temporary gaps caused by injury or simply a small squad, for example. Therefore, the hope is that those who arrive will end up ranking alongside the likes of Ben Foster and Tom Cleverley in terms of impact on the pitch.

    As for Tom’s point about the number of loan players allowed to be fielded in Spain, I must be honest and say that I have not come across any such rule myself yet and a quick internet search didn’t throw anything up. It’s possible that a deeper inquiry might result in finding a few regulations, if any exist, but I found an article on F365 that confirmed that Granada used 9 loan players in one game last season (http://www.football365.com/f365-says/7577111/Calling-For-Changes-To-Loan-System…). There are regulations about the maximum number of B team players that can be called up for a league game, though, and similarly a minimum number of first team squad members who must be used in the Copa del Rey

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