I have just spent a nail-biting and intriguing last few hours, sifting through Marc Iles’ prose on the carnage that was the final 6 hours of a transfer deadline day from a sunny and serene Sri Lanka.
As I sipped my morning Cappuccino, I hung on every tiny scroll of my phone, hoping that the miserable so and so’s at Crystal Palace had seen sense and sanctioned Chung-Yong Lee’s much anticipated and heralded return home. I agonised, praying that the next portion of my screen would reveal our signing of the best target man that no-one had ever heard of to replace the recently beloved and now departed Gary Madine.
As I took in the day’s events and started trawling through the myriad of deals, digesting what they all meant for our relegation rivals, it got me thinking about the amount of loans that had been agreed, as a percentage of all transactions completed. It led me to dwell on the loan market as a whole, including the undeniable importance and reliance that many teams now place on it.
The stockpiling of players in the highest echelons of the English and indeed European game has led to the unwillingness of top level bosses to tempt fate by letting an unused and previously unwanted player go, potentially leaving them short of experience for the rest of a hectic season that could define their own managerial career.
At least not until they’ve secured the big name signing the club’s fans have clamoured for, or some untested Norwegian striker that no one except me or other Danish football following nerds or Football Manager aficionados have ever heard of.
As you can probably garner, I’m referring once again to Roy Hodgson’s infuriatingly late decision to pull the proverbial plug on our South Korean’s return to his spiritual home.
The mechanics of that deal were simple in theory; CYL wasn’t playing, even in a stretched squad. He has the glittering, dangling carrot of a World Cup to get match fit and impress for and he would have been back in familiar surroundings at the club which propelled his career. Where he undoubtedly played his best football.
Yet Palace held all the aces. He is their player and despite having just 6 months remaining on his contract, he is their’s to do with as they wish, however unfair that seems to the player and indeed Bolton Wanderers. The 6-8k that we were likely offering to cover roughly 20-25% of his weekly wage was nothing but small change to the elite. Not even worthy of consideration when the eye-watering figures involved with staying up are constantly playing on a struggling Premier League Chairman’s mind, like they’ve been tattooed onto his retina.
Ultimately, Palace had left us with egg on our face.
It meant the Anderson clan were faced with the herculean and unenviable task of reversing the sinking feeling associated with losing your top goalscorer and also replicating the feel good factor that a return home for Chungy was creating on all-important social media. That indescribable feeling that the second coming of Adam Le Fondre had fostered exactly a year ago to the day. And all this with perhaps less than a matter of 180 minutes to do so.
Then an opportunity suddenly arose.
Lee Tomlin had signed, obviously on loan, for Nottingham Forest.
Tomlin, a talented forward but probably with his best days behind him, was similar in style and operating in the same position of a certain someone with a famous Nottingham name on their books.
This deal allowed a small ray of light through the previously closed door to the potential return of another prodigal son.
Step forward one Zach Clough.
Was it then a factor, when negotiating this deal, that their Greek regime had dealt with us just a few hours previous, when loaning us their young striker Tyler Walker?
Did they also potentially remember and appreciate the comparatively quick and seemingly straight forward negotiations when dealing with the Anderson’s over the original signing of Clough, meaning we were able to curry favour with them to bring Zach back, albeit on a short-term loan deal?
Many factors play a part in a transfer or loan move. Therefore it makes sense and is prudent to realise how the move may also benefit the parent club. Undoubtedly it made business sense for their asset to get more game time, so stagnation could be avoided. This along with the potential depreciation in value of a player sitting on the bench or in the stands that they had invested highly in.
It does make you wonder though, had the Andersons or even Phil Parkinson been unable to foster a strong enough, mutually beneficial relationship with Roy Hodgson or the Palace chairman Steve Parish to help pull off the CYL deal?
After the amount of dross we took off their hands during Freedman’s reign and obviously the bargain (to our eyes only now, perhaps) of the first CYL move, it could be assumed that a close relationship must have been formed at some level between the two clubs. However, these deals were struck under the previous regime of Phil Gartside and under a different manager.
Had a close bond been present, would Bakary Sako’s untimely injury on Tuesday evening and their inability to find a suitable attacking replacement until the final throes of the night simply been a minor hurdle to overcome, instead of the roadblock it became?
The importance of the loan market in today’s football landscape has now become almost farcical.
As was recently widely reported this past Summer, up to and sometimes over thirty registered Chelsea players, usually between the ages of 18 and 21, are packed off in July and August to what in reality are foreign boarding schools at Vitesse Arnhem and other affiliated European clubs.
The managers of these sides are only too happy to benefit from the usage, for the full season in most cases, of Chelsea’s handpicked talent who are eager to impress their parent club from afar.
This convenient relationship has now become the norm, not just at Chelsea but at all the super rich clubs. It’s even happening with new kids on the block Red Bull Leipzig, who groom talent at Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
It is an accepted practice, a modern trend.
Is all this fair, though?
Is it fair on Vitesse’s immediate competition for the Europa League places in the Eredivisie that they get the advantage of fielding a number of highly coveted youngsters, apparently destined for greater things having been signed by what was then the wealthiest club in Europe, when Roman Abramovich began his hoarding of precocious teenage talent?
Is it fair on the players themselves to be expected to constantly move clubs; each time embarking on a fresh journey of adapting to a different country, culture, language, teammates, managers, tactics, systems, stadiums and fans.
Then to expect them to fulfil their potential whilst doing so, despite the chances of them breaking through to the Chelsea first team, under whichever short-term incumbent has the title of Manager, receding with every £50million spent on ‘ready-made’ talent? All this while they try to forge their reputation in what is usually an inferior league on the continent?
Obviously the loan market is a great way to get young, talented players game time and test their mentality, physicality and aptitude against seasoned professionals whilst their endurance is tested to the limit in a long, gruelling season. None of the above can be said of the Under 23 league, whose fixtures often have the feel of a testimonial, with games played at a much more sedate pace. On the other hand, some see the way Chelsea and other big clubs use the loan market as exploitative and taking advantage of their wealth and might.
The signings a manager makes in the loan markets of both windows can almost single-handedly define their career and make or break that season and in turn, have a huge bearing on the club’s very existence.
Tammy Abraham and his hugely mutually beneficial loan to Bristol City is a perfect case in point.
Without his plundering of 23 Championship goals last season, it is difficult to believe a then struggling Bristol City would not now realistically be a League One side, instead of pushing for what is a highly unlikely promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.
Would they have had the wherewithal to play a team strong enough to have conquered four Premier League sides in the EFL Cup, enhancing their reputation and standing in the game? Doubtful.
Would Lee Johnson be sharing expensive wine with Jose and Pep whilst being talked up as the next bright young thing of management?
In all likelihood he would be managing a League Two club at best, after being handed his P45 following relegation.
Hell, who’s to say that the genius behind their frankly bizarre, surreal but highly popular goal celebration tweets, which have hugely increased their Twitter following and in-turn their presence worldwide, would have had to move elsewhere last Summer. This after the club’s inevitable decision to cut their social media team budget.
Anyhow, joking aside, these are the fine margins that define success and failure in football, like in any walk of life in reality.
The fine margins which make or break a club and in-turn, a managers reputation.
Football has always operated within these fine margins. It would be hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson as the most celebrated football manager of all time, a knight of the realm no less, had Mark Robins shanked that chance wide instead of scoring in the FA Cup 4th round replay against Nottingham Forest.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The fine margins now, perhaps not in the top flight but certainly for those feeding on the scraps from above, looking to join the rich and famous in the worlds most lucrative league, can often rest on a board or managers relationship with a so-called super club’s board or manager.
I have no idea whether Lee Johnson or Bristol City’s Chairman Steve Lansdown enjoyed that kind of coveted bond with Chelsea’s hierarchy to enable the Abraham deal to happen. Chelsea may simply thought that Abraham would be best served continuing his football apprenticeship at a side where he would be more likely afforded the extensive game time required to flourish, rather than at a team who had expectations of pushing for promotion, containing more options up top.
Whichever way you look at it, it seems like we have forged a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Forest in recent times. Though not a top division or top tier club, they are of a certain size and with the magnitude of history behind them which means they always seem to have a well stocked squad. This often contains a surplus of players who are indeed good enough to play at Championship level or higher but are either out of favour with the manager or untested.
This blossoming relationship looks to have enabled us to bring in two of their most talented young forwards, as their league position is considered safe and a play-off push deemed unlikely.
This relationship could quite feasibly be the catalyst to save our season, Parkinson’s job and give us the platform to establish ourselves as a stable Championship club.
Much like Forest themselves, who also trod the well worn path of the previous Premier League club falling down the leagues and with it, financial ruin.
In conclusion and very much looking through selfish, rose tinted spectacles; the loan market is here to stay, it’s usage and importance likely to increase and as much as it is often a short-sighted, short term fix like so many things in today’s society, we must take advantage of it as best as we possibly can.
Maybe the loan market isn’t such a bad thing after all.