Much has changed in football since February 1972, when Bobby Bell arrived on a month’s loan from Crystal Palace and became the first loanee to wear the Canary yellow.
Over 100 players have since joined the Canaries on loan with, it has to be said, varying degrees of success.
For every loan success – Darren Huckerby, back in September 2003, being my personal favourite – there are numerous who have contributed very little to the Canary cause. Who can forget – actually, most of us probably have – the fifteen (yes fifteen, and I challenge anyone to name them all) loan players signed by Glenn Roeder and Bryan Gunn, back in 2008-09, during our slide to relegation to League One.
The present emergency loan system, which is unique to England – no other country operates a loan system outside the usual international transfer windows – was introduced back in 2002-03 following agreement between FIFA and the European Commission. It operates for the benefit of Football League and Conference clubs only, supposedly to help ease the financial pressure on lower division teams with smaller squads.
Emergency loans enable clubs to sign players for a maximum of 93 days.
What is perhaps unappreciated by many is that FIFA is seeking to cease the current arrangement at the end of the 2014-15 season. Whether the FA can negotiate a further season’s extension – and discussions are currently on-going – remains to be seen.
Whilst English clubs maintain that the emergency loan system is absolutely essential (and there have been over 300 loan deals so far this season) is that argument really valid when every other country seems to manage perfectly well without the arrangement?
Who actually really benefits from the current arrangements? The players’ agents undoubtedly – as they get paid on each transaction – and that’s money going out of the game.
The big four or five Premier League clubs? Another, “yes” I would suggest. These clubs, due to their huge turnovers, can afford to ‘hoard’ huge squads.
To prove the point, in addition to the named 25 man squads of players aged over 21, it’s not uncommon for clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and United, to have 50 plus youngsters aged 21 or under.
With the benefit of the present loan system, these clubs can loan out their players to other Premier League, Football League or Conference clubs, supposedly in the name of player development. Chelsea, at one stage earlier this season, actually had twenty six players out on loan!
In reality, whilst a handful may eventually progress to play first-team football at their parent club, the vast majority of loanees are nowhere near being first-team regulars, either before going out on loan or afterwards upon their return.
At first sight that may seem somewhat a harsh comment. However, take a quick look closer to home and ask the same question of our own players who have gone out on loan, both this season and last. Some have undoubtedly returned as better players, but are any really any closer to being first-team regulars?
Football is notoriously short-term and always looking for quick fixes. An emergency loan is often perceived as the only answer to a sudden injury or loss of form of a star striker. However, arguably, its mere existence prevents clubs using their own academy resources. It’s too easy to opt for the loan rather than use one of their own.
Would clubs actually suffer if the emergency loan system disappeared?
Take Southampton for example. Under the guidance of Les Reed, youth players are rarely permitted to go out on loan to other clubs. The youngsters train regularly with the first team squad and, as a consequence, the number of players making the transition from the academy to the first-team is exceptionally high in comparison to other clubs.
If it can work there so well at Southampton, why not elsewhere?
All things considered, personally, I view the emergency loan system as an obstacle to youth development. Other countries manage perfectly well without such a system.
Can the FA realistically argue in favour if extending the current system that restricts the development of young players and seems to operate primarily for the benefit of top Premier League clubs?
Football, in general, is bemoaning the lack of English qualified youngsters progressing through to first-team level in the Premier League, yet it persists with a loan system that, in reality, does little to assist that progression.
Time for a change? Personally, I think so.