The dreaded loan deal. Managers up and down the country will be scouring through their notepads and the back of their discarded bookies lines, checking to see if they’ve taken note of someone who can help them out before the emergency window closes. Clubs outside the Premiership, can still bring in some ‘emergency’ loan signings until the middle of March, in order to bolster a flagging squad, or compliment one that’s challenging. The emergency loan window, which operates beyond January, was supposed to be just that, “in case of emergency,” but nowadays it’s used more as a necessity when ailing squads need beefed up on a measly budget. Coaches will be looking over squad lists up and down the country, where all manner of waifs and strays will by now, have been deemed surplus to requirements. A striker from a Development Squad looking to make his way in the game, a midfielder on the fringes and looking to put himself in the shop window, or a senior player, coming back from injury and looking to get fit. All examples of the classic loanee. There’s still the matter of those players who are already on loan and have been since January to contend with and, whilst Rangers signing five players from Newcastle grabbed all the headlines, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Celtic too have dipped their toe into the not unsubstantial loan market, although in entirely less indignant circumstances.
The loan market is fraught with risk, although in general, the positives usually outweigh any negative impact on the team. But how does the process work and how do clubs come to agreeing all the contract details? Well it’s not as simple as it seems and in some circumstances it can be a lot more complicated than it should be, especially when dealing with certain chairmen.
So you’ve identified you need a striker; what’s next? Well there are two possible scenarios. The first; you contact the manager to see if the player from their squad you fancy is available. At this point it pays to have done your homework as it rarely goes down well if you make a loan enquiry about their star striker who has already scored 25 goals. The second option is to sift through piles of emails from clubs who regularly circulate details of ‘players available for transfer’ or ‘players available for loan.’ Quite often you could very easily substitute the word ‘player’ for ‘problem.’ When I played, if you got a player on loan he would be a prospect, or someone who had established himself at a level and was coming back from injury. Clubs would use the loan system to farm out young players who they felt could improve from the experience. That outlook has changed dramatically in recent times and in the current financial climate. I’m talking particularly about Scotland here, but generally now, if you are loaned a player, he will have been surplus to requirements. Someone not deemed good enough, contributing little to the squad, or a problem. Rarely will the big clubs lend you a ‘prospect’ anymore. Those ones are kept for themselves and catapulted into the first team in order that they become a saleable asset. Celtic’s policy in recent seasons has been to send anyone they felt may be an asset to the English Leagues. This was in order to maximise any resale value. If someone does well at Swindon, you are far more likely to get £100k for them than if they do well at Queen of the South. It’s important to state this is not a criticism but a fact of modern football life and good business. The lower Leagues in Scotland are littered with players who went on loan from bigger clubs and never, ever got anywhere near the first team. The ‘look after your own club’ mentality exists throughout football. Rarely does anyone in the game do you a ‘favour’ without getting a benefit for themselves. Whether it’s good for our game? That’s an entirely different question.
You’ve identified your player, now it’s the matter of wages. It used to be common practice that there was an even 50/50 split, more often now however, chairmen are pushing for a higher percentage. In certain cases, some have become so difficult to deal with, as they are now demanding full wages are covered. At Dundee we had to pull the plug on a deal after trying to negotiate a loan with a player who wasn’t getting a game for his Premier League club, whilst sitting on £800 per week wages and insisting we paid full whack. This would have made him our highest earner at the time. The chairman of course, conveniently forgetting that we were taking away one of his problems and solving one financially at the same time. We were new boys at the time, and we felt people in the game were trying to take advantage of our inexperience. As it was we stood firm and it meant the player was stuck in limbo, but it was important for our reputation in the game that we weren’t to be recognised as pushovers. For the club and for ourselves.
So with the deal done and the player now part of your squad, the risk again becomes a factor. There is a perception that loan players don’t care as much about their new club as they do their parent club. From my experience, it’s simply not true. It’s important to remember that players rarely get TOO attached to a club anyway as their next move/transfer/loan may never be too far away. I also have to stress at this point it is important not associate attachment with not caring. Most players generally just want to play football and whether out on loan, or playing for the club who owns their signature, their care and effort will be equal. Only when players are at clubs long term do they ever have a particular affinity or attachment. I’ve never known a loan player to try less or be less committed because he is on loan. If he’s not playing well, it’s very, very rarely for sinister reasons.
All of which brings me to the current scenario of Rangers’ five loan players and the issues on the back of that. When we were at Notts County, we took over an ailing squad which was fractured and not playing well. We managed to secure five loan deals, including Tom Ince, Lee Miller and Kevin MacDonald. These were all players we knew and we felt they could do a job for us and, initially things were very good and results followed. Their impact was excellent and we picked up enough points to put us in a stable position. However, when their loan deals were up, we were unable to replace them and we had to go back to relying on the players who had initially manoeuvred the club into a difficult position in the first place. It was like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound when a tourniquet was required. We couldn’t stem the blood flow and slipped back into trouble again.
Adding more ingredients to an already volatile mix, is rarely the long term answer and whilst the short term impact of a few wins may justify their inclusion, adding five temporary players to an ailing team, is never good for the long term stability of ANY club. There is also of course the matter of the players already there feeling squeezed out as these ‘st-rangers’ come in and inevitably take their place.
Looking from the outside in, it’s a dressing room which already looks fractured and vulnerable. Spirit looks at an all time low and it remains to be seen whether the addition of these five players from Newcastle will have enough impact to prove justified. We really will have to wait and see whether the positives, outweigh the negatives, of this particular arrangement…tonight will be the second big test of that. The jury is certainly out after the first.
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