Chelsea, Watford and the English loan system

Chelsea, Watford and the English loan system

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We’re a fortnight into the Premier League season. This is always a time of premature scrutiny, transfer window anxiety and managers weighing their palms deciding who’s doe-eyed enough to be sent out on loan. But for the biggest clubs, the loan system has become a tool of imperial stature.

Most notably for the one they (should) call Darth Mourinho and his Russian higher, Emperor Palpatine – “Come to the Blue Side, we have Champions League football and a state-of-the-art training pitch in Surrey”. But 29 out of the swollen squad of 54 players at Chelsea however, will not see the Surrey green this season. Instead they will be spread out across Europe “gaining valuable experience” at the stake of another club.

The reigning Premier League champions have a relationship with the Dutch side, Vitesse Arnhem. This is a dynamic that sees Chelsea potential play 1st team football in a top division. And indeed this is where hot prospect Dom Solanke followed the likes of Nathan Allan de Souza, Lewis Baker, Isaiah Brown, and Danilo Panti last week to go play with a size 5 this season. The 17 year-old Solanke scored 41 goals for the reserves last campaign. This is a feat that would historically earn you a place in a first team squad. However, this is no longer the case, and Solanke’s move last week proves that there is yet another trial of worthiness in the form of loan spells.

Another example of cunning lenders are newly promoted Premier League side, Watford. The Italian Pozzo family mafia took over the club in 2012 after a shoot-out with Elton John. They have since raised tough questions about multi-club ownership through their wily workings of the loan system. Watford were the subject of scrutiny during their promotion attempts of the 2012-2013 season when Gianfranco Zola oversaw a host of players drift in from Pozzo sister clubs, Udinese and Granada.

Matej Vydra being Watford’s most memorable loanee from Udinese who scored 20 goals in the Championship season and later joined on a permanent deal. Over 50 internal transfers have occurred since Watford’s acquisition in 2012 that has seen the creation of a shared network of players.

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A risk that has subconsciously been identified by many is what we shall call ‘perpetual loan state’. Coquelin’s story last season was so special for breaking this mould. This is a player who ostensibly had no escape route, been bullied out of position at his loan stay at Freiburg. But a fine set of performances for Charlton in the lead-up to the new year of 2015 and a fortunate (and inevitable) pile-up of Arsenal injuries forced Wenger to look to his fringe players. And what’s more, Coquelin was at his parent club’s beckoned call.

This is the power the parent clubs have with loans. Typical clauses in contracts that avoid confrontation between lender and loaned-to clubs, players reeled in when they are needed and thrown back into the water when they are surplus. For Chelsea it fulfils the fringe player’s yearn to work on the field and does not brandish them bench-warmers. But it is built on a false promise for the majority of one day breaking into the first team.

For Watford, the devious rotation of a conglomerate of players has gained success for all 3 teams involved. Granada since their promotion into La Liga in 2011 has maintained a top division presence through their use of Italian talent. This turn of fortune from their bankruptcy in 2009 could not have been achieved without Pozzo and the loan systems flexible laws.

Through the loan system, monopolies of talent have been built, but it does raise a few nuzzling questions: is this talent being wasted? Aren’t these young players better off in the reality of the English top flight rather than a nuanced simulation? And do these fleeting arrivals decay the character of a club? Droves of young talent are being diverted away from the Premier League for the fear of becoming instrumental for a rival team’s success. But what if we let them play, let them learn, left them a-loan?

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Vincent Wong

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