Was Wenger Right about the Loan System?

This April, the integrity of the loan system has once again become a keen topic of debate. At the start of the month, Everton hosted Arsenal at Goodison Park in what was tipped to be a 6-pointer in the race for fourth place. It may come as no surprise that Wenger had begun building his list of excuses long before the match, and this time it was the loan system that he chose to attack.

Speaking publicly on the matter, the Arsenal boss claimed that the system was ‘indefensible’, as any loan clause which prevents a player playing against his parent club undermines the integrity of the league. Wenger may actually be right about the system, and many players and experts alike agree that the system is indeed flawed, and needs altering for the good of the Premier League.

Top clubs can loan out first-class players who must face every team in the league except themselves. Take Ben Foster, for example. In 2005 Manchester United loaned him out to Watford for two seasons where he helped the team (unsuccessfully) fight relegation, picking up the player of the season award in the 06/07 campaign. Foster made 81 appearances for Watford in his time at Vicerage Road, eligible to play against every team other than Manchester United.

Following Foster’s loan spell at Watford, Foster was bought by Premier League club Birmingham who needed to replace Joe Hart, who was returning to Manchester City following a loan spell himself. Manchester United’s loaning of Foster had successfully raised the players’ profile, given him key game-time, and most importantly to Ferguson, inflated the players’ price tag. Wenger is unhappy with the system for the above reasons, however, there are still some deeper concerns when it comes to the loan system.

A further concern for many passionate followers of the Premier League is the belief that the loan system heavily benefits the bigger clubs. The argument that the system allows for large clubs to stockpile talent definitely holds weight. Ordinarily, a promising young player may opt to move to a slightly smaller club on entering the Premier League, in hope that he will get the game time to further improve before thinking about making a further step up.

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However, the loan system upsets this balance as players can move to bigger clubs and hope that they are loaned out from there. The best example of this is probably Jack Rodwell’s move to Manchester City. A waste of money and a waste of talent.

Furthermore, the loan system does in fact slightly contradict the Financial Fair Play regulations. Everton’s acquisition of Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu would have undoubtedly cost them somewhere in the region of £50m, a figure that is probably out of budget, even with the £20m sale of Fellaini.

Now, with the help of their loan stars, Everton are fighting for a Champions League spot and face the difficult task of replacing those 3 big names who have had a substantial role to play in Everton’s Premier League campaign. Let’s imagine Martinez wanted to make Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu permanent deals. The £50m price tag, along with large wage bills, would presumably move Everton beyond the laws of Financial Fair Play.

So, the contradiction between the loan system and Financial Fair Play lies in the fact that clubs can simply avoid the restrictions of FFP by making temporary deals rather than permanent ones. Likewise, a second way in which clubs can avoid the restrictions of FFP is to buy players young, and this will inevitably lead to vastly inflated youth player prices – but why would clubs wait until a player has made a name for himself and bumped up his price tag when they can take a much cheaper risk and buy players when they’re 17?

Admittedly, this raises the question of whether the FFP is flawed (which it is) more than whether the loan system is flawed. But still, whilst UEFA and the FA are keen to enforce FFP, the loan system is a contradiction.

So, clearly there are a few problems with the loan system that may need changing. However, this does not take away from the fact that Arsene Wenger’s comments were ridiculous. Arsenal themselves have been involved with 14 loan transfers this season, including two players coming in on loan that have proved useless, Emiliano Viviano and Kim Kallstrom, and 12 players temporarily moving away from the club.

The 12 players out on loan are in competitions such as the Championship, League One, the Bundesliga, Greek Super League, Scottish Premiership, Spain’s Segunda Division, the Champions League and the Europa League.

Evidently, as Wenger moans about the integrity of loan moves in the Premier League, he is more than happy to influence 8 leagues and competitions throughout Europe. 4 of Arsenal’s out-loans are already either champions in their league, or fighting for promotion, whilst a further 3 players are involved in relegation battles.

So, Wenger has players across the continent defining the outcome of leagues and competitions, and somehow still manages to blame the system. It is no coincidence that Wenger has used Everton, their main rivals for fourth place, to exemplify the flaws of the loan system. But the truth is, Martinez has simply exploited a (potentially flawed?) loan system to much greater effect than Wenger.

In response to Wenger’s comments, Martinez did indeed have a few words of his own to say about the loan system. The Everton boss believes that without the loan system talented players, young and old, would be lost to the game. This is probably true, as the loan system gives a much-needed chance for young, talented players who may not otherwise break into their parent clubs’ first team. Similarly, older players who may not currently be a managers’ plan, but are talented nonetheless, get a chance to continue playing first team football.

Furthermore, the loan system arguably acts as a system to redistribute some wealth from top to bottom. Clubs who do not possess the funds that Chelsea, Manchester City or United have can get hold of quality players without having to cough up obscene amounts of money for an already-inflated price tag. Likewise, the loan system allows for different teams to be able to compete at the top level, bringing in new faces to the Premier League and adding excitement for the fans.

Having used Ben Foster as an example of why the loan system might be scrutinised, the move is also an example of how good the system can be. Ben Foster was allowed the time to develop at a key stage in his career, which is good for all parties involved – the parent club, the recipient club, the player and the Premier League. On top of that, the experience he gained eventually earned Foster his first international cap, and if you look at every Premier League loan player there has been, the same could undoubtedly be said for many.

In conclusion, the loan system does have its flaws, there is no doubt about that. But in reality, who actually wants to see the loan system abolished? It adds a different element of excitement to the Premiership, an excitement that is certainly different to that brought by permanent deals. Moreover, the argument that players should be allowed to play against their parent club, to avoid debasing the integrity of the league, is understandable. However, do you not agree that allowing a player to play against should-be team-mates has the potential to cause more problems than good? Imagine a strong challenge, or a goalkeeping error that changed the fortunes of a club. A particularly strong/poor performance from a player on loan against his parent club would upset at least one set of fans.

The loan system must stay for the benefit of the Premier League. Managers, players and fans alike will certainly be displeased if they were to see it go.

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