Chelsea and Man City dominate the loan system. But what is the point?

By Tony Attwood

How many players do Arsenal have out on loan?

It is not a difficult question, and I suspect that if you are here as an Arsenal supporter not only will you get the answer right you will be able to name the players

The number is five and the details (taken from Transfer Market) are…

Player Age Loaned to Loan started Loan ended Market value
Szczesny 26 AS Roma Jul 29, 2015 30.06.2017
Chambers 21 Middlesbrough Aug 30, 2016 31.05.2017
Wilshere 24 Bournemouth Aug 31, 2016 31.05.2017
Campbell 24 Sporting CP Aug 21, 2016 30.06.2017
Asano 21 VfB Stuggart Aug 26, 2016 30.06.2017

They have gone on loan for different reasons: to help them develop or recover form, to give Arsenal time to see if others who stay will develop as hoped, and because Arsenal have registered the maximum number of 25 players.

Campbell for example showed a lot of promise but was struggling to hold down a place in the team, and has been given a chance to get that extra form that would allow him to be a first team choice.  Asano is getting used to the European game, and failed to get a visa.  Szczesny is there because he is highly rated and it allows Mr Wenger to watch Cech, Ooooospina and Szczesny develop.  Will Cech’s powers decline with advancing years, will Ospina become a brilliant keeper – and if so will he await his chance at Arsenal, has Szczesny overcome his reported emotional issues and occasional lapses?  The loan system gives the club the chance to wait and see.

But what of other teams?  What are they up to?

We all know that Chelsea have become the loan kings of the world, but do they have rivals?  Interestingly I couldn’t find anyone who has done an analysis, and when I came to do a simple one myself, the numbers didn’t equate with those often reported.   These figures come from Transfer Market and they tend to exclude under 21s and also players who have not established themselves as (or been recognised by the club as) first teamers.

  • Chelsea: 26 players on loan
  • Man C: 16 players on loan
  • Arsenal: 5 players on loan
  • Man U: 5 players on loan
  • Liverpool: 5 players on loan
  • Everton: 5 players on loan
  • Tottenham: 4 players on loan
  • West Ham: 3 players on loan
  • Southampton: 2 players on loan
  • Leicester: 1 player on loan

I haven’t completed the remaining clubs in the league because quite honestly the numbers are boringly similar as far as I can see, and the main point is already made – Chelsea and Manchester City are out on their own even with these lower numbers that Transfer Market gives.

Chelsea’s own site however has them listing not 26 but 37 players on loan.  I can’t find a similar list on Man C’s website but says that Chelsea have 10 players on loan to Dutch clubs alone.   So it seems that these numbers for Chelsea and Man C might be significant under-estimates.

The Manchester Evening News did an analysis of the situation at Man City and came up with two reasons why Man C have moved into the wholesale loan market

One reason for farming out new youngsters, of course, is to give them valuable first team experience which they will not get at City.    But there are constraints which also apply to players from outside the European Economic Area.

Under strict new rules introduced last year, players signed from outside the EEA – which Britain will leave as part of Brexit – have to be elite stars.

I am sure that point is right, but I am not sure it is enough of an explanation to cover the whole Chelsea and Man C situation.

Here is the Man City details…

Player Age Contract until Loan ended Market value
Joe Hart 29 30.06.2019 30.06.2017
Mangala 25 30.06.2019 30.06.2017
Denaver 21 30.06.2020 31.05.2017
Mari 23 30.06.2017
Brattan 26 30.06.2019 30.06.2019
Ntcham 20 30.06.2020 30.06.2017
Zuculini 23 30.06.2019 30.06.2017
Mooy 26 31.05.2017
Caceres 24 30.06.2017
Zinchenko 19 30.06.2021 30.06.2017
Nasri 29 30.06.2019 30.06.2017
Roberts 19 30.06.2020 31.05.2017
Moreno 20 30.06.2021 30.06.2017
Bony 27 30.06.2019 31.05.2017
Unal 19 30.06.2019 30.06.2017
Sobrino 24 30.06.2017

What we should remember is that the Chelsea experiment along the same lines suggests that the chances of finding a youth player who becomes a star through multiple loans is quite low.  The vast majority never get to PL standard.

But this has been going on for a few years now.  In 2015 the Telegraph ran the story “Chelsea have loaned out 33 players who cost £100m with Premier League clubs”

However there is a downside to multiple loaning out.  Imagine, you buy a house, and then just leave it a year or two, maybe renting it out, and then sell it again for 20% profit.  That takes the house away from others who might want to buy it, and doesn’t do anything for the local community in which it exists.  Multiple loans hamper the market and can be used as a way to stop other clubs getting hold of players.

Also, Louise Taylor, writing in the Guardian on 1 September this year quoted the former agent Colin Gordon saying, “It’s an excellent way of hiding your mess by sweeping it beneath the carpet.  Loans can be vitally important in enabling young players to learn their trade but, all too often, they simply enable people to disguise their recruitment mistakes. A lot of clubs fail to perform proper due diligence on signings and quickly discover they don’t want them but are then unable to get their money back. They use loans as a mat to hide bad buys under.”

But although Chelsea and Man City are regular top loaners, other clubs have cut their numbers this year.  A year ago the figures were Chelsea 38, Manchester City, 17, Liverpool 12, West Ham 12.

In terms of individual players Patrick Bamford’s career is one of the most loan orientated: these figures from Wiki…

Years Team Apps Goals
2011–2012 Nottingham Forest 2 (0)
2012– Chelsea 0 (0)
2012–2013 Milton Keynes Dons (loan) 37 (18)
2014 Derby County (loan) 21 (8)
2014–2015 Middlesbrough (loan) 39 (17)
2015 Crystal Palace (loan) 6 (0)
2016 Norwich City (loan) 7 (0)
2016– Burnley (loan) 2 (0)

“The most lucrative is almost certainly yielded from Juan Cuadrado. After joining for £23.3m last year, the Colombia forward, who would probably not be recognised by some members of staff at his parent club’s Cobham training base, was relocated to Juventus, where he has returned on a three-year loan for an annual fee of £4.25m. At the end of that period, Juve have an option to buy him permanently for a final instalment, potentially rising to almost £12m.”

Now maths might not be my strongest suit (although I used to do a lot of it and still know my way around a calculator) but I make it that if Juve pay £4.25m a year for three years and then they pay the maximum transfer fee that makes £24.75m income for Chelsea, having paid £23.3m, a profit of £1.45m.  Take off the legal fees, and the salary paid to Cuadrado before his loan and we are down to under £1m.   A lot to you and me, but to Chelsea, bugger all (to use the technical term).   Discount all the staff time, the physical assessments and the like, and the money is gone.

Of course it can work as a system, but the figures suggest that much of the time buying in young hopefuls and lending them out doesn’t work.   But then if you are Man C or Chelsea the money hardly matters, given that Uefa abandoned FFP.  If FFP came back of course that might change things a bit.

The fact that the system brings success seemingly quite rarely suggests that there is

a) a level of desperation among clubs to find players that leads them to do anything to build them up

b) so much money around the losses don’t matter

c) not much thinking about the well-being of the individual players.

That seems more or less like football to me.


ARSENAL: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 by John Sowman; foreword by Bob Wilson.

The Long Sleep recalls a time when professional footballers in England were inextricably tied by contract to their club and not allowed to earn more than the statutory maximum wage.  It traces Arsenal’s fortunes through that era, as well as the stand taken by one man who went on a 141 day strike against his club – a strike which led to the creation of football as we know it today.

Now available to purchase on line as book or Kindle version at

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8 Replies to “Chelsea and Man City dominate the loan system. But what is the point?”

  1. Arsenal also have 7 Academy players on loan. That makes a total of 12 – not far off the 16 at Man C.

    Chelsea are the odd one out, and it’s been clear for some time that they view the loan system as a healthy revenue source. Both Swiss Ramble and multiple reports from the Guardian explain this. It’s shoddy, and the FA ought to put a stop to it. And pigs will fly before that happens.

  2. Chelsea are obviously using the loan deal market for financial gains rather than to be using it for football gains for which the loan market is established for I should think. If so, I suggest the FA should review downward the numbers of the senior players(21years & above) market loan deal by the PL clubs to constraint them to limit their senior players loan deals to a maximum of 10 loanees per season and 8 youth loanees per season as well.

    In his latest news conference, Le Prof has talked of Jenkinson’s return to action possibly as a sub in the Swansea game at the Ems on Saturday after he has fully recovered from his long term injury layoff which he sustained at West Ham while on loan there last season. That’s a good news for Arsenal and Jenko.

    But notwithstanding, how about RB Mathieu Debuchy who had a good preseason games for Arsenal but has not played any competitive game at all for Arsenal so far this season? And there hasn’t been any update on him by Le Prof for us to know what the matter with him. I feel for this guy and hope he’s well and kicking.

  3. Robert, I am not sure that the figures quoted above include academy players throughout. I’d need to do some more checking but I think the 16 Man C loanees do not include their academy players out on loan.

    What I am also saying is that although I know the theory relates to this making money for the club doing the loaning, I am not sure in practice. Certainly the example from the Guardian I cited doesn’t stack up, and when taken overall, the experiment looks to me like a loss making one.

    It is a bit like bringing in high value players from elsewhere. It can work, but doesn’t always, and the much more complex issue is, how often does it work.

  4. Robert – from the article the source Transfer Market exclude under 21 & therefore Academy players of all clubs.

    Historically wealthy clubs bought all the best players & kept them in the reserves. The loan system expands their horizons so they exploit it.

    All clubs should be limited to numbers of players over each age group. Football is becoming a a trade in footballers rather than a sport. The only way to stop this is to add VAT to transfers & an enrolment fee for agents with a mandatory draw down on agent fees to be given to grass roots.

  5. Academies can be financed by club owners under the rules of FFP. Revenue garnered from sale of those players (or loans) can go into the coffers of the club and is permitted to be spent in the market under the rules of FFP.
    The answer to the question as to why the likes of Man City and Chelsea have so many players out on loan is that it’s FFP-permitted money laundering.

  6. Tony, I’m not sure either, and I suspect it would take you a lot of fruitless digging to come up with other figures. Sites like Transfer Market and the injury ones are useful for general info, but don’t always have the latest or fullest info.

    As to making money, for Chelsea especially, Swiss Ramble demonstrated in a recent post on Chelsea how the club could be making profits on loans and subsequent sales. Frankly, I’m pretty certain that’s the case. Chelsea view it as a constant revenue stream that allows them to get round FFP rules on what can be spent on increasing wages, as insideright explained.

    Menace, 5 of the Man C players listed by Tony are under 21. Still, you’re absolutely right about it becoming a trade in footballers. Interesting proposal of yours.

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