By Tony Attwood
FIFA has announced that it is going to reform the loan system of players from next summer and suggests that this could have quite an impact on some clubs.
We are used to stories about Chelsea having several teams of young players out on loan each season, and then discarding those they don’t want. But even their excesses, which have been reigned in over recent years have now been exceeded.
We have in fact been covering this for several years, and if you have an amazing memory you might recall that in April 2018 we ran the piece “Fifa are considering banning loans as they target Chelsea and Juventus”
But as ever with Fifa things move very slowly, and that early announcement merely led to more excesses. However, it does seem they might now finally be ready to make a move, not least to finally put a nail in the coffin of the notion of spreading payments (if there are any) over time, and specific partnerships with “satellite” teams.
Indeed according to Sylvain Kastendeuch, co-president of UNFP, the French players’ union, the loan system has been hijacked, adding, “When a player is loaned out continuously or for speculative purposes, it becomes an industry that serves the inflation of the workforce. And that does not contribute to the development of the player.”
In fact, some clubs have made a speciality of it. Atalanta, for example, currently have 65 players on loan according to Transfermarkt. And that is not a misprint. Their estimated value is £128m. Of the English clubs it is perhaps not surprising that Manchester City is near the top with 21 under players on loan plus a further 12 first team players.
Chelsea have nine first-team players out on loan and nine under 23 players. This is opposed to Arsenal with a grand total of nine players on loan all told, while Manchester United have six first-teamers and eight under 23s. Brighton perhaps a little surprisingly have 11. Rather amazingly Norwich has 13 players out on loan.
The point is that by manipulating the loans market clubs can accumulate a lot of players, not specifically for their own use as players, but to determine where the players go, while stopping rival Premier League clubs getting hold of them and bringing them through to first team players.
Indeed it was the Chelsea model that first revealed what was going on, not only with the vast number of young players they had playing abroad, but the fact that so few of them actually made Chelsea a profit. Profit wasn’t the point – it was stopping other clubs in England having the players.
“It’s a question of competition: by accumulating a lot of young players, these few clubs have a certain hold on the market,” said Simon Darricau, a lawyer in sports law at Fidal.
Overall it seems that more than 25 percent of transfers in the past year have been loan transfers. But Fifa has now announced that it intends to limit the number of loans out and loans in to six of each, per team, with the change coming in over three years, getting to the 6-6 level in 2024.
But in a typical Fifa move the new arrangements won’t count under 21s, which is really where the huge problem is, and won’t relate to transfers between clubs within the same country. As a result clubs will be able to buy young players and keep moving them around until they are 21 and then harvest those they don’t want, keeping the best six. What sort of reform is that?
The only other change is that the number of players who can be loaned to the same team will be three. The French league doesn’t think any of this is enough and has promised that it will go further. The Premier League has, as ever when it comes to change, said nothing.
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