In recent years when finances have dictated that football clubs have been forced to reduce their playing staff, quite a number of clubs have resorted to the loan system as a means of strengthening their squad at the start of the season, usually signing young professionals who have yet to make their mark at clubs, or experienced players, through one reason or another, clubs are unable to offload. This has applied throughout the professional football pyramid, whether it be the Premiership, League Two, or in the Non-League Pyramid.
From the initial concept when the loan transfer was introduced in the late 1960’s to help clubs depleted of it’s players because of injuries, the modern day concept of the loan transfer has changed out of all proportion, with the Swans in particular this summer paying Espanyol a six figure sum to ‘borrow’ Jordi Gomez for the season, and Nottingham Forest paying an even higher amount to ‘borrow’ Paul Anderson from Liverpool.
For quite some time I have been ‘banging the drum’ regarding utilising the loan system for some of the young professionals at the Liberty Stadium, an excellent ‘tool’ for clubs with regards to giving their young professionals meaningful game time. Without doubt, all of the top clubs continue to utilise the loan system at one time or another, with clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool sending a large percentage of their inexperienced youngsters out on either a six month, or a season long loan, with Febian Brandy and Alan Tate two examples with the Swans.
Beneficial to both the host club and the club the player joins on loan, without this particular form of transfer, young professionals have just their club’s reserve, or academy games to look forward to, and in so many cases young professionals have fallen behind in their own personal development.
David Beckham is one classic example, who in February 1995 made 5 league appearances for Division 3(Fourth Division) side Preston North End prior to making his league debut for Manchester United. In the Swans’ case, some of the most impressive players to wear the white shirt have included John Salako in 1989 and Matthew Rush in 1994. Frank Lampard made his Football League debut on loan with the Swans in October 1995, scoring his first league goal a few games later against Brighton, and before the season had ended, after returning to Upton Park made his Premiership debut for the Hammers.
Whoever has sat in the managerial hot seat guiding the Swans, no manager prior to Roberto has utilised the loan system as a way of improving the young professionals on the club’s playing staff as other managers have done at so many other Football League clubs, and at no time have the Swans fostered relationships with Welsh Premier clubs similar to what has been done in recent years with Neath and Port Talbot Town. The likes of Shaun Chappell, Jonathan Coates and Gareth Phillips have all had a month’s loan spell at Welsh League clubs in years gone by, but would they have developed more as a player if they had played a half, or full season in a more competitive environment.
The youngsters currently attached to the Swans are arguably the most talented the club have had in many a season, and at last the football club is in a position where some of their most talented youngsters next season will benefit from game time in a higher league. Competitive, meaningful fixtures in the Football Combination in the last ten years has dropped alarmingly to almost a friendly game status, unlike in years gone by when reserve teams from London clubs such as Arsenal and Spurs regularly saw gates exceed 1000 at the Vetch Field.
Next season six young professionals on Roberto’s playing staff will be playing on loan for either Neath, or Port Talbot Town, namely Dion Chambers, Kyle Graves and Kerry Morgan(Neath), and Scott Evans, Steffan Morrison and James Burgin(Port Talbot)
Chambers and Evans both suffered injury problems last season, with Swansea born Evans in particular being sidelined for long spells through illness and injury since arriving from Manchester City. Hopefully both of these players will stay clear of any injuries next term and take the next step up the ladder, playing in a more competitive league, and what a bonus that would be to Roberto should he find a home grown player competing on an equal basis with the rest of the first team squad.
Three of the other players, Morgan, Graves and Burgin played regular Welsh Premier League football last season with Port Talbot Town and Haverfordwest County, with Morgan also featuring in Southern League games for Clevedon Town towards the end of last season. Whilst some of these players have already sampled the quality of Welsh Premier League football, what disappoints me is why these players have not been pushed up another level, such as Conference South, or in Morgan’s case League Two. Although they will benefit from regular games every weekend next season, the next stage in their development should have them tested further up the Pyramid system. Morgan in particular, despite his lack of inches possesses pace, grit and an eye for goal, needs to be tested at a higher level as he in particular can not be far off being included in the Swans’ matchday squad.
Steffan Morrison, having signed a professional contract with the Swans should also I feel be subjected to a higher level than the Welsh Premier League, having already dropped down from Premiership side West Bromwich Albion, and I feel would benefit more with teams like Newport County in the Conference South or with Clevedon Town in the Southern League where former Head of Centre of Excellence at the Vetch Field Wayne Powell is currently manager.
Chris Jones is another player who, for one reason or other has not been sent out on loan, and will again have to ply his trade in the club’s reserve team. A talented, pacy front runner, who made his first team debut during the 2006/7 season showing bags of promise he is, all of a sudden going sideways, and I wonder how long it will be before the Welsh Premier League will be his level every weekend with the likes of Llanelli, Neath, or perhaps West End. It can’t be any good for the player’s progression is if he is content to train with the first team squad at Llandarcy and play in occasional Combination games for the third consecutive season.
An added bonus for the Swans with all of these players going out on loan is that it gives further opportunities for inexperienced second year scholars like Jazz Richards, Matthew Wright, Kieran Howard, Danny Sheehan, and first year scholars to make regular appearances in the club’s reserve side, and perhaps during the second half of this season some of these youngsters will be sent out on loan in order to continue their football education.
The football player Industry has always seen a high percentage of youngsters failing to make the grade at Football League level, even more so with the advent of foreign footballers, but when clubs utilise the loan system as a means of a continuation of a young player’s education, a constant assessment, then when players fail to make the next step up the ladder in professional football at least a club can turn round and say every opportunity was given to the player.