You will have probably heard or read about Chelsea’s loan army; the 40 players who’ve been parked elsewhere this season.
It’s certainly an eclectic group. There are failed big-money signings, first-team squad players whose careers needed kickstarting, full internationals who’ve never represented the Blues, countless promising youngsters, a handful of not so promising youngsters, and there’s even a Hazard.
Their influence is widespread, too. These players compete in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, Serbia, Scotland and even Brazil.
For many, especially those making the step up from the club’s academy sides – of which 27 of the 40 have played in – these loan spells provide valuable game time, something they wouldn’t get at Stamford Bridge. For others, it’s a solution to a problem, a short-term fix. And for Chelsea? Well, it suits the club just fine.
If a player who isn’t ready or considered good enough for the Blues goes out on loan – for a small or substantial fee – and then shines, then they can either be brought back into the first-team fold or sold on, in all likelihood at a profit.
For the Blues, it’s a win-win. Yet many believe it’s unfair on the players involved, including the man at the top of football’s governing body.
It was a little over two years ago that FIFA president Gianni Infantino first discussed his dislike for perceived player hoarding by several of European football’s top sides.
“It doesn’t feel right,” he told Reuters in November 2016. “For a club to just hoard the best young players and then to park them left and right. It’s not good for the development of the player. It’s not good for the club itself.”
Infantino clearly hasn’t wavered in that belief and this week it emerged FIFA are planning to make significant changes to the transfer market.
An internal FIFA report created at its president’s behest included proposals to cap the number of players over the age of 21 a club could loan out to eight a season, and restricting the number of players one team can loan to a single club to three.
It would be a bold step, one that would change the transfer market. European giants’ feeder clubs – be that unofficial or official – could be impacted. Players may be sold on at a knockdown price. Others could be kept around to pad out a first-team squad, but in the knowledge, they won’t play a single game.
Something to consider when reading about 'player hoarding'…
(Teams chosen as the most prolific loan operations in the PL; quibble about designations as you inevitably will) pic.twitter.com/6Ncs04nCsF
— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) September 17, 2018
Let’s continue to use Chelsea as the case study for this. Of the 40 players the Blues have on loan this season, 27 are 21 or older. So they would all be affected by the new proposal.
Of that 27 eight can be loaned out again, so we’re down to 19. Maybe five or six are deemed completely expendable, the likes of Joao Rodríguez, Kylian Hazard, Nathan and Michael Hector. The other 13? Well, they are on the cusp.
They’ve all show promise, spells of form which keep Chelsea invested in their development. They may not be ready yet, but one day, with a bit more first-team experience, another loan spell perhaps, they can make the step up. Wouldn’t want to let another Kevin De Bruyne slip through the net, after all.
But, under the new proposal, they can’t be loaned out again. And they’re not ready to play. So either they sit on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge or they’re sold.
For the player, the latter option works. And ultimately for Chelsea, too. Take Ola Aina; a 21-year-old full-back who has been with the Blues since the age of ten.
He is a full international for Nigeria, has played in Premier League and is now on loan in Serie A with Torino. He remains a bright prospect, one Chelsea wouldn’t want to lose. But if they are forced into a position where they have to sell, what can they do? Simple: insert a buy-back clause in any deal. Problem solved.
Aina leaves Chelsea for pastures new but ultimately the Blues still decide his fate in the coming years. If, after one season elsewhere, he becomes a star then he is brought back to Stamford Bridge for a set price, usually far lower than the going market rate.
At that point, Chelsea may wish to keep Aina and integrate him into their first team. Or perhaps they sell him on at profit to another interested club. Either way, they still hold all the cards and his spell away, in essence, was another loan in a different guise.
So while loan armies could become a thing of the past – although given the raft of talent coming through Chelsea’s academy they could still loan out at least 20 plus players under the new proposals – the era of the buy-backs begins.
And that’s the point. Ultimately the European superpowers will always find a way to come out on top in the transfer market. They’re all powerful and will get creative to ensure that remains the case.