Scottish Futures #3: Loan stars
Background image: Colin Smith CC BY-SA 2.0.
The third of a six-part series taking a look at the long term future of Scottish football.
If you can’t afford to splash the cash on a big transfer, what do you do? Well, you can promote from within, find a free agent or simply drive your club into massive debt by taking out ridiculous loans. But the most sensible move is likely to dip into the loan market.
That’s exactly what happens in Scotland and on an extremely regular basis. This season every SPL club, except for Aberdeen, make use loan players from English clubs, with most arriving from the Premiership or Championship. Compare that to the English Premier League, where the likes of Brighton, Burnley, Chelsea and Wolves function without any loanees at all.
It makes sense. Scottish clubs operate with limited budgets and English football (sorry Scottish football fans) is of a higher standard with more money and, perhaps crucially, more players. There are scores of youngsters in England desperate for experience in the rough and tumble world of the SPL, and for the cash-strapped outfits struggling to stay up in an ever more competitive league, they can be a godsend.
At the top end of the league, the Old Firm make plenty of use from the market; Sheyji Ojo, on loan from Liverpool, recently played a crucial role in Rangers’ Europa League win in Braga. Celtic’s regular goalkeeper Forster is on loan from Southampton along with a handful of others from south of the border.
Lower down the league, where clubs don’t generally have the cash to throw at transfers, loanees play an even stronger role. In a recent game between Motherwell and St Mirren, five of the 22 starters were loanees from English clubs. These included two members of St Mirren’s back four. Clearly, these players form a core for many of the less financially better-off clubs in the country.
But it isn’t all good. The loan move bait contains the occasional hook. Hearts are experiencing something of a terrible season, rock bottom after 28 games.
While their problems are manifold, one of the most obvious has been the error-strewn performance of Manchester United loanee Joel Castro Pereira. The keeper made errors in three consecutive games, culminating in his issuing a dressing room apology. Therein lies one of the great problems with loan players. When you sign them, there’s an assumption that they’ll be played. While Stendel asserted he was not contractually obliged to start Pereira, and indeed he has since been dropped for experienced Czech stopper Zdenek Zlamal. But if Pereira had been a permanent Jambos player, likely he would have been dropped to the bench far sooner allowing Hearts to make up crucial ground in the relegation fight.
Meanwhile, another Hearts loanee, Ryotaro Meshino, lies unused on the bench after much fanfare around his arrival from Manchester City in summer. While that may be no hardship for the Jambos if his parent club are picking up his wages, it does speak to the general atmosphere around loan players; he’s from a big Premier League club so he’s better than what we’ve got. Easy to forget that there are dozens on the books at Premier League outfits who will never reach the required standard to play for them.
Most loan players arrive from English clubs, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kilmarnock are an interesting outlier; they got three loan signings from Italy on the books, acquired during the brief, disappointing reign of Angelo Alessio. It may be difficult for a club without the contacts to pull in players from Juventus, but it’s not impossible to find loanees elsewhere. Aberdeen have two players on loan, from Atlanta United and NAC Breda respectively and other clubs host a smattering of foreign loanees. These aren’t inherently better, but they do give the league a more technical flavour and help it emerge from the shadows of the English system.
Like it or not, loanees will be a key part of the SPL for years to come. But the situation will improve when clubs cast a wider net, draw in players from abroad and, above all, don’t jump at the first youngster offered to them just because he’s contracted to a big club.