Loan players can't help feeling they're on borrowed time
These days the Championship seems to be littered with Premier League loan stars -- outnumbering loanees from other divisions by two to one by my reckoning.
With Premier League squad sizes capped to 25 it stands to reason that there are a lot of surplus players floating about and the obvious thing to do with them all is recoup a bit of cash. With a trend towards transfer loan fees opening up, I wonder what the future is for borrowed players.
They were once a cheap option for clubs -- a quick fix for a new manager, or an old manager in dire straits -- but we are now faced with a new and potentially lucrative market for loan players. At present the money involved is small, but we're certainly not talking pennies -- I know our own gaffer at Bristol City gave up on one potential signing in the January transfer window after the loan club asked for a transfer fee he described as "ridiculous".
Cardiff and Leeds have invested in a lot of Premier League loanees and their results show this is paying off, but could we potentially end up with 'Rent-a-team United', a Championship side largely made up of Premier League players on loan, as clubs attempt to gain promotion? And what happens if one of these teams actually gain promotion and then have to give the players back?
Players on loan from the Premier League can seem a golden ticket for clubs further down the divisions, but in my experience they are something of a mixed bag. Often a player who has just been bombed by his own club brings a lot of unhappy baggage with him. If the current squad cap remains in place we could be dealing with dozens upon dozens of Premier League players angrily twiddling their thumbs as their parent club decide what to do with them.
Certainly being sent out on loan can have a major psychological effect.
It could be a young player on the brink of breaking into the first team; he gets a call from the manager to say he is suddenly being sent out on loan. It can feel like rejection, and I've seen youngsters suffer because of it.
Or perhaps it is an older player; they get sent out on loan and feel they are on their way down, a career nosedive. They lose all motivation and can no longer be bothered to work on their game.
Of course there are exceptions. Steven Caulker is on loan at our place from Tottenham and he is having a terrific season. Only 19 years old, without a doubt he's one of our best players and I can't imagine Harry Redknapp won't want him back come the end of the season. Then again, just how amazing is he going to have to be to force his way back into a squad whose size is already limited?
Caulker is quality, though, a world away from what I call the perennial loanee -- that journeyman player who's been around the block and hasn't been able to find a home. Short-term loanees are the worst -- they do everyone's heads in. When that kind of loanee turns up at a club everyone knows what to expect -- generally not much. Personally I tend to find the ones repeatedly going out on loan are also the ones who spend the least amount of time on the training field.
That may sound harsh, but I do sympathise with their situation to some extent. I can only imagine that they have been neglected as players, not nurtured and developed, hence the apathy. Psychologically, it's got to be very difficult to be a loanee in your late 20s in particular; as an older player I can empathise with that nagging feeling that time is running out.
I imagine that for those from the Premier League who joined Championship sides this season it was a bit of a shock, which doesn't help your adjustment. The game is so different, even the ball is different -- it can be challenging. But if your attitude is good and you're there to play football then everything else is just garnish. It's what you do on the field that matters, not whether your showers work -- and, for the record, only three out of six at our gaff work which provides plenty of entertainment after training.
People might jest about footballers needing counselling, but if you've spent your formative years at one club -- often likened to a second home -- then suddenly being unwanted and thrown out of the nest can be a traumatic experience.
Like most people in the entertainment industry, footballers need their egos massaged, an arm round their shoulders -- that's what Harry was always so good at. And from what I've seen loanees are more damaged than most, low on confidence and low on aspiration.
Sports psychologists are still largely absent at football clubs, but if the migration of players is going to be bigger than ever in the next few years, it might just make sense to start investing in some.
Sunday Indo Sport