John Giles: Chelsea's loan strategy intrigues me and I think it's the way forward for big clubs
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FOR some time now, I’ve been watching Chelsea’s growing football loan business with growing interest.
Normally, the instinctive reaction from football fans to loan deals or clubs involved in a lot of them for commercial reasons is that it is an unwanted practice which must be impacting on the game in a negative way.
But the more I look at the way Chelsea are doing the business, the more I believe that this is the way forward – or least it is for big clubs with plenty of money.
I would have been one of the people who, without thinking too much about it, would have reacted badly to any club engaged in what appeared to be a hoovering exercise.
But now, I’ve a different view. They have set up a structure to deal in footballers as a commodity and no matter how hard I look, I can’t see any real losers in the equation.
The principle of the business is that Chelsea go for talented footballers from about 18 upwards and then send them out across Europe on loan to learn their trade.
There is a decent chance that Antonio Conte or whoever is the manager of the moment at Stamford Bridge won’t even meet half of these players.
Sure, if one or two emerge with serious ability, lads who Conte could use in his senior squad, well then, Chelsea have saved themselves an awful lot of money and added value to the club.
The sale of Romelu Lukaku to Everton made this new business a massive success and must have given Chelsea confidence to expand.
If recruits don’t make the standard for Conte’s team or for one reason or another like Lukaku, end up leaving for a big fee, they could still be good enough to sell for a couple of million, even six or seven million, and that represents another win for Chelsea.
It may even be the whole point of the exercise and after analysing what all of this means, I can’t find anything wrong with that.
The players win because they have a great chance of nailing down a professional career at Chelsea and if they don’t make the cut, they are very well placed to find a career at the highest level they can achieve.
Put it this way. Chelsea have the resources and wherewithal to do this and make money from it, so why not?
They are gathering players from many sources and are as likely to sign a promising lad from Dulwich as they are from Dublin, Dubai or Djibouti for their academy.
But they also have their loan business and that allows them to recruit young players who have already had ten years of coaching and are good enough or very nearly ready to play senior football.
I’m pretty sure that Chelsea will have vetted the clubs they send these players to and it is within their interest to make sure that they are all well looked after.
If you look back through history, you will find a version of this has already been done.
The first man to expand his mind and a football club’s reach was Matt Busby who brought many, many lads in their late teens to Old Trafford and got around rules against recruiting outside your local area by employing them as ground staff.
Busby already had a a thriving underage system at Old Trafford and he fed these lads into the top end of it.
Nobody else was doing it and it was the real reason why Manchester United had so many richly-talented young footballers to step up after the Munich air disaster.
He was venturing into new territory which meant he had a great advantage over everyone else. Eventually other clubs cottoned on to what he was doing and tried to match him but I don’t think any manager or club has done it as well as he did since.
Simply by sitting for a while and thinking his way through a strategy to recruit the best young players in the four corners of these islands, he gained an advantage and I suspect that someone at Stamford Bridge had a similar moment of clarity.
Of course Busby’s sole interest was to produce players to play for Manchester United’s senior team. Chelsea are doing something different but in general terms, they are after the same thing.
The main argument against what Chelsea are doing is that it will upset the balance of England’s football pyramid, and skew the game in favour of the ‘haves’ over the ‘have nots’.
I don’t believe this carries any weight any more. The landscape has changed since my day and it seems to me that the pyramid in England is already broken.
What other explanation can there be for the very obvious scarcity of home-grown talent over the last decade?
Chelsea will think nothing about forking out a million for a 17-year-old if they think he is good enough which means that cash is still filtering down to the lower leagues.
They are not alone. Liverpool saw a bargain in Raheem Sterling when he was with the QPR Academy and forked out £600,000.
I accept that this means that the small club will miss the few years when a young prodigy begins to make a mark which they might have enjoyed in the past but if they have a million in the bank, they will be nicely equipped to keep the production line going.
All in all, I think Chelsea are to be congratulated for spotting an opening and taking full advantage.
Lukaku alone has made the exercise worthwhile for Chelsea and there will be more like him.