Every season football clubs need to consider the best way of developing the talent on their books.
Do they keep the players at the club and get them games against players their own age in underage football? Do they send the players out to develop at other clubs? If so, where?
Traditionally clubs have looked within their own country, placing players with lower division clubs. The idea being that first-team football, where results matter, is a good way of introducing players to the environment they will be working in. And this is still true today, a good loan to the right level can see a player develop really well.
But often loans fail. The main problems occur when the player doesn’t play. He is no longer in his parent club’s system, he is playing for another manager whose priority is the results of his club, not the development of somebody else’s player.
Perhaps that player isn’t quite ready for the physical aspect of the game, or the playing style of the league.
In some cases, clubs look abroad for suitable loans. The Netherlands is a popular destination. They encourage the type of football that clubs like players to develop in. The league is less physical than English lower leagues. However, there are only so many clubs, the loan market is saturated and clubs are keen to develop their own talent for profit.
What does a perfect loan look like? We believe it is when a player regularly plays at the highest possible level for their current physical and technical development. There would have been little point loaning out a 16 year old Wayne Rooney, he was already Premier Leauge ready. But most players aren’t, even some of the modern greats like Beckham, Lampard and Ashley Cole played loan games at a lower level to prepare for the rest of their careers.
But not everybody has the talent and potential of Beckham, Lampard and Cole. What if you are preparing a player for a long professional career, but don’t see them becoming a first team regular with your squad?
Arguably loan football is even more important for these players. So many players drift out of academies, even after multi-year professional contracts, without a single first-team appearance at any level. Having 20-30 professional games on a CV is a real bonus when trying to attract the attention of recruitment teams. The video and data from those performances will be a huge advantage. Do clubs let down players by retaining them for underage games when they could be playing in the adult game? It is difficult to say, and every player is different, but there must be a handful of players at every club in that situation.
So where are good loan destinations? Obviously it depends on what you are looking for from the loan. The key rule we mentioned above is that the player should be playing at the highest level where they can be guaranteed first-team involvement. So we’d say a year starting in League One was more beneficial than a year on the bench in the Championship.
The style of play must suit the development needs of the player. So we wouldn’t loan a player we want to develop into an attacking wing back to a team that doesn’t allow the full-backs to cross the half way line.
The off the pitch lifestyle must suit the player’s wellbeing. Some players will be happy to leave home for a completely new environment at a relatively young age. Others will not cope. Consideration of this is vital for the success of the loan. Factors like language (coaching staff, teammates, day to day), the climate, and travel distances between games all need to be looked at.
So given this what opportunities should be considered by loan managers at top clubs around Europe? Where is the underutilized loan location that will help players develop?
The USL Championship in the USA.
It is a great development environment containing a mix of stand alone teams and MLS development squads. The playing styles vary significantly throughout the league. Playing squads are not large, if your player is chosen for the squad, and shows a good attitude they will get a chance to play.
Whilst the quality of stadium and size of the crowds vary there are very well supported clubs with excellent facilities. Coaching is good and tactical approaches vary which gives players excellent experiences in playing against different systems. They will also experience different climatic conditions, playing in 30c some games to 0c in others.
And, perhaps most importantly, every game is covered in HD on Youtube with statistical coverage provided on Wyscout and Instat. This makes it very easy to track your player’s performances and helps them develop a playing CV. Obviously not every USL team will be a suitable loan environment for developing players. They need to have a clear tactical plan, good facilities, good pastoral care, a track record of player development, and a good coaching team.
A team like Tampa Bay Rowdies, our latest partner club. In the past season they have loaned Caleb Richards from Norwich and Jordan Doherty from Sheffield United.
Both have done extremely well with Caleb Richards playing nearly 3000 minutes and putting up some excellent numbers reflecting his ability to play the ball out of defence and construct attacks.
Jordan Doherty, at just 19 years of age, has appeared in over half the matches of a top 3 club in a central midfield position. He too has developed really well posting impressive passing statistics.
One reason, apart from their own ability, that both these players have developed so well is the clear playing style Tampa Bay Rowdies have developed.
The system is based on three center-backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wide players, an attacking midfielder and a pair of strikers.
The left-sided center-back (Richards has played this role) and the right-sided centre-back tend to start attacking moves by playing angled passes either into the wide players or into the feet of the deeper midfielders. The wide players are key to the attack with Malik Johnson (right) and Leo Fernandes (left) two of the league’s most exciting players. They are given license to cut inside and link with the attacking midfielder or go wide and deliver balls across the 6 yard box for the pair of strikers to attack.
Defensively the team presses the opposition high up the pitch with the 2 deeper midfielders aggressively positioned to force the opposition into hurried longer clearances that the trio of central defenders can deal with. The team has one of the best defensive records in their conference.
This exciting style of play has proven popular with fans and the last home game saw 6 goals scored. Click the below link and note the contribution of Johnson on the right-hand side for an indication of the expectations for the wide players to create.
We have opportunities in all positions for loan players, or for released players looking for multiple year contracts. Please get in touch if you have players you think would benefit from full-time, professional football, in a growing league with excellent media coverage.
Pre-season training starts in January 2020 with the season running from February to mid-November.