The article below first appeared in STAND magazine and Mudhutter and is in the news again concerning the loan market and stockpiling of young players by top clubs. It offers an alternative solution to the one Greg Dyke is proposing: namely that no football club is allowed to have more than 25 professional players and 25 youth professionals.
Whenever I get pissed off about something, I take a step back and establish whether something is irritating me more now because it’s more of a problem than it used to be or whether I’m just generally getting more irritable as I get older. Maybe it’s me if something as innocuous as the loan market is getting my goat.
It’s not the system, the method or any intricacies of it, nor the introduction of transfer window restrictions that does my head in. It’s more a concern about squad size, or rather the excesses of a few top clubs indulging in the fear factor by hoarding dozens of players they will never really need.
I thought about calling it The Oliver Twist Theory as it invariably involves smaller clubs getting the begging bowl out but decided to name it after the former squeeze of Rosie Webster, a man who has played for twelve clubs already at the ripe old age of 24.
My recent irk has been ignited by Nick Powell. One of the decent things Owen Coyle did in his thankfully brief tenure at Wigan Athletic was to bring this exciting young prospect in from United. Now Coyle has gone, his mates in the media spent most of January mischief making that we may go back there in January. But why? United don’t need him. Is he really going to get in the team ahead of Rooney, Hernandez, Van Persie and Welbeck? Will they ever need him? Or did they just buy him to stop someone else getting him?
He may go on to have a glorious career at Old Trafford but he would be the exception to the rule. Not to go all ABU as United have been good to us, as they were a couple of years back with Tom Cleverley who many Reds are now saying might not be the answer. Tom Cleverley who banged in 15-20-odd goals for Watford in the Championship, much like Nick Powell threatens to do for Wigan Athletic now. Put him in the Premier League let alone the Champions League for a top team and he starts to look distinctly ordinary; it may be different with Nick Powell as every footballer is different but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the same (unless United’s current demise continues to dramatically exacerbate)
A free transfer to Sunderland awaits and these are the few who make it to the top table. Man Utd are by no means the worst culprits here: although Liverpool, City and Arsenal all had 9 players out on loan as at Jan 1st compared to United’s 11, Chelsea had a staggering SEVENTEEN players currently farmed out. How many of those 55 players will go on to have a glittering Premier League career, 5 or 10% perhaps?
How it should have work is that Crewe should have sold Nick Powell to someone like Wigan Athletic, then after he’s played regular football for a year or two then maybe United would come sniffing if they think he can make the grade for them. It might explain his attitude that somehow he is too good for Wigan Athletic (or Crewe) and to be honest in recent weeks both he and McEachran and Collison seem to not have the heart to play for Wigan Athletic because they now they’re going back soon and the less said about Ryan Tunnicliffe the better.
Oh and I’m not exonerating my own team here, who have been equally shitty towards Rotherham by recalling free scoring Noah Dicko to sit on our bench and ultimately punting on to Wolves. He hardly played for us since or in the three years he’s been here.
How it currently works is big clubs absorb all the best young talent whether utilised or not, bung them in the reserves for a few years, send them out on loan till they’re 22 – 23 then sell the bulk of them off as damaged goods after they’ve been spent their formative years being shipped from club to club with relatively little top flight experience.
The end result is that we have no decent domestic players because hardly any of them grow up playing regularly for one team or being part of a settled outfit. Arguably it makes them a worse player as they spend their first few years of professional football showing loyalty to a club who they barely end up playing for and ultimately discards them a few years later.
The clamour for instant success means that clubs simply look to buy in a finished product now and let the majority of their kids fester in the Reserves, the Stiffs or as they are now ludicrously known Elite Development Squads.
So what’s the solution? Well the 25 player squad system is good but needs enforcing. If a professional player isn’t in that 25 man squad they should be released immediately not loaned out. Every football club is allowed 25 professional players on their books and 25 Under 18’s. If there’s an injury crisis, throw the kids in – that’s how it used to work didn’t it?
There are of course flaws with this idea. For example it may mean a few budding young millionaires get thrown on the scrapheap and be forced to get out and graft and earn a little less money lower down the pyramid and prove themselves. My heart bleeds.
It may actually mean that our best young talent has to earn their bling and develops that hunger inherent in so many of their foreign counterparts. They may realise that learning your game playing for one of the lesser lights can be a much more valuable and rewarding experience than the occasional trot out for a Big Four club on Carling Cup night.
And with a World Cup looming, it may be that next time around, we have young, hungry players willing to fight rather than having that sense of entitlement they think they are owed. Whether you support the England team or not, my own view is that I’d support them a lot more if the players weren’t so downright repulsive.
First published in STAND Issue 7
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