Sending young players out on loan is usually seen as a positive step in their career but is it always?
There are several valid reasons for sending youngsters out on loan. Firstly, it helps bring them up to a level of fitness, which could allow them to challenge for a position in the first team, or at the very least, make them a handy substitute.
Secondly, it gives them experience on the pitch, in a competitive environment. At Arsenal, we tend to loan a lot of players out to the Championship, which, isn’t as intense as the Premier League obviously, but gives them a tangible goal at the end of the season, and puts them in a place where they get to experience genuine sportsmanship.
Thirdly, it gives them a purpose. It shows them their career is progressing and that they’re not going to be playing as a reserve forever. Even if the latter is untrue, it still gives them the boost and motivation to push on and come back a useful asset for our club.
In addition, from a sceptical point of view, it also showcases their talent to other teams if we want to sell them. I’m not saying this is always the case but if we want a decent price for a young player, we’re not going to get it if they’re either starting on our bench week in, week out, or only getting the odd game for the u21s. By putting them out there on loan to teams who are going to be watched, by people who are going to be scouting, we can get the best possible price for the player.
However, despite all these things, could putting a player out on loan actually be a risk and, in certain circumstances, a career killer? Although I don’t feel the latter happens very often, it’s not unusual for players to get stuck in the perpetual cycle of loan moves, never really having a steady run for more than a season in one team, and never getting to play for their actual club.
Let’s take Joel Campbell as an example. When we first bought him in 2011, we had trouble getting a work permit sorted, so he spent most of his first few seasons as an Arsenal player elsewhere on loan to Lorient, Betis and Olympiacos. This couldn’t be helped. However, last season, the permit was sorted and he still went out on loan to Villarreal.
During the transfer window, the player made it clear he wanted out of Arsenal Football Club, sick of being handed around and obviously believing in his own ability enough to get first team football elsewhere. As a result, Campbell has become completely disillusioned with Arsenal.
Benik Afobe is an example of another player who we loaned out time and time again. A product of the Arsenal academy and Jack Wilshere’s friend, the 22-year-old had loan spells at Huddersfield Town, Reading, Bolton Wanderers, Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons, before we finally sold him to Wolves in 2015. The lad was pulled from pillar to post, not really having a place to call ‘his’ club for years. As useful as these loan spells probably were in terms of his development, it’s hard to believe that he doesn’t feel as if his time was wasted slightly.
The thing is, this isn’t Wenger’s fault exactly, because if they’re not ready to play properly for us but have the potential to learn, the best course of action is to send them on loan. However, Afobe is an example of how loans aren’t a fool proof guarantee that you’re going to get a finished, polished footballer back.
At the moment, Gedion Zelalem is on loan at Scottish Championship side, Rangers, and has already got an assist. The 18-year-old is impressing and getting game time – fantastic. However, he’s also experiencing the rougher side of football and received a nasty stamp against Queens of the South recently. Building physicality is useful, but getting our plays hurt before they’ve had a chance to even properly develop is risky.
Therefore, as much as it appears as if we use loan spells as a bit of a fall back plan for players we don’t want to include in our senior team, it’s not without its fair share of risk. Wenger isn’t just waving his magic wander (oo-eer) and sending players out willy nilly, there are certain things he needs to take into consideration.
On the face of it, however, our current loanees seem to be impressing and that’s all you can hope for at this stage.