Much has been made of Chelsea's loan policy, which currently has the Blues sending out more players on loan than they have in their senior squad, but whether fans like it or not, other clubs will soon start following their example.
Eurosport's Toby Keel calculates the Blues currently have over £100 million worth of players not with the club, though that figure is skewed by Fernando Torres, who they signed for half of that number back in 2011.
Fans of rival teams and smaller clubs in English football have taken to social media the past few days, lamenting the Blues' monopoly on younger players and how it could negatively impact the development of these players.
As shared by Bleacher Report UK, the list is indeed impressive:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
26 players out on loan from Chelsea. Story: http://t.co/kEAXDt0SLS http://t.co/SUsF9ivjru2014-9-2 09:40:20
Of course, the Blues aren't doing anything wrong. There are no rules against how many players a team can send out on loan, and unless that changes, expect rival clubs to start following their example. There are just too many advantages to gain from a similar loan policy.
Fans will argue the policy is unfair, and on some level, it is. Of the 26 players, only three play for Premier League clubs, meaning the competition is weakened. Chelsea can also make sure those players are never fielded when their respective teams play the Blues, giving them a competitive advantage over their rivals.
But the Premier League is an unfair competition. Not every team has the same budget, and the current established order of top teams have the financial power to tear apart a talented smaller club in a single transfer window. Unless an oil tycoon is willing to invest significantly, small clubs will stay small.
Top clubs couldn't care less whether a policy is fair or not. If it's legal and advantageous, it will spread like wildfire. And in this case, the policy works.
In the age of Financial Fair Play, having a stable of talented youngsters you can sell for a profit is a tremendous asset. Clubs pay loan fees, so even if the talents aren't being sold, they are still generating income.
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku turned a massive profit on the Blues' initial investment, and particularly in the case of the latter, the club had little to do with it. The Belgian international developed away on loan with West Bromwich Albion and Everton—all the Blues had to do was reap the rewards.
According to Keel, Chelsea paid roughly £5 million for a young, talented former volleyball player who had one good season in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League. Three years later, Thibaut Courtois is widely regarded as the best young stopper in the world.
Courtois never once played competitively for the Blues before the summer. The club once again had virtually nothing to do with his development, and yet, without paying tens of millions of pounds, they ended up with the most coveted young goalkeeper in the world defending their goal.
Even if 25 of the 26 players out on loan flop, that one youngster turning into a world-class option makes it worth it. And the other 25? They can just be moved to a mid-table Premier League club, usually with a profit.
Barcelona's famed youth academy, La Masia, has long been regarded as the benchmark for developing players. But compared to Chelsea's policy, La Masia doesn't generate nearly as much revenue, and with FIFA now looking over the Catalans' shoulder, other clubs will be wary to follow that example.
Youth academies are still pivotal for every club, but those academies can't produce as much talent as the Blues bring in from around the world. And as long as smaller clubs like Leicester City and Burnley can't afford to buy these talents outright, they'll gladly bring them in on loan and develop them for the big boys.
Every year, new "graduates" of the policy are sold off, and those profits can be invested in two or three world-class players for the senior squad and a new batch of recruits for the loan system. And the whole thing starts over.
Fans may not like it, but as long as the loan system isn't addressed by Football Association regulations, it will continue to grow. And sooner or later, other top clubs will join. It's simply too advantageous not to.