Chelsea's Loan Policy Shows All That's Wrong in Football's Money-Driven World

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2016


Never one to have his voice heard in the media during his playing days, Paul Scholes has taken on an entirely new persona now that he's retired.

Whether it's views on the state of the Premier League and English football or other matters, he pulls no punches with his critiques. And it was this week that he suggested non-league football is better to watch than the top flight.

With more than £1 billion spent in transfer fees this summer, you have to ask why that is. Across the Premier League, the standard of player has gone up. Even Bournemouth are making new signings for £15 million when not too long ago they were heading out of business.

As a competition, there's an element of parity in the Premier League that makes it the spectacle it is. Add in the fact it's well-marketed and ahead of its rivals with building the whole brand of the league, and it's no wonder TV broadcasters are flocking to get a slice of the pie. It's exciting; well, apparently.

Loftus-Cheek is one of just three Chelsea academy players in the first-team squad
Loftus-Cheek is one of just three Chelsea academy players in the first-team squadMichael Regan/Getty Images

That commercial success is as much the Premier League's weakness as it is a strength.

"It's all about money and sponsorship in England these days rather than football, rather than entertainment," Scholes writes in a new book Class of 92: Out of our League (per the Guardian). "And I don’t think that’s just from the top teams either. I think it goes right down through the league."

Scholes' point is valid. Across English football, we're seeing clubs squeeze every penny they can from every aspect of the way they operate. They're not just football clubs any more, they've become corporations, and with that comes an expectancy to make money. A lot of money.

Chelsea have tapped into a market few had considered. The Blues aren't just reaping the rewards from endorsements and those TV deals, they're profiting from a loan policy that is allowing them to buy players at low prices and sell them high.

B/R Football @brfootball

The number of players Chelsea have out on loan 👀 https://t.co/5iJB6CYiAX

Right now the youth-team policy is at odds with what we expect from it. Chelsea's talented youngsters—the same players who have dominated their age groups at home and abroad for the past few seasons—aren't feeding the Chelsea first team; they're bulking up others.

Rather than being used as a tool to prevent the Blues spending in the transfer market, it seems Chelsea's academy operates separate to the club as a business that's there to make money as much as it is to produce players. It's under the Chelsea brand, but with 38 players on loan this season, Chelsea have taken their policy on to an industrial level.

Sure, of the 38 players Chelsea have sent out across the Premier League and further afield, there are some transfer duds included in that number. Loic Remy went to Crystal Palace—though he's now back at Chelsea after sustaining an injury—while Juan Cuadrado is another high-profile flop.

The bulk of those loan moves are with Chelsea's youth players or those who were signed young and sent away immediately.

Those players have become commodities, which is what Scholes was hinting at. Investing in the coaches and resources the way they have, Chelsea have shown they have a commitment in the players they're bringing through. Equally, they represent a number on the balance sheet.

Scholes came through the Manchester United youth system to become a club legend
Scholes came through the Manchester United youth system to become a club legendRichard Heathcote/Getty Images

It's all about money, as Scholes would suggest. Why else send out enough players to represent an entire Premier League squad, plus a half? That's what Chelsea's loan army is; those 38 players are enough in number to create a new club that could sustain itself all season without ever requiring reinforcements.

That's not the point, though. What is concerning is that of those players, we can count on one hand those who have a realistic chance of ever breaking into the Chelsea first team. Kasey Palmer (on loan to Huddersfield Town), Tammy Abraham (on loan to Bristol City), Izzy Brown (to Rotherham United), Andreas Christensen (on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach) and Lewis Baker (at Vitesse Arnhem) are the big hopes.

There are some others such as Nathan Ake who are well-regarded, yet the majority is made up of players who will never harbour thoughts of ever becoming Chelsea players. And because of that, they shouldn't ever be Chelsea players. Not now at least.

Lucas Piazon, who has joined Fulham this season for what's his fifth loan move from Chelsea, says he's had enough with the temporary moves he's been forced to make.

"I'm tired of moving abroad," he recently told Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail. "One, two, three loans, maybe that's enough."

Piazon has been on loan five times from Chelsea, including with Reading last season
Piazon has been on loan five times from Chelsea, including with Reading last seasonBEN STANSALL/Getty Images

It may be just one player in isolation, but Piazon's dissatisfaction gives us an insight into what the loan moves do to a player's mindset. Piazon is having his belief sapped from him; in his own words, he is "tired" of always moving and never having enough time to establish himself in one place.

He should be able to do that at Chelsea, but with money still being heavily invested in the first team, players like Piazon find themselves in a horrible cycle where loan football becomes the reality. Managers still come and go at Stamford Bridge, and those away from the club aren't factored into the plans.

It's about instant success, and that doesn't come with unproven players. Managers need the finished article now, and with just three youth-team players in their squad for 2016/17—Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina and Dominic Solanke—it's clear Chelsea don't have room for others.

Scholes' disappointment with how money is playing such an influence is rather apt as he came through at Manchester United, a club with a rich history of promoting from within. Now United have turned their back on that history, instead looking to buy their way back to the top of the Premier League.

Patrick Roberts is on loan at Celtic from Manchester City
Patrick Roberts is on loan at Celtic from Manchester CitySteve Welsh/Getty Images

United have not long completed the most expensive transfer in history with the £89 million deal to take Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford. All the while, young players who have impressed over the past year or so are now being sent out on loan themselves.

It's not just Chelsea. United have a significantly fewer number with five players on loan this season, but that includes Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Adnan Januzaj. Their rivals Manchester City have a staggering 19 players on loan moves, including the talented ex-Fulham youngster Patrick Roberts. Liverpool also have 11 players on loan.

It's talent hoarding, all with the view of maintaining transfer values for clubs to eventually cash in. The players themselves aren't the focus but more what they offer in their value to the clubs, who are seeking out new avenues to make profit.

Chelsea have seen too many players lost to it, namely Josh McEachran. After five loan moves himself, he joined Brentford last season when, at this stage of his career, he was supposed to be a Blues regular.

McEachran was once the big hope of Chelsea's academy
McEachran was once the big hope of Chelsea's academyAlex Broadway/Getty Images

When the pattern of Chelsea's policy first emerged, it seemed a wise way for the club to balance their first-team commitments and the development of players. More and more, that focus has shifted; the loan market is becoming just as important as signing new sponsorship deals.

"The money’s the most important thing these days about football because owners, the majority of them, are just interested in making money for their football club," added Scholes.

Where is the sense of duty to the young players they have at their clubs? Why isn't more of the TV money being invested into football's infrastructure? Why are clubs more interested in mega signings to boost sponsorship deals?

It's all about money, and the loan system shows us what is wrong with that.


Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes.