On April 2, the emergency loan window closed for the final time. It has long been viewed by many as one of the factors that keeps lower-league clubs afloat, and capable of remaining in a healthy financial position. But now, FIFA is of the opinion that transfers – regardless of the circumstances – should only take place within its designated transfer windows, in a bid to ensure greater legislative consistency across the board.
It is clear as to what this will mean to clubs below the Premier League, where the decision has gained a mixed reception. It will be a case of having to build bigger squads over the summer, and not being able to rely on a talented loan signing that rejuvenates a struggling side, or improves the chances of a team vying for promotion. All of this will have to be done within the confines of Financial Fair Play rules, so it does not get any easier.
But how will it affect clubs in the Premier League? For years now the emergency loan system has been the path for some of their rising stars to gain regular experience of competitive first-team football, potentially being part of a side battling at either end of a league table. Tottenham striker Harry Kane is a prime example, having turned out for the likes of Leyton Orient and Millwall before becoming the goal machine he is now at the highest level.
Now they will need to find new ways of ensuring that they are ready to make the step-up to playing in the top-flight, and such opportunities appear on first viewing to be far from plentiful. Age-restricted competitions such as the U-21 Premier League and the FA Youth Cup are helpful to an extent, but these matches have far less riding on them that those the youngsters will play in while out on loan, and so lack that all-important degree of intensity.
In 2014, the FA tentatively put forward a suggestion of extra tier of English football which would incorporate Premier League ‘B’ teams, in order to help improve the development of youngsters who are finding it difficult to break through at the elite level. It was clearly not the answer, and the idea was duly quashed as a result of the overwhelmingly negative response it received.
The system of introducing top-flight ‘B’ teams to the lower tiers has long been prevalent in continental Europe, but it would be far from ideal in England given the comparative depth of professional football that is played in this country. Elsewhere there is room for such sides to be accommodated, but a 92-team Football League pyramid is ill designed for such a radical change.
One idea that has gained some weight in recent times is the possibility of Premier League youth sides competing in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. This is unlikely to receive much in the way of opposition, given that it is a competition that a large percentage of managers in Leagues One and Two view as an unnecessary distraction – at least until it gets to the latter stages and a day out at Wembley moves into sight.
However, this can only be the start, as on the whole the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy would do little to satisfy the needs of those prospective loanees. It is a tournament that only sees matches played once a month, with a select pool of teams receiving first round byes. What’s more, when a team is eliminated, that is it – they have precious few chances to play again at that level until the following season.
The development of players is of huge importance to both Premier League clubs and the England national team, so the decision to end the emergency loan system may lead to a consultation as to how to move forward. The news has the ability to work both ways, but as a result of it we may see top-flight managers forced to show faith in home-grown talent, rather than constantly shipping them out, or indeed leaving them to fade into obscurity after failing to make the breakthrough.