Blog – Loans: A Necessary Evil

For Sunderland, loaning players is now an absolute necessity. Modern football dictates it. Bigger clubs stockpile players. They offer them more money than we ever could not to play games. Many of these players are good enough to command a starting place in mid table Premier League sides. In some cases, these players are better than that. Look at someone like Romelu Lukaku who barely kicked a ball for his parent club, yet they managed to make a profit on him when selling to Everton.


If Sunderland finally take Fabio Borini from Liverpool, then their situation will be the same. Borini did participate in the Liverpool first team before picking up a shoulder injury, but it would be fair to say he’s struggled to make an impact at Anfield. Even so, they’ll stand to make around £3m profit on the player. It could be argued that it’s Sunderland who nurtured the player in the English top flight and gave him the opportunity to progress his game. Now we’ll have to pay a premium if we want to take him permanently. We, like so many others, are victims of a system weighted unfairly of those that need the least help of everyone.


I’d argue it’s not Sunderland’s transfer policy, regarding loans, that needs to change. The system needs to be amended in order to make things fairer. In my view, the loan system is one of the main culprits that cripples our game. Until that happens, we can’t afford to cut off our nose to spite our face.


Inter-Premier League/Championship loans should not be allowed. It would stop clubs stockpiling players then farming them out to English clubs to gain match day experience. This in turn prevents opportunities for the youth players below them. If you’re a top club and you’re going to pay £15m for an 18-year-old Belgian, then play him. If they knew they couldn’t do that, then that gives the player a decision to make. If they really want to come to the Premier League, then they might have to lower their expectations – both in choice of club and wages.


Clubs would have to make swifter decisions on younger players. Play them, or sell them. I don’t see what the big deal is if a club moves a youth product on if they feel he’s not going to break through. Surely it’s better all round for everyone? The player gets to play games somewhere else, and potentially work their way back up the football pyramid. If they don’t then they still get the opportunity of a career as a professional footballer, rather than rotting in the youth set up of a club they’ll never play for.


That might be a simplistic, pointless digression though. I doubt the system will change any time soon. As it stands, Sunderland must take advantage. It’s understandable that people get frustrated when a loan player comes in, does well, the invariably doesn’t sign. Realistically though, how long do players stay at clubs like Sunderland on permanent deals? Our current longest serving player is Lee Cattermole, followed by Seb Larsson. You look at some of our biggest recent dealings, notably Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan. Both were gone within 18 months. Yes, we made money on Bent and that’s a fair argument. I’m not too fussed on finances as a supporter, I’m more interested on what the players on the pitch are producing.


I guess the point is – if a player comes in on loan and brings us on, or contributes to our success or survival, then that can only be a good thing. It’s then up to the club to build on that. Logically we should be able to attract more good players if we have ‘success’ on the pitch due to contributions from said loan players.


From an enjoyment perspective, loan players often form a strong bond with the supporters. They become fan favourites and cult heroes. Even people remember the bad ones with comical cynicism.


Look at Kevin Cooper and Terry Cooke. Just a couple of examples off the top of my head. They were rubbish then, but we can laugh about it now. Then there’s the ones who gave us great moments. Justin Hoyte and Patrice Carteron, two right backs who scored in Wear Tyne derbies. They’ll be remembered fondly for that, even though they were just decent players. In recent times we’ve had Stewart Downing, Johnny Evans, Danny Welbeck, John Mensah, Alan Hutton, Danny Rose, Nedum Onuoha, Ki and of course Fabio Borini. All have made good contributions to the club even though they’ve had mixed success after going back to their parent sides.


Many of the listed players have had a great bond with the supporters. Playing well helps, but maybe some of them came in not understanding just how well our fans would take to them if they did the job required. Borini himself said a piece of Sunderland will always remain in his heart, whatever happens. The club gets under their skin and as a result, they get under ours. It’s a strange phenomenon and one I quite enjoy, even if the situation often ends in disappointment. From a pure entertainment perspective, the romance of our loan exploits would be something I’d miss.


Ultimately I’d like to see us signing more players on permanent contracts. But if we ignored the opportunities to bring players on loan, we’d fall behind the 11 other clubs treading water in the Premier League. We simply can’t afford to do that. Hopefully we’ll continue to borrow good players, and we’ll continue to remember them fondly when they leave. There’s not a lot we can do about it, so we might as well enjoy it.


Gareth Barker