Sheffield United have made intelligent use of the loan market since the Football League reopened for business a month ago.
If some of the Brioni suits inside FIFA’s Zurich HQ get their way then, within the next few years, the option to borrow rather than buy talent at this time of year will become a thing of the past which, as Nigel Clough argued during a recent media briefing, could have serious implications for the development of home grown talent across the competition as a whole.
But while the United manager’s argument about the need to expose aspiring young professionals to the brutal realities of life in the senior game is compelling, should the game’s governing body fine tune the system to ensure its probity remains intact?
The answer, when one considers the way Clough’s more Machiavellian counterparts could potentially use it to skew the outcome of a promotion race or relegation battle, is probably yes.
After all, Chelsea’s decision to let Romelu Lukaku join Everton makes little sense until you consider that, at the start of the campaign, Roberto Martinez’s side were viewed as one of those teams never likely to challenge the status quo but eminently capable of beating those clubs in it. I’m not suggesting for one minute that was Jose Mourinho’s intention but you get my drift.
So, given that it is impossible to disagree with Clough’s assessment of their importance, the governing body would be wiser to refine rather than abolish loans.
Accepting the development principle, perhaps by barring players from joining teams within their own division. Or even legislating that they may only be loaned to those at least one below.
The growing trend of informal partnerships must also be scrutinised because, if not, then the first feeder club will appear more quickly than you think.
Coaches will always prefer to do business with those they respect or admire. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Encompassing this principle in the form of legislation, though, would change the entire fabric and culture of our national sport. Loans, with fees often required to help facilitate deals, have effectively become a transfer market in miniature.
Necessary and worth keeping so long as they are properly policed.