Lend him like Beckham
Hi, hope you are all well.
While this transfer window is being dominated by the actions of Manchester City and the incredible sums of money at their disposal, it is perhaps only to be expected that the bleak economic climate has forced the vast majority of clubs to tighten their belts more than ever.
A quick glance at the transfer activities of League One and Two clubs will show that very few are spending any money on transfer fees. It has got to the point that when a transfer fee is paid for a player in the lower leagues, it becomes a major talking point in our dressing room.
The lack of transfer funds available to clubs has seen a dramatic increase in loan signings. During my time at Hartlepool, which was only a few years ago, we tended to bring in only one or two loan players per season. In my first full year at Notts County, we have brought in more than 12 and I think you will find that a lot of other clubs have signed a similar number.
While the loan system and the frequency with which it is currently being used may not be to everyone's liking, there can be little doubt that given today's harsh economic conditions, it is a practical solution for both player and club. The club get the services of a player without the cost and the risk factors that signing him permanently bring and the player gets first team football.
From speaking to other players and fans, it is clear that there is some confusion on just what the regulations surrounding loan deals are, so I did some research (apparently that is what potential journalists are supposed to do)! As I understand it (and please correct me if I am wrong), there are two types of loan deal; standard and emergency. A standard loan deal is for either a full season or half-a-season. Clubs can sign a maximum of four players under the age of 23 on a standard loan deal and then a further four players over 23 on a standard loan deal.
The duration of an emergency loan is a minimum of 28 days and a maximum of 93 days and there is no limit to the amount of emergency loans a club can make. There are various provisions for parent clubs to recall loaned players but I won't go in to them because, quite frankly, they are boring!
It's also worth noting that clubs are only permitted to name five loan players (standard or emergency) in the match day squad of 16 players. I hope all this clears it up for you!
During my career I have been on loan at four clubs; Dundee, Motherwell, Stockport County and Peterborough United (in that order). Personally, I found going out on loan a strange yet enjoyable experience. It is strange in the sense that you are thrust into unfamiliar surroundings and immediately have to get on with the job of playing football. Although the same can be said of the initial experiences of a permanent move, the difference lies in the fact that the loan can end just as quickly as it started, through injury or a recall from the parent club.
When I joined Peterborough on an initial one-month loan deal from Hartlepool, my introduction to my new team-mates did not take place until 90 minutes before a match. I arrived at the ground at 1.30pm on a Saturday (following a drive from my then home in York to Peterborough), so it was little wonder that during the game, I kept forgetting some of their names!
In an ideal world, you would like time to prepare with the team, have a few days' training with them and get to know how certain players play, etc. Unfortunately football doesn't always work like that. For players and clubs alike, it is quite often a case of needs must and as a player you simply have to get on with it.
Most of my loan experiences have been very positive, simply because they gave me the opportunity to do what I enjoy most - playing competitive football matches. I would class one loan move, in particular, as a career-changing experience but probably not in the sense that most people would imagine. It did not lead to a big-money deal or anything as dramatic as that but what it certainly did was change my outlook on my career.
I was at Hartlepool at the time and Martin Scott was the manager. It was the season after we narrowly lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the League One play-off final. The manager brought in a few players during the close season, which resulted in me not playing as much as I would have liked. In short, I threw my dummy out of the pram, not in terms of ranting and raving but by basically sulking (it makes me cringe just writing that) and not giving training and my physical fitness the commitment that was required.
Then came the opportunity to go out on loan to Stockport County for a month. I played four games in that period and thoroughly enjoyed it but the key element about the loan was that it cleared my head and refocused me. As a result I regained my place in the Hartlepool team. I was and still am embarrassed by my behaviour at that time but as they say: "You live and learn".
I now regard my attitude to the game - my sense of professionalism - as one of my key attributes as a professional football player (although I am struggling to think of any more)!
Fans often worry just how committed a loan player is to his temporary club. While this is a valid concern, my personal experiences as a loan player and also my observations of the loan players I have worked with leads me to suggest that lack of commitment in these circumstances is very rare. There are a number of reasons for this, including the desire to regain match fitness after injury and, of course, to show what you are capable of to your parent club and those who might be interested in giving you another permanent football home.
The bottom line is that it is essential for every player to give 100%, regardless of who he is playing for. One thing I have learned in 13 years of professional football is that someone is always watching you and if your commitment to a game of football is not what it should be, it will be noticed, be it by fans, managers or other players.
As fans, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on loan players. Do you feel they enhance your team or does the constant changing of players make it harder for you to relate to the team? Also please feel free to mention the best loan players you have had at your club.
Finally, I would like to thank those of you wished me a speedy recovery from my hamstring injury. The good news from my perspective is that the injury is not as bad as the previous hamstring injuries I have had. So hopefully I will soon be back doing what I do best, which is scoring goals (only joking)!