Send Your Kids To Cheltenham
No, not the festival. Big clubs have faith in unheralded sides to develop their young stars on loan, from the Robins to Donny, Accy to Stevenage. Is your club one of them?
Choosing a nursery can be difficult. You go into the process thinking that all your child needs from a daycare centre is a roof over their head and food in their gob. Then suddenly you’re being given different menus, different types of roof, options upon options upon options. Now imagine you’re doing that with a dozen kids, all unique, and 40-odd nurseries are interested.
Sending young footballers on loan is, admittedly, not quite the same as putting the precious fruit of your loins into daycare. For a start, your child doesn’t have the potential to earn you millions in a few years’ time. What? It’s true!
But finding the right environment requires similar care and commitment, whether it’s for your progeny or a club’s prodigy. Like you, they must find their players a temporary home where they can develop, grow, experience other cultures and, ideally, avoid any serious injuries. The wrong loan is unlikely to be disastrous for a budding star but it can be a waste of everybody’s time. Pick the right club and the results can be perfect for all parties.
I looked through the last three seasons, plus this summer’s transfer window, to see which Football League clubs are being entrusted with richer outfits’ brightest young prospects – and not just why they earn that trust, but how they use it to their benefit. Don’t worry, the focus here isn’t on the Premier League. This is still Not The Top 20.
Actually, it’s Not The Top 44. Although several second-tier sides have relatively good loan records, including Huddersfield and Blackburn, I’m focusing on football further down the pyramid, limiting the scope to clubs who are currently in Leagues One and Two. It’s those early loans we’re interested in, not those Get Out Of The Championship Free cards for sides with parachute payments, and that’s why I’ve narrowed the focus to players aged 21 or under at the time of their move (allowing for one or two 22-year-olds when relevant). That takes the list down to, oh, about 600 individual loan deals. This is not an exaggeration.
What did we learn? Well, a few things. Jökull Andrésson lives his life on loan. Louie Barry will be shared around League Two until he wins promotion from it. And Brighton have an inexhaustible supply of young talent. But we also gained an insight into which EFL clubs have set up a popular stall in the loan market – see, Cheltenham fans, it’s not all bad – as well as which managers you’d trust your kids with. Steve Evans, apparently.
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