Pitchside Europe

Chelsea’s 75-man ‘squad’. Why abuse of the loan system threatens England team


Gael Kakuta and Patrick van Aanholt of Chelsea on loan at Vitesse Arnhem

Chelsea may have a better chance of winning the Dutch title this season than the Premier League. Or at least six of the London club's players will. Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, Lucas Piazon, Cristian Cuevas, Sam Hutchinson and Christian Atsu are representing Dutch Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands this season rather than attempting to prove their worth to Jose Mourinho on the King's Road.

Throwing in the Portuguese midfielder Francisco Junior from Everton brings the Dutch club's total of temporary players from the Premier League to seven. So far it seems to be working for Vitesse. They are only five points behind leader PEC Zwolle after five games of the season, and three adrift of second-placed PSV Eindhoven.

Somehow it does not feel morally or ethically correct when clubs are allowed to deploy players from other clubs to fuel their success. Not that Chelsea will care too much.

"I want to be clear that I am not judging Vitesse or Chelsea because they are acting within the rules,” said Carlos Aalbers technical director of the Dutch club NEC Nijmegen. "But this is a new ­situation for us in Dutch football and it is worthy of discussion. It is six players on loan from Chelsea at Vitesse, but if this trend continues it could be nine or 10.”

If the 'Arnhem six' succeed to any sort of level, they will be brought back to Chelsea having enhanced their value. More likely, they will be sold on for greater than their purchase price. This is the way of modern day football.

It is a legal abuse of the loan system where clubs who complain about agents actually become agents themselves in handling and moving on players who have no realistic chance of playing for them.

It is comparable to fattening livestock for slaughter, according to Crawley Town's director of football Steve Coppell during his days as Bristol City manager. "Fattening lambs for slaughter. Talented youngsters who can't get a game in the Premier League club's first team or reserves are coming here, getting some real value added, then being sold on at benefit to [the parent] clubs. These youngsters would have come anyway, for free."

Chelsea have an astonishing 23 players farmed out elsewhere at the moment. What chance do the 'Arnhem six' have when Mourinho is hellbent on working with a squad of only 22.

"The loan process at Chelsea has become very professional and a good deal of thought has gone into it," points out Chelsea's technical director Michael Emenal to chelseafc.com. "We don't send players out because we are trying to recover some money, we send them because we want them to play and develop and we want to monitor them."

Chelsea are not the sole offenders of apparently signing players with little or no prospect of seeing the light of day in the club's first team. Manchester City have 82 players on their books with Chelsea overseeing 75 and Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur on 74.

Watford exploited a loophole in the system to almost reached the Premier League last season with 14 loan players before losing in the Championship play-off final to Crystal Palace. The Pozzo family own Watford. They signed 10 players from Udinese, the club they own in Italy and Granada, the club they own in Spain. In an earlier match against Palace, Watford fielded SEVEN loan figures. That loan loophole has since been closed.

To fans of many clubs, it is a scourge. A blight on the landscape. How can club's fans identify with players who are only stopping for a season? It seems to be a way of life in Italian football. Parma have interests in 226 players ranging from their own squad to youth players, lower league players and cross ownership of players.

The new FA chairman Greg Dyke has stated he would like to see England try to win the World Cup in 2022, but that will involve a decade of change. A change of attitude.

Something has to be done about the loan system or England's national side faces a bleak future. The solution?

Clubs like Chelsea should be made to keep players in their 25-man squad if they sign them from abroad while the loan system should be restricted to home-grown players under the age of 23, or players who have players who turned out in less than 40 Premier League games.

Former England defender Paul Parker believes the national team will continue to struggle while younger players are not allowed to develop in the top leagues.

Parker contrasts England's inability to pass the ball and lack of flair to Belgium and Germany, two nations who continue to rise and rise in the world game because their players are allowed to develop properly in their own leagues.

"In England, we don't let our younger players play," points out Parker. "By the time they do play, it is either in the Championship, which is great initially because they are turning out in front of big crowds. Afterwards they think, there are other players playing who I'm better than yet I'm still here.

"They get disillusioned because they are playing with players who ain't as good as them, but after a while you are only as good as the people around you. You grow or disintegrate with the players around you. If you aren't working with quality around you, you have no chance."

Football league clubs are allowed to sign loan signings until the end of November. The cattle trading is unlikely to halt unless the authorities confront the problem.