Chris Young’s column: Loans vital for club’s like Sunderland to help youngsters progress

Sunderland's Mikael Mandron.
Sunderland's Mikael Mandron.
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THE LOAN market is a perverse beast. But it is an animal which new FA chairman Greg Dyke must tame, rather than spending his time blustering about Sunderland’s transfer policy.

How can it be right for a Premier League heavyweight to hurl a wad of cash on a transfer fees and wages, but then be given a get-out clause if the player falls out of favour?

The unwanted figure’s salary is a barrier towards selling him, so a subsidised loan to a top-flight rival provides the opportunity to recoup a few quid on that initial outlay.

Far from being punished for spending recklessly in the first place, the parent club can at least ensure they don’t slip too far into the red by having someone else cover his wages, as Sunderland have done by sending Danny Graham to Hull.

And then there is the emergency loan window.

Deep-pocketed Championship clubs can offer an escape route for discarded Premier League superstars, but still pay just a fraction of their wages.

Cardiff did it with Craig Bellamy from Manchester City and QPR were this week linked with a loan for Emanuele Adebayor, despite the Togo frontman’s six-figure weekly salary at Spurs.

Doubtless, Sunderland will attempt to do likewise with Phil Bardsley next month, once the full-back recovers from his broken foot.

Both of these loan scenarios are dubious and in an ideal world, neither should be permitted to exist.

Certainly, Fifa have had their eye on the Football League’s emergency loan window for several years and the expectation is that it will be outlawed from next summer.

But for Premier League clubs outside the top six, such as Sunderland, it is imperative that some version of this loan mechanism remains open.

It’s not so they can recoup four or five grand on Bardsley’s weekly wages before they continue their efforts to sell him in January.

No, the availability of short-term loans to the Championship, League One and League Two is vital for developing the club’s academy products. Some may think there is little wrong with Sunderland’s Under-21 side after last week’s reports of the rookies beating the first-team in a training ground friendly.

The reality was slightly less dramatic.

The game went on for around four hours, with Paolo Di Canio stopping and starting the action regularly to convey his message.

It was very much a training exercise, rather than a training game.

In their actual fixtures, it has been a hugely encouraging start to the season from Kevin Ball’s side, even though their 100 per cent record was ended by a 5-2 defeat at Liverpool on Tuesday.

But a year on from its formation, there remain question marks over the U21 Premier League.

The antiquated reserve team system undoubtedly needed a shake-up and the U21 initiative does indeed provide a more organised bridge from the youth team.

But the gap to first-team football is still seismic.

Sunderland were forced to include a fleet of youngsters on the bench at the end of last season, simply to make up the numbers. Yet none of those had genuinely been knocking at the door for Premier League inclusion.

Even Mikael Mandron, the big hope of the club’s academy and someone who has impressed Di Canio with his attitude, only netted once last season for the U21s.

The FA clearly realise there is a problem and will introduce a promotion/relegation element to the U21 league from next season, in a bid to make it more competitive.

But with those senior players on the fringes at first-team level still rarely involved with the stiffs, these youngsters remain devoid of men’s football experience.

That is why Sunderland have been so proactive in sending their academy products out on loan, and continue to do so.

A move to the no-nonsense world of League Two is clearly seen as more beneficial for someone like Billy Knott, than remaining on Wearside.

But if the emergency loan window becomes an outlawed avenue, then these temporary departures will surely dry up.

Those who have made a name for themselves at youth level or have proved themselves on previous loan spells will continue to attract suitors during the summer and January.

But consider the likes of Liam Marrs, Adam Mitchell or Alex Gorrin.

These are players who have no notable loan experience.

Is a League Two club really going to make a conscious effort to take them on temporary stints during the transfer window, rather than looking around for fresh blood when short-term loans are the only option available to boost their threadbare squads?

An emergency loan provides an avenue; a chance for these kids to make a point over a month or so, without financially crippling the club involved.

That is something which should – although it probably won’t – cross Fifa’s minds.

For all the loopholes of the loan system, it cannot come at the punishment of youth progression.

That is an upcoming problem which Dyke should be spending his time on, rather than headline-grabbing statements.