Simon Smith looks at the growing examples of loaned-out players outperforming their parent clubs…
This Christmas I will have to contend with a shocking and unexpected horror when I visit my family for the annual yuletide celebrations. As an Arsenal fan, albeit one who always strives for objectivity in my writing, having a cohort of West Ham fans in the family has on occasion provided me with opportunity for many a laugh at their expense. The Hammers have had their revenge on occasion. They were the first team to win at the Emirates Stadium, and their often pragmatic underperformance in the Premier League is at least easier to deal with than the aneurism inducing heartache of disappointment all Gooners know all too well. But nonetheless I have usually been able to content myself with beating them most of the time and generally being the better club.
Barring a series of favourable results this weekend, I will have to arrive late on Christmas Eve knowing that my beloved Arsenal are lower than West Ham in the table. What’s more, they have done so playing largely eye catching and attractive attacking football, and by getting some of the best out of loan signings Carl Jenkinson and Alex Song.
Song has proved to be something of a coup: if his move to Barcelona seemed a little bizarre, a touch above his pay grade, then it should still be accepted that West Ham is a little below the level that the football community might have expected to drop down to. That shouldn’t be taken as any disrespect to West Ham, especially given their excellent form throughout the season so far, so much as an indication that his status as something of a joke figure in English football was misplaced.
Jenkinson on the other hand is a signing that stings me as a fan. Not only is he given the token joke label that Song has acquired for his lowly position within the Arsenal team, but it seems something of a waste of his development after several seasons of improvement if this is to be the beginning of the end for him. Not only would he have been useful in the current defensive crisis, it always stings to see a player in football’s mercenary era who clearly loves his club sent on loan while a costly signing is brought in. As Arseblog once said, Jenkinson would crawl a mile on broken glass for Arsenal.
Despite this, Jenko has managed to do the Myaichi – the infamous meme star who won the FA cup while on loan to Wigan – and on his jolly over to East London for experience, ended up being part of a team that upsets the established order. Arsenal deemed him surplus to requirements, yet now find themselves two positions lower in the table going into the weekend.
Is this becoming a more common trend in football, fuelled by the mentality of larger clubs to stockpile young players in the hope they might be useful rather than on the promise of development? Chelsea have been notoriously collective with their young recruits without offering the best opportunities for first team promotion in the Abramovic era (the Mancienne-McEachran paradox). Though there doesn’t appear to be many examples of players they let go achieving greater things than the club, perhaps with the endless stream of Marko Marins and Kevin de Bruynes it will only be a matter of time until one does.
Take Victor Moses for example: I have yet to meet a Liverpool fan who sees Moses as an unqualified success of a loan deal, but the fact remains that in the closing stages of last season he had a genuine chance of winning the league with his loan side, more than can be said of his parent club on the final match day. The extent to which he really helped with that could be debated, but as a symbolic indictment of transfer failure there can be little greater than seeing a player deemed expendable win the league.
Of course Chelsea have the single greatest example of last season in the form of Champions League finalist Thibaut Courtois. We all know how the story goes, the three successive year long loans to Atletico Madrid cumulating with a league winners medal and controversial debate over whether he should be permitted to play against Chelsea in the Champions League. It’s unquestionably a tale of a player loaned for experience, with a view to later being incorporated into the first team, going on to achieve great things at the expense of his parent club. Scratch a little deeper and the revelations about Chelsea’s hoarding of younger players are compelling.
Signed from Genk in 2011, there was no place in the Chelsea team for his three loan seasons and one couldn’t help but feel that the repeated farming out to Atleti was in no small part because Chelsea simply didn’t know what to do with him. Here was one of the best young goalkeepers in the world, a player they couldn’t let slip away in 2011, a player they had to sign because if they didn’t someone else would – but he was not a player they needed. Even now, his excellent start in English football has felt harsh on Petr Cech.
Perhaps we will see a similar welcome return for 2015 Carl Jenkinson, returning from a West Ham side he helped marshal to eight consecutive clean sheets to secure a Champions League place, and redefining the role of the full back in a way that would help us all forget about that Bacary Dixon chap. Then again, with the emergence of the highly rated Hector Bellerin, perhaps not.
Still, end of season positions yet to be determined and all that, there is the small matter of the weekend action. So if it isn’t too much trouble Santa (Cazorla pun always intended), this year for Christmas I’d really like wins for Arsenal and Leicester, a delay free train journey, and a smug grin on my face when I greet my step-brother.