Loftus-Cheek proves loan route can lead somewhere…

Date published: Friday 10th November 2017 8:20

‘Do England’s prospects need so many loans?’ asks the headline in The Times, who gleefully find yet another reason why we lag behind our German counterparts: The Premier League’s love of a loan move. Add that to a list featuring the proliferation of foreign players, a shortage of technical excellence and a lack of a winter break.

There is widespread amusement and oftentimes condemnation of Chelsea every summer as player after player makes a temporary move away from the Bridge, with 33 players currently stationed at clubs as far afield as Mexico, Russia, Belgium and Middlesbrough. But when Gareth Southgate hands first England senior call-ups to two Blues loanees closer to home – with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham both reported to start against Germany – surely this is not the time to denigrate the loan system but credit it with giving our young players an otherwise slim chance.

Do they need so many loans? Well, Abraham absolutely needed two to make that step – first to Bristol City to show he could score goals in senior football, and then to Swansea to prove he could score goals in Premier League football. Had he remained at Chelsea, he would be lucky to reach a Carabao Cup bench. Greater things have always been expected of Loftus-Cheek so he stayed, waited and was frustrated a little longer, but it is a loan move to Crystal Palace that has kickstarted his England career. Even with two injuries, he has already played almost as many Premier League minutes for Palace in three months as during three long years at Chelsea.

“That’s why I came away from Chelsea, to get game-time,” said Loftus-Cheek last week. Whether he ever carves out a career at Chelsea is almost irrelevant right now; that question mark has not been a barrier to an England call-up, albeit in the midst of a midfield drought. And the examples of Mo Salah, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne demonstrate that not being considered Chelsea class can be only a temporary setback. The loan system can be a cul de sac (and there are clearly several players on the famous Chelsea WhatsApp group who are going nowhere), but it can also provide a sun-blessed route to far greater things. Right now, Loftus-Cheek and Abraham are beneficiaries rather than victims of the oft-criticised stockpiling of players.

This is certainly not the time to be asking whether the Premier League should be mirroring the Bundesliga and their ‘preferred model’, as epitomised by Sebastian Rudy. With far more German players in the Bundesliga (close to 50%) than English footballers in the Premier League (closer to 30%), England cannot afford to wait for a promising young player to reach 24 before he makes his international debut; it already feels like we have waited too long to take a proper look at the 21-year-old Loftus-Cheek. The Premier League is run on a model that suits the Premier League and its peculiarities.

Being the Times’ Merseyside correspondent, Paul Joyce begins his piece with Joe Gomez, praising him for his lack of ‘impatience’ and saying he had the ‘courage to choose a different path and was playing for a manager who would give youth a chance’. But it is easy to have courage when your manager fails to spend £60m on a new, much older centre-half and your club’s first-choice right-back is ruled out indefinitely. “I just had to believe that I could play at this level for a club of that stature,” said Gomez, but it helps when that belief is allied with luck that brings opportunity. At Chelsea, his way would have been blocked by Andreas Christensen, already a full international having excelled on loan.

For all the talk of Klopp’s faith in youth, Dominic Solanke is yet to start a Premier League game while his former teammate from Chelsea’s 2015 FA Youth Cup triumph – Abraham was born just two weeks later – is not only starting top-flight games but will make his England debut against Germany on Friday night. That is not to say that Solanke made the wrong decision to refuse a new Chelsea contract and the inevitable loan move that would have followed, but it is incredibly short-sighted to denounce – as has become customary – the loan system as an evil of the modern game.

For every Harry Winks – very much on his way to becoming the complete footballer at 21, solely under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino – there is a Jesse Lingard, who at the same age was hoping he could “skip the loan stage” but was instead sent to the Championship by David Moyes for one of four loan spells. There are different roads for different folks and when Loftus-Cheek walks out for the national anthems on Friday night, he will be incredibly pleased with his decision to join Palace, even if some would have you believed that it lacked ‘courage’.

Sarah Winterburn

 

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