Opinion: January of loans as crazy prices leave clubs unwilling to commit
Photo: Getty Images/Bournemouth

Opinion: January of loans as crazy prices leave clubs unwilling to commit

Reluctance to pay ridiculous prices is reason for increase in loan deals rather than better planning, writes Oliver Miller

oliver-miller
Oliver Miller

Nathaniel Clyne, Jermaine Defoe along with Jason Puncheon and Jonny Williams, and also Kieran Dowell and Stefano Okaka plus Oumar Niasse and Ryan Babel have all moved on loan this month. There were quite a few others who have left their Premier League clubs, albeit temporarily but most likely forever.

This has been the winter for loans, few clubs have decided to commit fully to paying huge sums to bring in first team additions. The biggest deal is the £58 million that Chelsea are spending on bringing Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund but even he does not come until the summer.

Rightly, clubs are starting to realise that there is little value in panic buying in January; if in dire straits, try to improve coaching rather than overpaying for a bit-part player. Even when squads are stretched – and many in the league currently are – there should be more enthusiasm for promoting youth players from within. Liverpool are struggling to put four defenders out on a matchday at the moment, but Jurgen Klopp is being inventive rather than wasteful of money and resources as well as short-sighted.

Little value in January panic buys

So far, and with less than half of the month to pass, 13 Premier League clubs are yet to make a signing during the transfer window. At this same point one year ago, every club had made at least one. January loan deals are the flavour of the month and given the very nature of them, the window is only slightly ajar rather than flung open.

There are deals there, held up because clubs, players and increasingly agents are asking for too much. It’s resulted in a stilted window, and arguably for the better. Fulham showed that too many transfers are bad, Tottenham Hotspur are yet to show that no transfers are bad too. Being confident with what you have got is hopefully an increasing emotion across football, not just England’s top flight.

Pulisic’s deal has stolen the headlines, and that wasn’t too difficult. It is one of only five permanent transfers completed. £80 million is the amassed amount so far and despite the prices being quoted for Emiliano Sala’s move to Cardiff City and Chris Mepham’s switch from Brentford to Bournemouth being sizeable, it is questionable whether they will go through.

Prices for potential skyrocket

The £19 million transfer of Dominic Solanke’s from Liverpool to Bournemouth is the second biggest transfer of the winter and is another case of a club purchasing potential rather than proven quality. It is often sighted that January is the time for adventurous signings, hence the urge to try and get more bang for the buck.

Buying potential is no longer a cheap option, there is huge inflation in this part of the transfer market. And if Callum Hudson-Odoi gets his ideal move from Chelsea to Bayern Munich for £35 million, then this will only further highlight the point. German Bundesliga clubs have cleverly tapped into the relatively fruitful and cost-effective market for talented young English Premier League benchwarmers.

Though when this option becomes too costly – as it appears it will rather soon – then that avenue will close quickly.

Lack of frenzied buying is refreshing

As much as some areas of the football media will be disappointed at the lack of headline transfers, the lack of frenzied activity is refreshing and will hopefully offer a lesson to those who drive the entire mentality that spending rather than coaching leads to success.

Though most likely it is the fees that are the major stumbling factor leading to reduced movement rather than better planning and oversight on the part of Premier League clubs. It is usually them, rarely do European teams overpay especially during this time of year. Take a look at the transfers that occur in Spain, after years of financial issues – and some still remain – clubs now spend within their means, even the bigger clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The increase in loans only exacerbates the argument that Premier League clubs are simply not committing to signing players now because they want to manage their finances through these deals rather than committing to longer-term contracts. Loans can be hugely effective, for both club and player, but they also have the potential to be disruptive.

Domino effect highlights lack of planning

What’s to say that when one team moves, others will too. The Domino Effect in terms of transfers is one of the most disturbing aspects of modern football; it only highlights a club’s lack of planning and their dependence on each other. Last January it was clear that Arsenal panicked when tying up the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a swap deal with Manchester United for Alexis Sanchez. Twelve months on, no party can be happy with that deal, even the respective agents.

Arsenal also committed to purchasing Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for over £50 million each under the transfer guidance of Sven Mislintat and Ivan Gazidis. The fact that Gazidis has already left to become Chief Executive at AC Milan and Mislintat is seemingly on his way too, only suggests further that even at the biggest of clubs constructive planning is a rare commodity.

There is undoubtedly little value in the market currently; if clubs don’t need to sell then they won’t unless the offer is ridiculous. Mid-table clubs have little incentive to improve their squads at this time of year, whereas those struggling towards the bottom have to consider the risks of being relegated with signings they cannot afford.

Which only begs the question as to why coaching doesn’t play precedent. Spurs like Liverpool look to improve how they perform on the pitch rather than who performs on the pitch. They have the calibre of players who can change positions if necessary and be versatile. Chelsea are the only ‘Big Six’ team still active in this month’s market and that surrounds Gonzalo Higuain’s potential move, again on loan.

The transfer market has often defied logic, and now as Premier League teams receive more and more money from each and every avenue they are becoming reluctant to commit. Loan deals are most certainly the flavour of the month, whether that is good or bad is certainly up for debate.

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