|Moans About Loans|
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Thursday, 6th Jan 2022 17:32
Christmas came early for Town supporters with the surprising appointment of a manager who may actually have a future in the game.
After some fairly depressing recent appointments and surely the most dispiriting managerial shortlist ever, it was quite a surprise to hear of an appointment that might actually turn out to be quite inspired.
One of the almighty plus points about hiring a newbie manager such as Kieran McKenna is surely that he comes with no baggage, and no cabal of hangers-on – and no pre-conceived ideas about ‘his players’. A new broom who may actually be prepared to manage with what he has got.
I have no pre-conceived expectations – I would be amazed if the current crop of largely rootless, journeyman players respond to his ideas and approach to coaching – which apparently demoralised the Manchester United players, forcing them to throw their toys out of the pram. But they might.
There is also quite a capable group of players largely ignored by Cook who have been patiently waiting for Cook to be sacked. There is quite a nucleus of players there from a neglected goalie to a bad-boy striker who might appreciate a chance of playing for Town.
My most fervent hope is that there is some joined-up thinking at the club. The much-maligned Lambo was actually spot-on when he highlighted the glaring problems at the asset-stripped shell he inherited - no football structure, too many loans, homegrown players not coming through, revolving door recruitment.
It wasn’t rocket science. He could have added an owner who was remotely interested in the club with some justification – because the ever-tightening purse strings soon appeared to choke off what little enthusiasm Lambert may ever have had for the task.
I don’t recall the fabled academy being mentioned once in the EADT as each managerial dud touted as Cook’s replacement was discussed with breathless optimism.
The U23 team seems to have descended into a gulag with naughty steps for all the players the previous mismanager was not prepared to work with. For the life of me, I can’t see that approach being much benefit to the younger players hoping for some sort of future in the game.
It would be nice to think that a young manager with a grounding in youth development might actually want to rake over the dying embers of Town’s youth development programme. Perish the thought he might even want to consider a five-year plan (just in case those trigger-happy cowboys in the USA have a five-month plan)
Which brings me belatedly to the reason for the blog – loans. You’d think the local journos would start enthusing about what McKenna might do with all the tools in his tool box so to speak – but no, the first article of 2022 was a breathless run through of 13 possible loan targets – despite the fact that there were five loan players here already in such a desperately disappointing season And this all of one day after the EADT ironically hailing Town’s young player of the year for playing for Swindon.
I’ve never understood the logic of a club like Town begging and borrowing other teams’ players – apart from the obvious one that Evans latched on to – it’s cheaper than having players of your own.
I’ve never understood how supporters can get excited about mercenaries moonlighting, however ‘successful’ that temporary employment is. I’ve never seen much logic in loaning players in and loaning your own players out. How demoralising must that be?
Town having a productive youth system is now firmly locked in a by-gone era and it is difficult to conceive of it ever being restored unless there is a sea-change in the way the club is run. Which is kind of weird, because the bloated squads of today and number of substitutes used ought to encourage fringe and youth player development. Yet the polar opposite seems true as managers and supporters grasp at the mirage of short-term solutions.
Supporters wax lyrical about the homegrown stars of yesteryear – but equally, if not more important, were the nearly men. I still contend that Town would not have won the FA Cup in 1978 without Robin Turner, one of several players at the club who were content to be on the fringes and seize their chance when it came, playing for the reserves year after year.
Every so often the likes of Keith Bertschin, Bobby Bell, Glen Keeley, David Geddis or John Peddelty could be sold or used as makeweights to pull off a startling transfer coup. Different times – but as Lambo was quick to point out, the club desperately needs to return to its roots instead of continually rolling the dice with loans, ‘frees’ and transfers.
Even more surprising, players who had seemingly been around for years such as Brian Talbot, Trevor Whymark or Colin Harper could emerge over time to be first team fixtures of the highest quality.
Not every player went in at 17, marking George Best at Old Trafford and stayed. But equally, none were sent to Swindon. The thing is – they were given a chance. I hope McKenna can see his way to unblocking the logjam in Town’s youth development programme, rather than putting Manchester United, Spurs or Chelsea’s players in the shop window.
To my mind Town started to decline in the George Burley years when the club started taking shortcuts in the loan market rather than trust in the proven model of player development.
It started off well enough with the likes of Jim Magilton and Jamie Clapham brought in on loan, prior to purchase – but soon developed into a litany of catastrophic mistakes with the likes of Gerry Creaney and Samassi Abou still seeming utterly baffling decades later.
In recent years dozens of loans have come and gone through the revolving door – it is difficult to make a case for many of them being a success. Even today with loan players in goal and up front being on the face of it successful ‘signings’, their potential departure will simply create problems as McKenna’s tenure begins with a will-they-won’t-they-become-permanent saga..
In recent years we have had our fair share of loan curiosities. Roy Keane brought in Daryl Murphy who had such a vast contract [at Celtic] he was prepared to wait years as an embarrassingly permanent loan before eventually signing.
And then there is Janoi Donacien, presumably signed without due diligence and eventually joining as a loan because of unforeseen problems, then promptly being loaned back to Accrington almost as soon as he was permanently signed. Yet despite the yo-yo start to his Town career and less than enthusiastic reception by ‘supporters’ he is still here, like most of Paul Hurst’s questionable signings.
But it is the loaning out of promising players that really sticks in my craw. I still struggle to see the benefit Titus Bramble got from a serious injury at Colchester – all that really did was shorten his Town career by a year. Similarly, why loan a player of the obvious calibre of Flynn Downes to Luton when you can play him yourself?
And that perhaps hints at the real problems facing clubs like Town. At the turn of the century, Town could realistically expect to hang onto their young stars whilst they were in their teens – before the likes of Darren Bent went to a ‘bigger club’ like Charlton in their early twenties.
As the decline gathered pace the likes of Connor Wickham left in their teens – again for a ‘big club’ such as Sunderland. No longer can Town benefit from exceptionally gifted players. Worse still, any exceptional schoolboy players are now being harvested by the money-doped clubs in the Premier League.
Town supporters have come to accept that any really gifted players at the academy may not, or almost certainly will not, ever play for the club. That has to be a terrible state of affairs.
Worst of all perhaps, is the unclear route of progress, most sickeningly and starkly illustrated when the captain of Town’s successful youth team recently opted for Norwich.
But even worse than haemorrhaging talented youngsters is the spectre of helping these clubs block off our own player development by dumping their surplus on clubs like Town as some sort of favour. The loan system has to be self-harming for a club like Town. It also stops the club benefiting from the late developers and players who are plenty good enough to succeed if given a chance, rather than a dispiriting loan.
One of the truly depressing things about Cook’s demolition of the club was that most of a once highly-rated crop of Town youngsters were sacrificed and exited stage left with barely a whimper.
Most supporters were seemingly happy to see the back of Andre Dozzell, Downes, the somewhat fragile Teddy Bishop and Jack Lankester, who like many before them flattered to deceive. Only Luke Woolfenden and Myles Kenlock remain and they too seem to be under-appreciated by the Town faithful.
As I write this, McKenna is waxing lyrical about his batch of four remaining loans – which kind of suggests, as long as Macauley Bonne and Christian Walton don’t sign for a competitor he’s not pining for a clutch of young loanees.
Hopefully, it’s a sign that McKenna intends to steer well clear of loaning in the Will Keanes of tomorrow and is actually prepared to work with what he inherits.
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