The transfer market is a lot like the housing market. You always have the option of either temporary or permanent. If you buy, you make a big, long term financial commitment, which is both a risk and a burden, but you have the security of ownership. If you borrow, you have more flexibility, but it’s a short-term measure and your landlord can tell you to sling your hook at any time.
This laboured analogy is my long-winded way of saying that I miss Ryan Giles, who was recalled by his parent club Wolves last week. I also still miss Dion Sanderson, and Harry Wilson, and…
If you get a loan signing right and they make a mark, they leave you wanting more, which is a sweet spot in football. If they hang around too long, their form will drop off, they’ll make some sort of mistake and their stock will drop. If they get in, make an impact and get out, they remain immortal.
Those of a certain vintage will remember Eddie Newton being carried off the pitch when his loan spell from Chelsea ended, which tells you a lot about both his impact and how starved of quality Cardiff were at the time. When they finally saw some, they lost their minds a little bit.
Jason Koumas is probably the loan signing that all loan signings are judged against. Always prodigiously talented and enigmatic, he found a groove at Cardiff and even though he was only passing through, they had no option but to build the side around him. Even an underwhelming second spell failed to take the shine off his standing at the club.
Craig Bellamy was like a lottery win. Still in his prime, he dropped down a level, twice, in order to return home and while he may not have matched Koumas’ levels on the pitch, he had a far bigger impact off it, raising standards and putting bums on seats. He would surely have an even greater transformative effect should they ever bring him back as manager…
We all miss Harry Wilson, but his impact was not quite as seismic as we would have all hoped. His stats were good, but he only ever impressed in fits and starts, similar to Giles. The fact that Cardiff don’t play a great deal of football is a giant obstacle for players of that ilk though, which actually makes their achievements all the more impressive.
It still feels scarcely believable that Kasper Schmeichel turned out for Cardiff, but there he was, reminding us what a goalkeeper is supposed to look like at a time when the club were signing a succession of fatally flawed stoppers. He joined in the October, requested to stay longer, but was recalled in January. This is where loan signings have a tendency to disappoint.
Gary O’Neil crammed a lot in to his nine games at the club back in 2004, before he was recalled by Portsmouth in November, due to an injury crisis. He looked like a future England international and dominated games, but I recall being at his final game away at Rotherham and news filtering through that this would be his last. It felt like the story was developing while he was out there playing in the shirt.
You are always at the mercy of the parent club, who can bring an end to the agreement at any time, for an array of reasons. At the moment, clubs, including Cardiff, are insulating themselves against Covid outbreaks, so bringing everyone back into the fold. In the case of Giles, its particularly galling because you know that he has little chance of playing for Wolves at the moment and will likely be shipped out again in a few weeks.
When Cardiff signed Marko Grujic, Liverpool insisted on a stipulation that he play a certain percentage of games, which while understandable, is an uncomfortable degree of control. This appears to be the way that the loan market is headed though.
I still think its pretty disgusting that bigger clubs charge smaller clubs a fee to borrow their players. Like they need the money, when they’re gaining twice, as their player benefits and develops from playing time and experiencing regular first-team football.
For every Giles and Schmeichel though, there are plenty of players like Filip Benkovic and Yanic Wildschut, who pass through without making hardly any impression at all. Talent is not always enough, you also need the requisite attitude and application. Some players are there to make a difference and some are there because they have their orders.
Loan signings still feel like a fundamental part of a Championship team’s planning, but if your success is due to an abundance of temporary signings, your foundations are built on sand. A great loan signing can drag you up the table and improve those around them, but those players are only ever passing through. They’re the ones that make their mark though will always live long in the memory.