Wenger v Martinez: Much Ado About Nothing

Arsene Wenger at Training - 18/02/2014

The current fuss surrounding the loan system in English football is a big bag of nothingness.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger raised a storm about the loan system last week.

The Frenchman claimed that the whole concept of loaning out players is flawed, insisting that the system is “not defensible”.

Wenger argued that players on loan should be able to play against their parent clubs. He admitted that he does not think that teams like Chelsea and Manchester City, who have loaned out Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry respectively to Everton, have not done so to damage their title-challengers’ chances of winning the championship.

Perhaps the 64-year-old was a bit miffed at the fact that the Toffees’ on-loan players have proved to be so crucial in their quest for a top-four finish. Interestingly, Lukaku scored for the Merseyside outfit in their 3-0 win against Arsenal at Goodison Park last weekend.

Now, Everton manager Roberto Martinez has hit back, claiming that the loan system works just fine.

"I accept everyone's opinion but the loan system has to be part of the game," he told reporters. "Clearly from our point of view the loan system was vital as we needed it to finish our squad and to criticise that would be ridiculous.

“If you can be creative with the way you can use your resources, that is part of the game. The two young players (Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu) needed the opportunity to develop and Gareth Barry has come in and his experience has been very important.

“Loanees will never be successful unless you have a strong core of players and that is what we have. What is difficult is finding a loan relationship which works because not all of these have been successful, so it has its pros and cons."

Martinez’s points are very valid. Take the examples of Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Barry for example. The Belgian striker is clearly not a player who is wanted by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, Deulofeu was going to play in the Barcelona B team in the Segunda Division and Barry is just one midfielder too many in Manuel Pellegrini’s team. All of them are playing first-team football and that is what footballers want to do.

Lukaku was on loan at West Bromwich Albion last season and now at Everton, and in both these years he has scored a lot of goals: 17 in the Premier League in 2012-13 and 13 this term so far.

Deulofeu has struggled with injuries but has still shown his brilliance in flashes, while Barry actually has a small chance of breaking into England’s 23-man World Cup squad.

The loan system is a brilliant way for both players and clubs to get the best out of each other. An 18-year-old might struggle to break into Manchester United’s first team, but he could well be given a chance to improve and develop at a club whose ambition would be less intense. This does not only help the bigger clubs to actually trim their squad and choose the best players they can groom for the future, it also helps the smaller teams financially and not splash money on players who may not eventually prove their worth.

A loan system is a good way to judge the value of a player and how much he can develop; or how much a player can give when he is towards the end of his career. For example, Barry is his mid-30s and understandably City have no need for him. But now that he has illustrated that he can perform if given the chances and shown the patience as Roberto Martinez has, then he can still be of some use. Would Barry rather be on the bench at City getting a cup game or two, or would he like regular football at a club that wants to progress from previous years? Anyone in doubt could send him a Tweet and ask.

Wenger’s point about players being unable to feature against their parent club is valid. It is just a cowardly act of clubs to protect themselves against criticisms if one of their own ruin their season. Having said that, often in countries like Spain, they write their clauses into a player’s loan contract, so if both clubs agree on this, then it is something beyond Wenger’s control.

But perhaps it protects the players as well. Imagine this: Chelsea are taking on Everton at Stamford Bridge in their final game of the Premier League season. A draw would be enough for them to win the title, but in injury time Lukaku strikes for the Toffees and leads the visitors to victory instead. Irrespective of the player celebrating or not, would the Chelsea fans be able to forgive him and cheer for him the following season when he resumes playing for the Blues?

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