The Loan Report: Taking Stock

There was almost no loanee action last week, and there will none for the foreseeable future, as the Coronavirus public health situation continues to develop around the world. With the regular Loan Report therefore on hiatus, it provides us with a useful opportunity to take stock of this season’s army, and consider what lies in store for everyone when football eventually resumes.

A Blue Tomorrow?

Every loan army group can be fairly well-divided into different factions depending on their proximity to Chelsea’s first team squad, and the number of players who have a realistic shout of returning to Stamford Bridge to challenge for a place in Frank Lampard’s team the following season are usually rather slim. The 2019-20 vintage has a few interesting names, but only really one player who could stick his chest out and say ‘yeah, I’m in contention’.

Conor Gallagher’s star has been ascending for a good few years now; last spring he was named the club’s academy player of the year, before venturing out on loan to Charlton Athletic to further his footballing education with his first taste of the senior professional game. A spectacular five months in South London saw him score 6 goals in 26 league appearances – statistics that do not do his importance to the team any justice whatsoever – and assert himself as one of the best Under-21 midfielders in the country.

The rapidly-deteriorating off-field situation at The Valley, however, was not conducive to Gallagher’s development. When the opportunity arose for him to move to playoff-chasing Swansea and re-unite with England Under-17 World Cup-winning manager Steve Cooper, it was too good to turn down, so off he went to South Wales. Five assists in ten games later, he continues to do his thing, and his eyes are firmly set on a Chelsea future.

That might not happen immediately, and it’s more likely that he’ll stay at Swansea for another season than come straight back to SW6, but few have put themselves in a better position than the 20 year-old. He was joined at the Liberty Stadium in January by Marc Guehi, who made his Chelsea debut earlier this season, and the defender is another who is definitely on the fast-track to the top, but an unsettled start to life on loan has seen him take a back seat for a few weeks. Far from a reason to panic, this is what going on loan is all about, and Guehi will be richer for the experience while he will almost certainly showcase his class under Cooper before all is said and done.

Ethan Ampadu’s pedigree is undeniable and, although his loan to RB Leipzig hasn’t gone quite to plan, a year in Germany working with a Champions League-calibre team will at the very least have diversified his experiences and skill sets, whatever happens next. He clearly hasn’t played enough, whether on merit or otherwise, and he could easily slot back into the Chelsea squad next season without too much of a problem, but it would be wiser to expect a do-over and get a year’s solid football under his belt somewhere else.

Trending Upwards

Plenty of other youngsters have done their careers no harm whatsoever this season, even if their chances of playing for Chelsea are on the slim side. Jake Clarke-Salter, after finally being given a chance to put a run of games together in a competent team at Birmingham City, has been able to remind people why he was tabbed as a prospect to watch five years ago when anchoring the academy teams to trophy after trophy. It’s four years ago next month that the now 22 year-old made his Blues debut away to Aston Villa and, even if he doesn’t ever make another appearance for the club, he’s a Premier League defender in waiting.

Izzy Brown (Luton Town), Matt Miazga (Reading), Richard Nartey (Burton Albion) and Iké Ugbo (Roda JC) have all enjoyed good campaigns; Brown has been one of the most creative attacking midfielders in the Championship despite spells out through injury, Miazga is an assured and capable modern defender, Nartey has taken to life on loan very well for his first move away, and Ugbo’s 13 goals have improved his stock after disappointing moves to Barnsley, Milton Keynes and Scunthorpe on domestic shores. The coming transfer window could see all three depart for pastures new, and they’ve positioned themselves nicely.

Climbing the ladder

Matej Delač famously had eleven different loan moves over ten years as a Chelsea player and, while that isn’t the norm, it’s typical for players to spend a few seasons in the loan cycle as they take a little bit longer to come along. Trevoh Chalobah, for example, has endured a challenging season at Huddersfield Town, much like his 18-19 stay with Ipswich, but just by adding nearly 30 appearances this season to 44 from last makes those moves worth it. Whether his future lies in midfield or back in defence remains to be seen, but he’s still only 20 and has a ton of potential to play with.

Charlie Brown and George McEachran went to Belgium and the Netherlands respectively for their first moves in January, and they’ll continue their journeys somewhere else next season too.

One foot out of the door

A fair chunk of any season’s loan army is devoted to players who have already made plans to move on from Chelsea, and have all but officially departed. Mario Pašalić’s second season with Atalanta has gone even better than the first; his seven goals and seven assists have helped the Bergamo side into the last eight of the Champions League while becoming one of the most entertaining teams in all of football. They have a €15m option to buy the Croatian international midfielder and, at the second time of asking after delaying their decision last summer, they are going to exercise it.

Juan Castillo signed a new three-year deal with Chelsea last July only to head out on loan to former club Ajax, with an option to buy for a few hundred thousand Euros included in that deal too. A near-ever present for their Jong Ajax team in the second tier, he’ll be staying in Amsterdam for the long haul.

Josh Grant is out of contract in the summer and was presented with the opportunity to make his loan stay at Plymouth Argyle a permanent one in January, but chose instead to extend his loan and see what the summer brings. Reinvented as a defensive midfielder down in Devon, he can also play anywhere in defence, and will be a flexible and highly capable option for many suitors when 2019-20 is finally done with.

Victor Moses swapped Fenerbahce for Inter and the opportunity to play under Antonio Conte once again in January and, with a €10m option to buy there, all signs point towards that relationship continuing for the long haul, unless Conte happens to leave the Nerazzurri, in which case anything is possible.

Lucas Piazón is in the middle of a two-year loan agreement with Rio Ave in Portugal, an arrangement that sees him through to the end of his Chelsea contract, when he will surely depart on a free at the age of 27. Jacob Maddox joined Southampton on transfer deadline day, primarily to link up with family in their Under-23 squad and will most likely sign for the Saints on a full-time basis later this year.

Hit by Injuries

An unfortunately high number of young loanees have had their seasons interrupted by injury. For some, like Charly Musonda and Davide Zappacosta, it never even got going. Musonda made three substitute appearances for Vitesse before a chronic knee problem resurfaced, while Zappacosta tore his ACL in training just days after making his Roma debut with a twelve-minute cameo at home to Genoa.

Baba Rahman, who has made just fifteen league starts in three years, found himself back on the treatment table again at Mallorca before another knee problem ruled him out of the remainder of the season there. Nathan Baxter hurt his shoulder during pre-season at Ross County and, although he returned to action in November and has played 14 times at Dingwall, it’s clear he’s still playing catch-up. Dujon Sterling, meanwhile, tore his hamstring just as he was finally settling into the team at Wigan and, to compound his frustrating, an impending return to action was halted by the suspension of football at every level.

…who knows?

Then there’s the leftovers; the marginalised, the forgotten, the players that Chelsea would probably quite like to shift but haven’t been able to. It’s not that easy; many are on lucrative contracts that they’re unwilling to give up for less money elsewhere, and the majority of teams are savvy to the situation by now and know they can often get a player for a reduced commitment and at a fraction of the cost. That’s why Tiémoué Bakayoko is on loan at Monaco, after a stop-over at Milan last season, and although there’s a €42.5m option to buy, another loan appears the most likely move next season. Only seven players have ever cost a French club more and Monaco’s big-spending days are largely over with.

Danny Drinkwater appears to have his heart set on destruction after a series or skirmishes that have seen him make the headlines for all the wrong reasons but, with a Chelsea contract until 2023 that pays him some £100,000 per week, the Blues will find it exceptionally hard to move him on without taking a financial hit. Whether useful to Lampard or not, they remain viable assets for the club and, in many cases, it doesn’t make business sense to just cut their losses and move on.

Kenedy’s contract is due to expire at the end of a loan to Getafe that has mostly seen him deployed as an impact sub, Jamal Blackman is at Bristol Rovers after missing more than a year with a broken leg, but now aged 26 he surely has to move on for good in the summer or settle in as a long-term backup option for Chelsea.

Finally, Lewis Baker and Danilo Pantic returned to Cobham in the winter break without securing a subsequent move and were in limbo long before everyone else joined them. They might not feature in another Loan Report, if another one is ever written, as we wait for football to eventually resume…