Going on loan has become almost a rite of passage for the developing footballer.
He makes his way through the youth team ranks, impresses in his late teens, and then looks to bridge the gap to the first team by taking in a temporary spell at a professional team, pitting his wits against fully grown adults.
A cursory glance at the England World Cup squad reveals that eleven of them – almost half – followed this trend, including Chelsea’s own John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.
It can, if done well, accelerate the player’s development and prepare him to play at the top level for a considerable amount of time.
However, during the time away, fans of their ‘parent’ club can often forget about their presence in the club’s bigger picture, or worse, write them off before they see the light of day in team colours.
Take a glance around some of the more popular Chelsea forums for five minutes.
You might find claims that Patrick van Aanholt is more prepared to play now than Ryan Bertrand, or that Nemanja Matic is a surer bet than Jack Cork.
Gael Kakuta and Fabio Borini are touted by many as fine talents, and indeed they are, but are they ahead of the curve when compared to Scott Sinclair and Franco Di Santo?
Even in defence, Jeffrey Bruma had an outstanding 09/10 season and is rightfully in the public attention, but how does Michael Mancienne compare? Not favourably, in many eyes.
Opinion is just that – one person’s view against another – and who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong at this stage.
The important thing is to keep sight of the longer-term, and to realise that whilst certain players have headed out on loan time and again, it isn’t always to their detriment, and doesn’t mean that they don’t have a future at the club.
In Di Santo, Bertrand, Cork, and Sinclair, Chelsea have a quartet who have 366 senior club appearances under their belt. That works out at an average of 91 each, or just over two full seasons of fixtures – and none are older than 21.
They’ve covered all four English divisions between them and two are Under-21 internationals. In comparison, Borini, van Aanholt, Matic and Kakuta have 117 combined, barely more than the aforementioned average, and well over half belong to Matic (76).
Those numbers are only to be expected when you take their respective ages into account, but the point is this:
Being away from the club on loan doesn’t mean that these players have no future at Chelsea, or aren’t good enough to play for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
There’s a reason that clubs follow this route with players, and a very salient quote from Huw Jennings, former Head of Youth Development at the Premier League and currently running Fulham’s academy, which should be paramount in the attentions of people who follow this game:
“In Europe, players make first-team debuts at 21-22; here they are thrown into Carling Cup games or substitute appearances at an average of 18 years and four months, and judged critically on those performances. Players are not afforded the chance to mature.”
So what if Michael Mancienne hasn’t broken through into the first team by the age of 21. Why should he? Does he suddenly stop developing?
In a footballing world where teenage prodigies of the likes of Messi, Fabregas, Rooney and Aguero were all shining at the very top levels at the age of 17, you can see why this has become the case.
People expect more and more of players at an ever decreasing age, which places immense pressure on them to perform, and if they don’t, they’re consigned to the scrapheap way before time.
Whether those who’ve been on loan are more prepared to make the next step than those who haven’t (by and large) is entirely up for discussion, but suggesting that just because some have been out of sight and out of mind, their futures lie elsewhere, is wrong.
It wasn’t so long ago that these same people were labelling Bertrand as ‘the next Ashley Cole’ or Di Santo as ‘a young Crespo’.
Give them a chance, they might surprise you.