There were times as a Chelsea player when Patrick Bamford found more pain than pleasure in football.
“I’ve been more upset than people think,” the striker said after signing permanent terms with Middlesbrough in January 2017, finally putting an end to his time in the bloated and relentless Stamford Bridge loan cycle.
“[These final three loan moves] made me not want to feel the way I have again,” he said after arriving at the Riverside. "I had to make a big decision… After six loans my next move had to be permanent.”
For many sides, sending a player out on loan six times would be a sign that maybe things are not meant to be. But for Chelsea, it seems to be embedded in club policy.
In the summer of 2016, when Bamford moved to Turf Moor, it was one of 23 deals agreed by the club that saw players shipped out temporarily across the season. Every campaign since has seen at least 19 loan deals signed - more than have left Arsenal and Tottenham combined in a single season within the same time frame (13, 2017/18).
Jamal Blackman and Lewis Baker both played in the same youth teams as Bamford and were both loaned out during the 2016/17 season too. But while Bamford chose to break free, Baker and Blackman have continued to be loaned out every season since - taking them to eight spells each.
Between them, they boast just three minutes of first-team football for Chelsea, thanks to Baker’s brief cameo against Derby County in the FA Cup third round of 2014. QPR right-back Todd Kane recently spoke of his experience in the loan system, detailing how permanent deals often collapse because of the club dragging its heels, saying he wished he had left sooner.
Bamford had to fight to leave Stamford Bridge and he did so without a second of first-team football to his name. So why are others seemingly so reluctant to push for that permanent move away?
On signing for Boro, the striker admitted that the Chelsea loan system has its benefits and, while he did not go into detail, the biggest of these is most likely a sense of financial security. The career of a footballer is, comparably, an extremely brief one, so it is understandable that many are reluctant to sever ties with the Bridge.
But a lack of role models is likely another factor. Baker and Blackman rarely saw a player leave the loan cycle and go on to seriously better their careers, so why would they take that risk?
You cannot help but look to the likes of Ethan Ampadu, Malang Sarr, Jamie Cumming, Connor Gallagher and Nathan Baxter now, the only players currently out on loan and under the age of 23.
However, in Patrick Bamford, these youngsters crucially have that role model that previous players did not. An inspiration they can look up to when they are sent out on loan again, whose work rate and hunger to succeed upon leaving Chelsea caught the eye of a legend like Marcelo Bielsa and earned himself a move to Leeds United, where his status as a club legend is now all but confirmed.
A player who already has 13 Premier League goals to his name this season, a top-flight hat-trick and is even being touted for a spot in England’s Euro 2020 squad.
Bamford should act as a beacon of hope and inspiration to every player locked in the loan cycle. Leaving Chelsea could be the best thing you ever do.
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