The emergency loan window may sound like something invented by Wonga, but in reality it's proved to be one of English football’s most invaluable and enduring pieces of legislation.
First introduced during the 2002/03 season, the window has offered Premier League clubs the chance to glimpse a sight of first-team action outside of the top flight while simultaneously enabling hard-up clubs to borrow players who wouldn’t have previously known the way to Hartlepool, Accrington or Morecambe. In short, it's represented a rare win-win for the haves and have-nots of the English game in a lop-sided financial landscape.
There are some high-profile examples of players benefiting, too. The goals of Fabio Borini – then with Chelsea – fired Swansea to promotion at the end of the 2010/11 season during his stint in South Wales. DJ Campbell had done likewise for Blackpool after being temporarily shipped out by Leicester in the spring of 2010.
Borini scores for Swansea
What’s not to like, you might be thinking. Well, the suits at FIFA have never been fans, claiming the loan window damages the integrity of domestic football. Now, you might believe that FIFA should be careful when discussing integrity and might be advised not to throw stones in houses made primarily of glass, but hey, when they want something to happen – such as a World Cup in one of the hottest countries on the planet - it generally does.
There was talk in February of a deal between the Premier League, Football League and FA coming to the rescue of the clubs who benefit from the current arrangement, but in the past six months there's been precious little information about what might happen next. And with the summer transfer window about to close, clubs are generally working on the assumption that FIFA have finally got their way - much to the annoyance of the new England boss.
“It will put extra pressure on the managers not to take young players in case they don’t work out, which cuts down our development of young players, which has proven to be the best way to develop a player to play in the Premier League,” Sam Allardyce said while still in charge of Sunderland.
Aside from top-flight outfits ruing a potential lack of exposure for their developing players, there are genuine fears further down the Football League that the end of the emergency loan window could pile huge pressure on clubs already struggling to make ends meet.
“No other business would operate in this kind of restriction - it’s a restriction of trade,” Yeovil chairman, John Fry, tells FFT.
“It’s inherently restrictive and anti-competitive. The legislation means we’re being forced into a situation which could put a number of lower league clubs out of business. It just isn’t fair and it's no way to run the employment part of your business.”
'An absolute joke'
Fry has been an outspoken opponent of any move to remove the emergency loan window for a number of seasons, expressing concerns to FFT over FIFA’s determination to take action as far back as 2013.
He’s far from alone, though. Clubs such as Portsmouth – who would surely have gone to the wall without being able to bring in players on short-term deals outside of the main transfer windows – have demonstrated that the emergency loan window has, in reality, provided a lifeline for clubs in League One and League Two during the most trying economic environment in a generation.
One chief executive at a League Two club, who preferred to speak off the record, described the move to scrap the window as ‘an absolute joke’, arguing that FIFA were getting rid of the one piece of legislation which actually served clubs across all four division and didn’t simply benefit those teams at the top of the pyramid.
He has a point. Last season, just under 200 players from the Premier League spent time on loan at clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two having moved outside of the two regulation transfer windows.
“It's been hugely beneficial for a large number of clubs,” says Rob Wilson, football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University. “And if it wasn’t for the system, a number of clubs would've struggled in the past and will definitely struggle in the future.
“In terms of budgeting and cash flow, the ability for them to do those short-term contracts is extremely helpful. They can manage their money much more effectively as opposed to bringing players in over a season, which is clearly going to cost them a huge amount more.”
Throw in unforeseen injuries and suspensions and it’s little wonder that the likes of Yeovil are fizzing at the prospect of the 28-day period from September and the 93-day period from February being removed from the English football calendar.
There are some ‘transition-easing’ measures in place as the summer transfer window approaches its close. Clubs without a senior goalkeeper who has made five first-team appearances, for instance, can sign another one on a seven-day ‘emergency loan’ basis. A player who's on a standard loan, meanwhile, may continue to play for his parent club in non-first-team games during the term of his loan period.
That will do little to cushion the blow for clubs running skeleton squads on a shoestring budget, though. As ever, perhaps the best summation of the emergency loan window changes comes from former Blackpool and Crystal Palace boss Ian Holloway.
“If my washing machine breaks, I shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the year to fix it,” he told Sky Sports. “What happens if I haven’t got enough money to have two washing machines? Newcastle will have two or three, so they’ll be more efficient and I’ll be walking around in dirty clothes looking like a tramp.”
It’s not your average analysis – but the majority of chairman and chief executives across the Football League believe he’s bang-on.
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