Clearly envisaging a defeat against the division’s form team last night, Ian Holloway, an experienced media manipulator in the mould of ‘dear old’ Harry Redknapp, got his excuses in early with a pre-match rant to the Sky cameras about the loanees in Watford’s squad. ‘They’ve got nine loans from Udinese. I’ve been looking to get loans in. I’ve got six but I can only use five of them, and can only take two from one club. How are our young players ever gonna get picked? They look like a foreign team, and I think they are.’
Rather surprisingly, he then chose to rabbit on about the same thing at the post-match press conference, despite his side putting in an admirable second half performance that was much more deserving of comment.
Let’s be honest, we’re all biased about this loan thing. It’s allowing us to watch some players who should be nowhere near the Championship representing our club, and providing sexy, winning football. There’s a lot to be said about the system. Is it morally right to outsource talent to an entirely different league pyramid? Maybe not. Should said talent be shipped over in such numbers, virtually transforming a club’s identity in one fell swoop? There’s a good argument to say no (not that it has affected our identity one bit – but that’s a different story). Is it unfair? Not one bit.
There’s nothing stopping Holloway from asking his board to get in contact with some big foreign clubs to propose a similar set-up – I’d be surprised if there aren’t clubs around the league who have already done so. There are quite a few sides around Europe who have big squads and may prefer their reserves to play in a more competitive foreign league than further down in their own. Holloway’s problem is that we’ve done it first.
There are some moral dilemmas to go along with it, but just because you don’t agree with a way of operating doesn’t mean it’s wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. Is the Udinese/Watford model of sustainably developing talent through networking worse than spending millions of pounds throwing stupid money at average players in an attempt to reach the Premier League (Leicester)? Is it worse than clearing out your squad and using the club as a halfway house for washed-up free agents who just so happen to have the same representation (last year’s Doncaster)? Is it worse, in this economic climate where everyone is losing money, to be a football club blindly chasing the dream until you’re reliant on one man’s wealth to keep you afloat (Chelsea and countless other clubs in England) or disappear in a vat of fiscal quicksand (Portsmouth, Leeds of old, Darlington); or to be a prudently-run club that actually makes money (Udinese recorded profits of €8.8 million last year – Leicester last year published losses of £15.2 million) AND achieves moderate success without ever going overboard?
Who was the first player to be loaned between professional clubs? I don’t know, and from a cursory glance at Google, the internet doesn’t either. Whoever it is, their name has not gone down in footballing infamy. But what must the fans and players from his competing clubs have thought when this player was acquired on a short-term deal from, presumably, a better side? Outrage, which would have been quickly replaced by a drive to improve their team by the same means. Now loans are commonplace. Co-ownership, which is what this whole thing really is about, has been around for some time in Italy and South America. It’s never caught on here, but now that Watford are doing it to such positive effect, it will start to infiltrate the English game.
Anyway, here are yesterday’s 18-man squads:
Watford: Almunia, Doyley, Hall, Hoban, Cassetti, Chalobah, Abdi, Hogg, Pudil, Deeney, Vydra; Bond, Forestieri, Battocchio, Eustace, Yeates, Murray, Geijo
Palace: Speroni, Richards, Ramage, Delaney, Moxey, Zaha, Dikgacoi, Marrow, Bolasie, Dobbie, Murray; Price, Williams, Phillips, Butterfield, Parr, Wilbraham, O’Keefe
The players underlined are those that have graduated from each club’s academy, the one’s in red are the players that are on loan from other clubs, and the ones in bold are those dirty, dirty foreigners (i.e outside the British Isles).
In fairness to Palace, they had a measly four foreign players in their squad (we’ll count the Abidjan-born Zaha as English because he’s good*) to Watford’s quite frankly despicable eight (we’ll count the Freetown-born Chalobah as English because he is also good). Eight out of eighteen. What self-respecting football team would only have ten British players in their squad? Ahem.
If you want to be really jingoistic about things – which, let’s face it, a lot of people do – both teams had eight English-born players in their squads, though Watford had more in their starting line-up.
‘How are our youngsters meant to get the chance to play?’ said Holloway. Well, why not ask Watford, who, despite being lumbered with numerous world-beaters, found a way to fit four academy graduates in their squad, compared to Palace’s two? There’s a parenting adage I heard recently that you should let your children beat you at everything until they are four, and then start beating them (at games, you understand). We aren’t going to produce a nation of world class footballers if we give them a free pass into our football teams. We have proven this season that if our youngsters warrant a place in the side, they’ll get it. We may not be seeing graduates on the pitch in the same numbers as in recent years, but with the standard of first-team coaching and competition, we’ll see far more Ashley Youngs and Lloyd Doyleys than Jamie Hands and Gary Fiskens in the side.
This is all ignoring the fact that the loan thing was a one-time deal, and ignoring the fact that had it not been allowed we would have got the players anyway. Plus there is, of course, Fernando Forestieri’s 5.5 year contract (something that seems to have passed Holloway by), with more, hopefully, to follow.
For Holloway, our loans were a crutch – a ready-made excuse for defeat. It’s understandable. Nobody really cared when we were drifting around in mid-table, but now we are at the top and making waves, the ownership issue is a way of latching onto us and bringing us down.
Let’s be simplistic. What’s football about? The fans. What’s football not about? Cheating. Are we, the fans, enjoying the hell out of the season? Yes. Are we cheating? No. So shut up and let us get on with it.
*The ECB Effect