Graham Kelly: Chairmen feeling relaxed but loan transfers put players in a quandary

Credibility, like respect, can take an awfully long time to earn, yet be blown away in no time at all. The Premier League, when it was planned a dozen or so years ago, did not exactly start with a clean sheet of paper, but nonetheless the 22 chairmen (it should, of course, have been 20 but that's a story in itself) resolved firmly to avoid many of the more obvious pitfalls that their ilk were accustomed to marching into from time to time.

They decided to forego loan transfers between themselves because it did not seem right somehow and, as there was a future ahead of them glistening with satellite television riches, there seemed no reason to interfere with the restriction introduced some years earlier, whereby transfer fees had to be paid 50 per cent down and the other 50 per cent within a year.

At their annual meeting in June this year, they relaxed the restrictions on hire purchase with the result that fees may now be spread over the period of the incoming player's contract. The difficult financial climate persuaded the chairmen to allow loan transfers between Premiership clubs.

Any Premiership club may take a maximum of two players on loan at any one time and up to four over the season with a maximum of two from any one club. In a league where the stakes are so large and the emphasis is supposedly placed on driving standards ever higher, it is a glaring error of collective judgment to expose players to allegations of conflict of interest. Have the chairmen forgotten that certain players - their players - stood accused of bribery charges not that many years ago? Do they know that the Football Association has, in fact, relaxed the rules on betting on matches since then? Moreover, as Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, says, the wholesale loaning of players erodes the sporting ethic of the game.

Sadly, many Premier League chairmen would not recognise a sporting ethic if it jumped out of a cocktail cabinet and slapped them in the face. And the distinctly dubious domestic loans compound the former arrangements whereby English clubs were able to take foreign players on temporary contracts, thus further barring the progress of home-produced players - if indeed Premier League managers concern their heads overmuch with such players any more.

Chelsea have loaned the promising young striker Carlton Cole to Charlton for the season and, bizarrely, the Russian captain Alexander Smertin to Portsmouth just two days after he was signed from Bordeaux. As the rules stand, when the transfer window re-opens on 1 January they could loan Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Wolverhampton Wanderers for their matches against Manchester United and Arsenal that month and then recall him 28 days later. If that is not a gross distortion of competition, I don't know what is. It would appear that either the fans do not care who turns up to wear their shirt, or the chairmen believe they do not care so long as those who do wear those shirts scratch together sufficient points to stay on the Premiership gravy train.

Everton have taken Francis Jeffers back on loan from Arsenal, for example. This is an England Under-21 international striker, not an unknown scholarship boy. David Beckham was an unknown 19-year-old when he played four games on loan for Preston North End, and Jermain Defoe set goal-scoring records when loaned by West Ham United to Bournemouth. These are more genuine examples of the loan system in operation, giving a young player experience of league football which he might not otherwise obtain at that early stage of his career.

When the temporary transfer first began, the principle of the player's registration was considered sacrosanct by the Football League and it was only in the direst of emergencies, such as injury crises and illness epidemics, that loans of players were permitted on a very short-term and clearly defined basis as a last resort. Now it seems that the very highest echelons of the English game are being encouraged to plan their core business in a manner that would do scant justice to a group of kids on a summer holiday kickabout. "Report back in July, lads, and we'll see who we can borrow to make up the squad before all the brochures go to press." It brings to mind those team photographs of long ago when the heads of new signings were hilariously superimposed onto the bodies of departed team-mates with incongruous results.

Of course, the fans know full well that players are simply guns for hire, but the owners are playing a dangerous game if they have messed up the finances so much that, come the turn of the year, everyone is watching for fixes and favours in "the finest League in the world".

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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