With more and more players going out on loan, Premier League clubs now appoint a loans manager to handle the progress of their young talent when they are playing elsewhere.
In conversation with Adam Bate, Leicester City's former loans manager Dean Hammond explains the varied aspects of the role and why it is so important to player development…
There is a bit of everything to the role of a loans manager. At Leicester, I used to be at the training ground two or three days a week watching the U23 team, while the rest of my time was spent out at games and going to see players. You are around the coaching staff on a regular basis and you are in the meetings discussing plans for the future.
These can be difficult decisions because it is a balancing act and there are so many parts of the football club to keep happy. The U23 manager wants the strongest squad that he can possibly have. He wants to keep his best players, work with them and improve them.
Others at the football club might want the same player to go out on loan so they can develop in order to make the first team or be sold on elsewhere. Everyone has their own opinion so it can be difficult, but the role of a loans manager in that can be beneficial.
Solving a problem
When I was young and I went out on loan from Brighton to Aldershot and Leyton Orient I had very little contact from my parent club. You were basically left to your own devices.
Managers are busy and their main focus is the first team and it is the same for the coaching staff. As a result, some players who go out on loan can end up feeling lonely and isolated. They can become a little bit lost. Are the club sending me out because they want me to be a part of the future or are the club sending me out because I am not part of the future?
To have a loans manager watching their games and watching their training, speaking to the manager where they are on loan, speaking to the manager of the club they are on loan from, I think it is really, really important. It is that middle man for the players.
About Dean Hammond
Hammond started his career at Brighton before enjoying promotion with Southampton and going on to be part of the team that took Leicester up to the Premier League. After a spell at Sheffield United, he returned to Leicester in a coaching capacity and worked as a loans manager within the academy setup. He recently vacated the role for personal reasons.
“My wife had a back operation and we have three children so I had to leave because of that and become a stay-at-home dad for four or five months. I really enjoy the role and I think it suited me. I love working with players individually because I think you can give them more information. If the opportunity came again, I would like to do it.”
Choosing the right club
When a player goes out on loan these days it is not just a case of a club wanting your player and you sending them out. It is about doing that work behind the scenes before allowing the player to go out on loan.
There are very good reasons why a club is chosen.
My job was to watch our players out on loan but it was also about watching a club where we did not have a player out on loan yet but we knew they were interested in our players.
We would analyse their playing style and what the manager's personality was like because some players might not fit with certain managers. I would speak to anyone I knew at that club to find out what the culture was like. What's the atmosphere? What are the players like? It all helps you work out whether a player will settle. There was a lot of analysis.
Sometimes it is not so easy to understand why it does not work out for a player at a football club. It might just be that the manager and the player clash. There might be the wrong sorts of players in the dressing room who can influence the player. But you to try to avoid that.
Ultimately, it comes down to those above to make the decision but the idea is to put some options to the club and the player so that they can work together to find out what's best.
Once the player has made the move, clubs are pretty open. I had access to the managers. I could find out what the players were doing well, if there was an issue in terms of how they were settling in socially and on the pitch. People are happy to help. The parent club wants the player to do well and the clubs where they have gone want them to do well too.
Support for the player
As well as thinking like a coach, you also need to look at things from the player's point of view. Young players need mentors within football clubs and you are a kind of mentor.
For a young player, having someone around you just to give some advice, just to be present when you need them, is really important. As a player of any age, you need to be able to reflect. So that support network is vital if you want that player to do well. If the player is relaxed off the pitch and feels good then he can perform on the pitch.
If they are travelling long distances for the loan are they staying in a hotel or are they being put up in an apartment? That is important. Are they seeing family enough? Are they on their own or do they have a partner? Do they have a wife and children? These are simple things that we can help them with off the pitch so they concentrate on what to do on the pitch.
The job of a loans manager involves watching their games. I would then watch the games back and clip them up, sending those clips to the player and speaking with them on the phone giving them my advice. I would write a report for him that he and the club could see. The information was there for everyone. I would spend time at the training ground.
I would never advise a player against what the manager wanted him to do because that does not work. If a player was playing in a certain formation and that manager wanted him to play a certain way, I would speak to the player and the manager and ask that question. How is the manager wanting you to play? What are the demands of this particular role?
For instance, we had Callum Elder at Wigan. He was a left-back and Paul Cook was the manager. They played out from the back and wanted the full-backs to push on. That is what Callum was good at. So we found out what they wanted from him and worked from there.
Loans are not for everyone
Academy football has its benefits but it has its drawbacks as well and going out on loan can be daunting. It makes you grow up pretty quickly. You are going into a dressing room full of professionals who are relying on this for their livelihoods so that is a change of atmosphere straightaway. As a younger player, you have to understand that pretty quickly.
They are still young and they are still learning so it might take one, two or three loans before they can settle at a new club or come back to their parent club and be a success there.
Sometimes there are good reasons why a player might not go out on loan.
The first-team manager might want them around the group so that he can keep an eye on them every day. It is always good to have a nucleus of U23 players who you can bring up and train with the first team. It keeps first-team players on their toes if they are up against young players in training every day. They know they still need to perform.
Some individuals may not feel ready to go out on loan just yet because of their age or because they do not want to be away from their family.
The positive example
Harvey Barnes is a great example of how the loan system can work for club and player. Each club improved his development because the standard increased gradually. He started in League One with MK Dons, then he went to a lower-tier Championship club in Barnsley and then he went to West Brom at the top of the Championship.
I worked with Harvey during that period and he was great. He was an amazing talent and good to work with because he was ambitious. He wanted to be a player at Leicester but he knew he had to go and prove himself. He identified himself that he needed to go out on loan. He understood the system.
That one worked particularly well because I was able to go back to the club and give them positive reports. You can see the benefits that Leicester have had with it too. It does work.