'Remote development' - How Liverpool manage their loans
Written by Simon Austin — March 23, 2018
THE job of loan manager didn't exist at Premier League clubs until a few years ago.
Now it seems like a prerequisite, with the biggest sides loaning out dozens of players every season. At Liverpool, Julian Ward took on the newly-created role of ‘loan pathways and football partnerships manager’ in October 2015.
He gave the club's official website a fascinating insight into his job:
DIFFERENT TYPES OF LOAN:
According to Ward, who originally joined the Reds in October 2012 as their scouting manager for Portugal and Spain, there are three types of loan:
1. First-team players who need game time:
This is basically to give established names playing time, which removes all or part of their salary from the wage bill, puts them in the shop window for a potential move or gives them the chance to prove their fitness and quality should they move back to the club.Divock Origi (Wolfsburg), Daniel Sturridge (West Brom) and Lazar Markovic (Anderlecht) would fall into this category.
2. Temporary transfers for non-EU players:
There are strict rules about which non-EU players can gain a work permit to play in England. Basically, a club has to be able to prove the player will make a significant contribution to the development of the sport at the highest level - which is not easy if they are not an established name. A loan to another European team can help.
Taiwo Awoniyi (20-year-old Nigerian at Mouscron), Allan Rodrigues de Souza (Brazilian, 21, at Apollon Limassol) and Anderson Arroyo (Colombian, 18, at Mallorca) fall into this category.
“They’re all top talents within their generation, they all play for their respective national teams at U20 level, but we know that work permit-wise it’s a bit of a longer journey," Ward said. "So we try to get them adapted to life and football in Europe and started on the process where they gain competitive experience.
“Hopefully that will increase their profile and credibility so when the time’s right, we can make that work permit application and bring them back into the fold.”
3. Elite Academy players looking for a challenge:
Ward, who was 'South American scouting strategist' for Manchester City before joining Liverpool, said his role was created because, “we realised that there was this bridge that we had to create to help players make the step from U23s football to Melwood and first-team football.”
Loans were seen as the way to bridge that gap.
Ward added: “The bar’s really high. To nudge out of the way a Mo Salah, a Sadio Mane, a Firmino, our young players have got to be able to show that they can compete with senior international players, not only in games but in training.
“When we feel they’ve reached a level where the next stage is playing for points and under pressure, a bit of exposure to the senior aspects of the game, then we have to look at other environments.
"They generate interest and the clubs across the Championship, League One, League Two are always in good attendance at our U23s games. We discuss each player on a regular basis and try to judge whether they’re ready to go out, whether they’re needed to be part of the U23 or Melwood group, and we have to then balance that up with the other options in terms of loan interest.
“Then we’ve got to try to make sure that we get the right coaching environment, the right competitive level that allows the player to continue on that journey of development.”
Harry Wilson (Hull), Ovie Ejaria (Sunderland) and Sheyi Ojo (Fulham) are probably the top young Liverpool players currently out on loan.
WHERE TO SEND THEM:
Ward said he works closely with Sporting Director Michael Edwards and the club's coaches to "make sure we have a network of good options in place for when the younger lads are ready to go out into senior football, or when fringe first-team players need competitive game time."
He added: “My job prior to the windows is to have a good knowledge of the squads, have good relationships with coaches, heads of recruitment, sporting directors and get a feel that they know our players.
“With our games being very accessible with getting to Prenton Park or watching them on LFCTV, when a coach or head of recruitment phones up asking about a player generally they know the specific characteristics of them and we hope that starts the process.
“We’ll go and look at what kind of opportunities there would be for those players to play, whether there’s a lot of senior players in their path or there are two or three places where they can go and stake a claim for a place in the team.
“We do that due diligence ahead of the two windows and then if Jürgen (Klopp), Alex (Inglethorpe) and Michael (Edwards) think the time is right then the options get filtered down to positive ones, the stars align and the button’s pressed and the player goes out on loan.
“Obviously the player’s involved too. We keep them up to date with what we think is the plan for them between pre-season and Christmas and then the level of competitions that we’re in can change during the season.
“We have to balance that games programme with each individual player’s point of progression.”
Once a player is out on loan, Ward says, "we make sure they are developing remotely."
“I co-ordinate the communication between the clubs," he added. “The different departments across our club are connected with the loan club - whether that be medical, sports science, analysis or coaching - so we can make sure the club they’re going to are fully furnished with where they’re at in terms of technical and physical development.
“The very first week of the loan is about connecting different key contacts in the relevant departments so that the training load the player’s been exposed to prior to going out on loan can be communicated, as well as any medical issues and development points.
“We look at areas of their game and think ‘Ok, this is where the player is at the start of the loan, by the end of the loan we’d hope to see some progress and improvements in these three or four specific coaching areas’.
“Then, the clips from all the players’ games are fed back to us within 24 to 48 hours and I liaise with our scouting department and coaches to make sure that we get regular live viewings of games, but also we get out to the training ground to see them working in their environment Monday to Friday."
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LOAN?
“Successful loans prepare players to come back to Melwood and make a real positive impression,” Ward said.
“We want to give our young players who are ready experiences of training each day and competing with senior players to improve their physical capabilities.
“We want to give them the opportunity to play in a league where there’s expectation, where there’s pressure, where there’s media attention, all with the idea of trying to transmit their skills to perform under pressure.
“I think if we get the loan right, a player gets credibility among the coaching fraternity and in football in general. And when they come back to Liverpool, they’ll be more equipped with the demands of being a Liverpool player.”