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Affiliations and Loans
On Saturday Blues take on Watford in a clash that sees Lee Clark’s men pitted against a side pushing for automatic promotion to the Premier League. The Hornets have had a very successful season thus far but it’s not been without controversy due to their squad being underpinned by a large contingent of loanee players from abroad.
In June 2012 Giampaolo Pozzo acquired Watford from Stanmore-based businessman Laurence Bassini, making the Hornets his third football club after Udinese of Italy and Granada of Spain. Pozzo, who was elected best football club president of Serie A sides in 2007/08 after building Udinese up on the back of an excellent scouting system that brought in underpaid talents and made them into stars, has been involved in football since 1986.
Soon after replacing manager Sean Dyche (who ironically had turned down an apparent approach in the summer from Blues declaring his loyalty to Watford) with Gianfranco Zola, Watford started making loan signings. They have made 14 in all – 12 of whom come from Pozzo’s other clubs along with Geoffrey Mujang-Bia from Standard Liege and Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea. This is where the controversy starts, as Championship clubs are not allowed to loan more than four from any domestic club in England (you may remember Blues once loaning three from Arsenal in Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba), and are not allowed to play more than five loanee players in a matchday squad. Blues have apparently held back further from loaning players due to this as they have five in their squad currently (Butland, Caddis, Morrison, Hall, and Thomas)
However, international loans between two windows are counted as transfers – and thus they don’t count into the total of loan players in a squad meaning Watford have just one player who is in their loan quota. Even more bizarrely, Watford have loaned out on-loan player Steve Leo Beleck to Stevenage (as they are perfectly entitled to do as it is between two transfer windows). Naturally, this has been met with some negative remarks with Crystal Palace Ian Holloway latest to voice his disapproval. Interestingly enough, considering his remarks on academy players being blocked from coming through, Watford managed to field four Watford academy graduates in their matchday 18 against Palace (as well as seven loaned players).
Affiliate clubs aren’t anything new – Arsenal formerly had an agreement with Beveren of the Belgian league, as did Manchester United with Royal Antwerp. Sheffield United have had affiliations with seven clubs internationally including a five year affiliation with Chinese club Chengdu Blades, who changed their name and badge to reflect their ownership by the Yorkshire-based outfit and even League One side Brentford have got into the act, signing a deal with Icelandic outfit UMF Selfoss.
But I must admit, the idea of being able to import a whole new first XI lock, stock and barrel doesn’t sit easy with me. It’s not just the idea of holding back players from this country – there are financial implications. As the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations start to be phased in this could be an easy way to circumvent wage caps and limits on spending. Likewise, you can imagine a big domestic team challenging the rule about only international loans not counting in the courts and then maybe turning teams in the lower leagues into reserve sides in all but name. England is special amongst major football leagues in having so many professional clubs and I think it’s one of the major points of heritage we should hang on to.
I don’t blame Watford for playing the system as they have – the loophole is there and if you are in a position to exploit it I guess then there is no reason not to – no one else is going to hold back. However, I wonder how it will affect them if they get promoted as I am unsure if the same rules apply in the top flight – would the Premier League allow a team to have so many borrowed players playing week in week out? Will this be a new way for English teams to attract investment from abroad – and if so, will it be to the detriment of the game here?