Team news vs Celtic: New loan trio Jeffrey Jey, Maurizio Lobina and Gabry Ponte could all be handed debuts.— St Johnstone 1884 (@stjohnstone1884) January 25, 2017
The above tweet made me do a double-take this morning...until I realized it was a reference to the members of Eiffel 65 and St. Johnstone's cringeworthy music video that has just gone viral and earned them some excellent publicity.
St. Johnstone don't actually have a player on loan at the moment, which puts them in the minority in the Scottish Premiership currently. Bringing in players on loan is becoming an increasingly popular option - ao much so that every Premiership club has done so at least once this season - even Celtic have borrowed Patrick Roberts from Manchester City, while Rangers have desperately tried to spin their temporary moves for Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman to give the impression that the duo are more than merely promising youngsters currently nowhere near the first XIs of Arsenal and Bournemouth respectfully.
Loaning players at this level tends to be cheap and offer little short-term risk; the parent club gets a small loan fee (or none at all), and if the player is a bust then he can be punted back at the end of the deal. St. Johnstone themselves got their fingers burned with Joe Gormley, as the Peterborough striker quickly decided full-time football wasn't for him and 'retired', before moving to a club in his native Northern Ireland.
Motherwell don't have one at the moment either, having wasted their time with Luka Belic; recent comments from Mark McGhee implied that he knew nothing about the West Ham player before bringing him north, but he was returned south of the border with zero fanfare at the end of 2016, no questions asked. I doubt McGhee is the only manager to
Of course, it's a rotten long-term strategy because if the player is any good the parent club will want them back - James Maddison did well enough at Aberdeen that Norwich have recalled him. No transfer fee, no nothing. Just a gap in the squad that needs filled again, and again, and again.
The loan system has benefits, of course. Sending players to lower division sides is beneficial for all parties - just ask Robert Snodgrass, who Livingston sent to Stirling Albion at one point. One objective of the SFA's Project Brave is to expand the use of development loans, so there are further opportunities for Premiership clubs' most promising youngsters. But we now have a situation where Scottish kids are now denied first team action by promising youngsters that their own club has signed on loan.
Players signed on loan by Premiership clubs this season (parent club in brackets)
Aberdeen: Ryan Christie (Celtic), James Maddison (Norwich)
Celtic: Patrick Roberts (Man City)
Dundee: Michael Duffy (Celtic)
Hamilton: Remi Matthews (Norwich)
Hearts: Tony Watt (Charlton)
Inverness: Larnell Cole (Fulham)
Kilmarnock: Charlee Adams (Birmingham), Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic), Flo Bojaj (Huddersfield), Scott Boyd (Ross County), Will Boyle (Huddersfield), Jonathan Burn (Middlesbrough), Oliver Davies (Swansea), George Green (Burnley), Luke Hendrie (Burnley), Sean Longstaff (Newcastle), Cal Roberts (Newcastle), Mark Waddington (Stoke), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle)
Motherwell: Luka Belic (West Ham)
Partick Thistle: Niall Keown (Reading)
Rangers: Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth), Jon Toral (Arsenal)
Ross County: Milan Lalkovic (Portsmouth), Jim O'Brien (Shrewsbury)
St. Johnstone: Joe Gormley (Peterborough)
Kilmarnock are the perfect example of how the use of loans at the top end of Scottish football is out of hand. They have loaned no fewer than thirteen players this season, eleven from English clubs. That's because whilst there is a limit on domestic loan moves per season, there are no such restrictions on moves between different countries. Lee Clark has exploited this to the full; seven of those loanees have already gone, with three of them lasting less than a month before leaving. Killie are a club with a reputation for developing youth; these temporary signings might keep them up this season (maybe not now Souleymane Coulibaly has gone), but what about next year? And the next? And in the meantime kids of their own who have potential, such as Iain Wilson, Dean Hawkshaw and Alan Frizzell, are left on the sidelines.
That's one way in which the system is being manipulated. The loan of Ryan Christie to Aberdeen yesterday raises another interesting possibility. A year ago there's no chance Celtic would have loaned the Dons a player, given their proximity in the title race, but now there's no such threat. But Christie fills the gap left by Maddison, giving Derek McInnes' side a boost.
Enough of a boost to finish ahead of Rangers? That's uncertain, but imagine that other Celtic reserves were offered to Aberdeen, or to Hearts. Efe Ambrose, Eoghan O'Connell (who has actually gone to Walsall), Liam Henderson, Nadir Ciftci, Kris Commons...all players who will play very few minutes for Celtic this season but who would improve those two sides. And, looking at the long-term, it would be in Celtic's interests to push Rangers down to fourth place, denying them prize money and a place in European football and keeping them very much the poorer half of the Gruesome Twosome.
Unlikely? Maybe. But it's an interesting thought. The current system allows such high jinks, and that's another reason why it needs tightened up. It'll be better for Scottish football in the long run.
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.