Rather unusually, the January transfer window proved to be a fruitful one. Manchester City broke their record transfer fee with the signing of Aymeric Laporte, Alexis Sanchez swapped the Emirates Stadium for Old Trafford and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finally departed Borussia Dortmund after literally years of transfer speculation. But perhaps one of the more intriguing transfer tales that unfurled in the window’s final days was Ademola Lookman’s loan move from Everton to RB Leipzig.
Lookman, who has impressed as mainly a lively impact sub, looked set to join Derby on loan but deep into negotiations Lookman insisted that he join the controversial RB Leipzig – who are huge advocates of youth development and also second in the Bundesliga table. Loan moves abroad are scarce inclusions on Premier League players’ CVs unless you’ve come through the ranks at Chelsea. Much h as been made of Chelsea’s fluid, revolving door policy, with a lot of criticism being placed on the lack of graduates to the first team fold. This season, Chelsea have a staggering 36 players out on loan but interestingly 12 of them are on loan abroad.
Of Chelsea’s current squad, only Thibaut Courtois and Andreas Christensen have managed to turn loan spells abroad into first team consistency but arguably these multiple-year spells at Atletico Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach respectively have helped to develop these two players in ways that British coaching would not. Many of the Chelsea youth players on loan currently will probably not become first-team regulars but their dispatch abroad, most often to partner club Vitesse Arnhem, does arm the lucky few who manage to graduate to the first team with a diverse set of experiences and a greater sense of tactical awareness and flexibility.
“There are also the cultural advantages. The loan abroad should be to footballers what the Erasmus scheme is to university students. An opportunity to live in a new country, experience a new culture and maybe even learn a new language.”
Coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger have transformed their teams into vibrant, cosmopolitan affairs that have worn away at the brutal, no-nonsense exterior of British football. In the current age of English football, one inundated with imports from around the world, their influence will forever alter the Premier League and how it exists. For the English players and the foreign, ‘homegrown’ talent that Premier League clubs bring in, they can either stubbornly rage against the revolution or adjust to the swiftness of change. Ademola Lookman seems to be siding with the latter.
There are also the cultural advantages. The loan abroad should be to footballers what the Erasmus scheme is to university students. An opportunity to live in a new country, experience a new culture and maybe even learn a new language. Away from the swaddling of home life and the English parent club, it also encourages young players to grow up. The harsh insertion into an unfamiliar backdrop where the footballer is the outsider forces a quick acclimatisation. Being forced to wrestle with these problems and adapt quickly, to become a leader and not just another cog in a team.
I can’t help but feel that these kind of experiences would benefit our younger players. Two of Chelsea’s most recent academy graduates who have been tipped to go far, Nathan Ake and Tammy Abraham, have benefitted from searching for first-team football elsewhere albeit on British shores. In fact, Ake found his loan spell at Bournemouth so useful he was recalled midway through his loan spell by Chelsea due to his good form only to find himself occupying the bench as backup. Ake responded by transferring to Bournemouth permanently the following summer in 2017 and this season he has thrived. Few young footballers comfortably wallowing in the reserves of a top 6 team would be so bold.
“Under the tutelage of Leipzig’s coaches, who are highly encouraging of their youth players, Lookman will probably learn more in the next five or six months than he would’ve learned in the last year at Everton.”
Another young, promising defender, West Ham’s Reece Oxford, seems to have benefitted abroad in Germany – a blueprint for Lookman perhaps. Oxford, who after impressing for West Ham drew interest from Manchester City, rejoined Borussia Monchengladbach on loan after enjoying his stint at the German club during the first half of this season. Like Ake, Oxford found his chances scarce at Upton Park despite an impressive debut aged just 16 and West Ham’s less than impressive form over recent seasons. At Monchengladbach, Oxford seems more valued and has benefitted from seemingly more focused development. Lookman, who ironically scored the winner on his debut for Leipzig against Monchengladbach a few weekends ago, may have the same vision in mind for himself.
The debut goal, confidently put away after receiving a pass from the Liverpool-bound Naby Keita, may be as good as it gets for Lookman and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Under the tutelage of Leipzig’s coaches, who are highly encouraging of their youth players, Lookman will probably learn more in the next five or six months than he would’ve learned in the last year at Everton. Whether he shines or burns out in Germany, Lookman will come back to England richer for it.