The temporary transfer of players is practiced regularly in professional football. It is used to allow the development of young players who do not yet have sufficient playing experience or a good enough sporting level to play in their owner club.
This suggests that players that are on loan are relatively young and probably younger than the rest of the squad. Indeed, players on loan are on average younger (24.41 years of age) than footballers belonging to employer teams (26.54 years). The most represented age group of players on loan is 22 years of age. Loans, however, by no means just involve footballers at the start of their career. Indeed, only 27.9% of the total number of players on loan are 21 years of age or under, while almost half (47.9%) are 24 or over.
The considerable percentage of relatively experienced players among those on loan indicates that this strategy is not uniquely used with the aim of developing the potential of young players. Several other objectives of clubs could be:
Contrary to what one might have thought, the percentage of players on loan is higher for players aged between 22 and 25 (13.4%) than among footballers aged 21 or under (12.7%). After having signed their first professional contract and having become part of the first team squad of their owner club, many players do not find their place and are loaned out to other teams, which is often a prelude to a permanent departure.
Having the initial purpose of loaning players for development "debunked", having a closer look from the top down seems appropriate.
The percentage of players on loan varies considerably according to league. The greatest percentages were observed in the two highest levels of Italian competitions: the Serie A (19.0%) and the Serie B (22.8%). The proportion of players on loan is also high in the Spanish second division, as well as in the third and fourth English divisions.
The presence at the top of the rankings of several lower level championships of associations with well-established leagues indicates the tendency of the most developed clubs to offer contracts to more players than they actually need, by relying on less competitive teams to nurture their development. This strategy is also widespread within clubs of the Argentinean top division (28 clubs).
Slicing further down and onto the club level, it can be seen that the record high in the percentage of players on loan was measured for Buenos Aires’s Barracas Central (50.0%). Frosinone Calcio, as one of the top sites in Serie B scores also very high (48,3%). Besides the given Italian teams, Girona FC (ESP) and Schalke 04 (GER) are also from the Big5 leagues. Generally, the strategy of taking players on loan from top clubs has both advantages, such as having players at its disposal that would otherwise be inaccessible, and disadvantages, such as the constant rotation of squads.
Numerous BIG5 league teams figure among the clubs loaning out the most players present on the 1st March in the 75 leagues analysed. Arsenal tops the list with 25 footballers loaned out, followed by the Italians of Atalanta.
Eight English clubs are in the top20 places, which probably reflects the economic strength of the Premier League.
The recent limits placed on international loans for players over 21 years of age by the FIFA specifically target the wealthiest clubs and aim at preventing them from hoarding too many players. While the limits introduced can effectively function as a deterrent, many of the clubs who are particularly active in loaning out players now turn towards a strategy of multi-ownership. The latter consists of taking over other clubs, usually abroad, where they can place footballers without having to loan them out.
Analysing the level of competition the players are loaned to make is another topic of interest. In 63.5% of cases, the clubs where players are loaned have a lower sporting level to the owner clubs. In 20.9% of instances, the level is equivalent, while players on loan to more competitive teams only account for 15.5% of total loans. This result confirms that loans principally serve the interests of the wealthiest clubs, by allowing them to control the career of more players than they could have in their squad and develop.
Last but not least, having a look on positions makes it clear that Forwards (13.1%), followed by Midfielders (9,1%), are the two most likely positions that are loaned out, while goalkeepers are the least likely (6,2%).
Poli R, Ravenel L & Besson R. Global analysis of player loans. CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report, 2023, 3/83. https://www.football-observatory.com/IMG/sites/mr/mr83/en/