Rumours emerged yesterday that one of Leeds potential summer targets, Ryan Kent, may ‘down tools’ at Liverpool with the aim of forcing a transfer. Kent has played 104 professional league games, none have which have been for his contracted club Liverpool. I'm sure in many ways he feels more like a Rangers (Or even Barnsley) player than a Liverpool player. He'd quite happily be plying his trade in Scotland again this season but for the price tag Liverpool have slapped on him. A price tag Rangers and Leeds were unwilling to pay. With no prospect of him playing for Liverpool this season he is just a commodity to them, an asset on a ledger. It makes you contemplate the position of young footballers in the modern game.
Likewise, Jack Harrison has played 40 games for Leeds United, not a single one for Manchester City. A promising career in the USA curtained, why? Because City saw him as an investment? An opportunity to make some money rather than a serious contender to get into their first team. Harrison must surely identify more as a Leeds player now, this being the second season in a row on loan at Elland Road. His summer was spent working hard to impress a manager he admired who he thought would give him a chance, that was Marcelo Bielsa rather than Pep Guardiola. But what is in store for him at the end of the season with the £20m price Man City are asking?
We are guilty of this ourselves of course, Lewie Coyle, 15 appearances for Leeds United but 83 for Fleetwood on this third consecutive loan spell. Coyle must be regarded as more of a Fleetwood player than a Leeds player. Don’t these young players deserve more? They are humans with hopes, dreams and career to fulfil. Not commodities to be sat on by clubs, their careers sacrificed for a profit. Leeds have released several young players over the summer, despite protests from the fans, who were down the pecking order. Halme, Wilks and Oduor to name a few. It has to be better for these players to secure a permanent move if there is no prospect of first team football rather than being pushed around on loan.
It's sadly one of the unfortunate consequences of the money which is in the game now. These young players sign professional terms with top Premiership teams on £25,000+ per week, with little prospect of game time behind the multi million pound players. They have to play to develop, but if they aren't Premiership standard, then they need to go to the Championship/SPL for the closest equivalent. But the money hamstrings clubs so loans are the only affordable way and even these are becoming less financially viable now.
It's harsh to tar all the top clubs with the money-grabbing brush, but it certainly seems the case that many are guilty of farming prospects who they don't see a long term future in. Kalas was on loan away from Chelsea for 7 seasons before finally getting a permanent move away. Players such as Coyle will have been loaned out with the intention of coming back in contention for a first team place, but ultimately has been overtaken in the pecking order. But he'll be on too high a wage for Fleetwood to commit to along with a fee, and so he's loaned back. At least he has continuity though - players like Baker and Izzy Brown have been all over the place and that must be incredibly difficult for a young person to cope with on top of the pressure of playing professional football.
Ultimately these kids are being shackled early in case they become stars, but then having their development stunted by lack of game time and then are ultimately got rid of... Harrison is unlikely to play for City now, but he's working hard to earn a move to Leeds at the end of the year, and if we go up a permanent move is a real possibility. If we don’t he starts all over again with little hope of first team football at the Etihad.
But what can be done? It’s fair for clubs to expect a return on the investment they have made but hanging massive price tags around the necks of these young footballers limiting their options for finding a permanent move and a good career? The Premier League is awash with overseas players, surely it’s a detriment to the national game a large number of these younger players are not being given a chance to shine. The larger clubs and their approved academies should have a responsibility to develop player for the future of the game, not for profit at the expense of young players futures.
Ryan Kent and the life of a perpetual loanee, modern footballs commodities