FIFA changed the rules on loan deals last week. From June onwards, clubs will only be allowed to let eight players leave on temporary deals and bring eight players in on a similar arrangement. Those numbers will reduce from seven to six through 2023 to June 2024 following dialogue between the world governing body and the relevant parties, with FIFA revealing in a statement that: “The discussions with the different stakeholder groups have laid the foundations for this new framework and ensured that the new rules are firmly anchored on the following core objectives: developing young players; promoting competitive balance; preventing the hoarding of players.”
It’s pretty clear which clubs this kind of loophole-closing is aimed at. Clue: it isn’t ones in the Scottish Professional Football League. Only those living in a cave could have failed to notice the cottage-industry going on at Chelsea (and Manchester City to a lesser extent) in recent seasons, whereby clubs owned by some of the richest men on the planet have stockpiled a weapons-grade amount of talented youngsters and then flogged them for loan fees – and subsequently large transfer fees – to balance the Financial Fair Play books over the years. At one point last season, the London outfit had 33 players parked at various clubs around Europe. That follows a long-running trend by the Stamford Bridge club. They employed this strategy most notably at Vitesse Arnhem, where they would simply park any number of up-and-coming individuals to either groom for their own first team (highly unlikely) or with a view to fattening their geese for selling at the market.
Celtic’s Islam Feruz learned the hard way the downside of entering the Chelsea loan system – a kind of brand repackaging factory that allows the Londoners to slap a ‘Harrods-style sticker on to its goods’ – and is now no longer in the game in part because of poor handling by his advisers but also as a result of poor loan choices (OFI Crete and Blackpool) by his club and we’ve already seen the travails experienced by a similarly ill-conceived move for Billy Gilmour to Norwich City.
The rule changes are welcome but the new regulations don’t really go far enough. For a start, they will not affect players under the age of 21 or those who have been club-trained and thus it will not limit their respective clubs’ ability to loan them out – the exact category that Gilmour and Feruz is/was in.
Off with his head
Edinburgh announced the ‘return’ of mascot Flinty McStag in an excruciating social media post last week in which current first-team stars speculated on the peak physical condition the oversized plush toy had got himself into. It might just be me, but mascots in fancy dress costumes conjure up gaudy images of a bygone era when It’s A Knockout – somewhat unbelievably – was one of the most popular shows on television. It raises a question, too: who or what is a mascot for in the 21st century? To make us all laugh? The kids? Really?
Flinty’s previous fate is actually much funnier. As a colleague reminded me when I asked him about some of Flinty’s adventures this week: “The suit smelled disgusting and the last time I saw him was when had his head stolen by French fans in a pub after a game years ago. It wasn’t returned.”
A salute to those Robespierres of rugby.
Muir’s magical charm
One of the perks of a previous incarnation as Herald sports editor was the chance to meet some of my sporting heroes. Oranje legend Johann Neeskens did not disappoint: there was an air of mystery about him, and his tobacco-tinged accent seemed to give him a gravitas not just because of the lucidity of his arguments but because he was well-versed enough to be making them about Scottish football and its importance on the world stage. At no point did I stammer or stutter in his company, however. Laura Muir was a different matter altogether, though. As part of said sports editor duties I was present the night she was awarded Scottish athlete of the year for 2019 and was introduced to her as a sponsor. But boy could I think of anything to say to her. Starstruck? Possibly. I shall watch with intrigue as she goes in search of the 1000m world indoor record in Birmingham next month – not least because it is the same venue where she broke the European indoor record, simultaneously setting the second fastest time ever over the distance in 2017.
Bologna’s secret sauce
If you’ve been paying attention over recent seasons you’ll know that Bologna have become one of the most astute clubs in European football for talent identification. There is a clear pattern of second- and third-tier outfits across the continent who have come to the conclusion that in order to remain relatively competitive in a financial and playing capacity then buying promising youngsters cheaply and selling them for exponentially higher fees is a sound business model. It is one Bologna have embraced with gusto. In their efforts to look under every stone they have already bought Aaron Hickey to the club. Meanwhile, Luis Binks, a very highly-rated Scotland eligible centre-back who was Thierry Henry’s first signing for FC Toronto, also arrived in Emilia-Romagna in 2020. Hickey found himself playing at right back in Friday’s 2-1 defeat by Bologna – left-backs playing out of position was a feature of a previous Monday kick-off – which is perhaps the reason why the Serie A outfit are now weighing up a bid for Aberdeen’s Calvin Ramsay for the opposite flank to Hickey.
‘January is a notoriously difficult month to do business’.
It is a cliché that has become so ubiquitous when discussing the winter transfer window that it is almost possible to believe it is actually true. It’s easy to see why that might might prevail but it doesn not stand up to scrutiny. Last year ‘only’ £70m was spent by Premier League clubs in the month but it was clearly an outlay that was affected by the ongoing financial restrictions placed on clubs because of the pandemic. A year earlier clubs in England’s top flight chucked £230m at solving their respective problems. In Scotland, while most players switched clubs for free or on loan deals, there were still 85 transfers registered in and out of the country during January and early February – more than a quarter of which took place on deadline day. A sign of the return to a semblance of financial prosperity – or perhaps desperation (take your pick) – comes with the revelation that for this month alone 82 transfers – just three less than all of last year’s equivalent window – have already been signed off by the Scottish Football Association.
The number of shots Scott Jamieson dropped in his first five holes at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as a cheque for $1million slithered from the one-shot overnight leader’s grasp in the first hour or so of play in the UAE.