Everyone else does it - Why Luton need to take advantage of the Premier League loan market
Nathan Jones has been open about preferring to “rarely take loans" without there being an opportunity to make the move permanent. This is the case with Ethan Horvath, wherein it’s been suggested that Luton Town do indeed have an option to make the transfer permanent at the end of the season. With fixture congestion on the horizon following on from the World Cup, the Hatters will need to take advantage of the loan market in order to keep pace in the race for the playoffs.
In the 2020/21 season we saw the impact that having a Premier League outfield loan can have on team performance. The Hatters were off the back of a season that saw their last gasp survival in the Championship in the 2019/20 season, and brought in Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall from Leicester City. At this point, we were still a team in transition and it was Nathan Jones' first full season back at the helm. The only permanent (and significant) summer additions were Jordan Clark, James Bree and Tom Lockyer, with Kal Naismith and Elijah Adebayo joining in the January window.
The majority of the team that had narrowly escaped the drop the previous season was kept in tact. There were two major catalysts which propelled us from barely surviving relegation to midfield mediocrity, those being Nathan Jones is simply a better manager than Graeme Jones, and the performances of Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who cleaned up at the end of season awards and has since cemented himself into the heart of the Leicester midfield.
After the 2020/21 season and securing a respectable midtable finish, we then saw a major squad churn, with players such as James Collins, George Moncur, Kazenga LuaLua and Matty Pearson amongst those leaving on free transfers. These players were savvily replaced with a mix of youth, in Allan Campbell and Fred Onyedinma as well as experience in Henri Lansbury, Cameron Jerome and Amari’i Bell. Nathan Jones had completely overhauled the squad, gearing it towards athleticism, high pressing, in your face football.
It was a successful season, finishing 6th in the league and giving a good account of ourselves in the play-off semi final, considering the severe injury crisis we were experiencing towards the end of the campaign. After showing progression over our last three seasons in the Championship going from 19th to 12th to 6th, it’s no secret that Nathan Jones and the board of directors want to see continued forward momentum whilst keeping footballing operations ticking over in a sustainable manner with minimal risk.
In order to take the next step this season, recruitment was important. So far, we have seen impressive performances from current top scorer Carlton Morris, and since coming into the team, Alfie Doughty has shown why Nathan Jones has been trying to sign him since his Charlton days. However, a glaring miss in our summer recruitment was a lack of central defenders or a defensive minded midfielder. With Lansbury not being able to play 46 games straight, or three games a week, as well as an injury crisis throughout our backline, suggests that it’s time to recruit players who are out of favour at Premier League clubs, or not quite ready for first team action. However, in order keep pushing forward and to take the next step, perhaps we should have brought in an outfield loanee from the Premier League.
In the Championship taking loanees from the Premier League have shown great success, for example Nottingham Forest’s team that won the playoffs last season had 4 loanees, who were all Premier League players, except for Djed Spence. Examples in the Championship of teams recruiting loanees to great effect this season include; that lot up the road, who have loaned in Hamza Choudhury, a highly effective defensive midfielder, Millwall loaning in Charlie Cresswell, who has mostly impressed at the back.
A more extreme example are Birmingham City, who last season signed Tahith Chong on loan, who single handedly demolished us at home last season, somehow this season they have signed him on a permanent deal from Manchester United. The rest of their midfield is comprised of loans; Bielik, who is from Derby, and would have played higher, if he had not been riddled with injuries, Hannibal Mejbri a tough tackling, big haired central midfielder from Manchester United and Emmanuel Longelo, a speedy left wing back from West Ham. Two of their back 3 are loanee’s too, with their standout player this season being Auston Trusty, on loan from Arsenal. In total 5 of Birmingham’s last starting XI were loanees, with 4 having parent clubs in the Premier League. I am not suggesting that we load up our squad with loanees á la Birmingham or Nottingham Forest from last season. However, I am suggesting that because we have 2 spaces remaining in our 25 man squad, that we bite the bullet and recruit a specialist defensive midfielder and a centre back for the second half of the season from a Premier League club, with no intention of making the deal permanent. As shown by our 2020/21 season with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, a player with such quality can elevate all those around him. If we were to recruit a player of similar quality to Austin Trusty at centre back, or Hamza Choudhury in defensive midfield, with the rest of our squad in place, we could not only offer rotation amongst the backline, but could also rest Lansbury intermittently, without playing Clark, Berry or Pelly-Ruddock in the defensive midfield role, thus being deprived of their skills further up the pitch.
The requirement for high quality rotation options in defence and defensive midfield are further demonstrated by how busy the second half of the season, which will be even more compressed than usual due to the World Cup. Following on from the World Cup, our season resumes on December 10th and for the festive period we will play 4 games in 13 days. After this gruelling run of fixtures, we will finally reach the January transfer window. I hope that sense prevails, and high quality enforcements are already being discussed by the recruitment department.