Paying some dues on the way up
Brendan Galloway's arrival at The Hawthorns earlier this week reversed the trend of the summer thus far which had seen plenty of Albion's young breed heading away from home for loan spells at other clubs lower down the league pyramid, eight of them in total thus far heading on their way to gain experience elsewhere.
It represents something of a step change for the club for in recent seasons, few have ventured out, certainly not this side of Christmas, but have instead stayed with us, playing under 18s and 21s football for us.
Although the senior competition has been revamped this year as Premier League 2 and the age group extended to primarily under 23s, Albion's hierarchy have clearly concluded that a number of our youngsters will be better served by playing in the man's game where points mean pounds not praise and where you are more likely to find yourself being smashed into the middle of next Tuesday week by a six foot square slab of League Two muscle who doesn’t much care that you’re from a fancy Premier League academy.
It’s a time honoured route that looks to be coming back into vogue. In Sunday’s edition of Albion News – back to normal at £3.50 this week – Ben Foster is our main interviewee and, among other things, he recalls, “Going out on loan was great for me, it’s the most important thing for a young player, it really is. You can do all the training you want, you can be brilliant day to day, but it’s when you step over that white line and play in that 90 minutes of football that it really counts, that’s when you get judged.
“If they get relegated, the fans are up in arms, there might be job losses at the club, it is all so important, it really does matter. It is such a big part of growing up as a footballer to get out there and taste that pressure and start to understand just what this job really is all about. The loan spells I had were one of the best things I ever did”.
Ben isn’t alone among current Albion men who used time away from their parent club to further learn their trade. Jonny Evans was at Sunderland for a year over two separate spells in his early days at Manchester United and Chris Brunt kick-started his career on loan at Sheffield Wednesday before getting a permanent move there.
Craig Dawson went back to Rochdale once we’d bought him, then sharpened his skills at Bolton prior to clocking up a century of games for the Throstles while if you’re looking for academy graduates for whom it worked out, look no further than Saido Berahino who went out to Northampton, Brentford and Peterborough.
And for those who argue that loan players maybe lack commitment, let me point you in the direction of a few instances that disprove the rule. Remember the “famous five” of deadline day in March 2000, the players Gary Megson brought in to save us dropping into the third tier? Georges Santos and Neil Clement were mere loanees at the time and both were instrumental in keeping us off the life support machine. Of course, Clem then went on to play 300 games and win three promotions with us once he’d done the decent things and signed on full time.
Then there was that big lad, Romelu Lukaku. There didn’t seem much lack of passion from him as he was scoring goals all over the shop and carrying off virtually every player of the year award you could think of, was there?
If Brendan can make that kind of impact, he’ll have had a brilliant season. And if he does that, I reckon we should pinch his Sat Nav and stop him going back to Goodison.