How do Loans Work in Soccer?

Even though the idea of having players on loan is not exclusive to soccer, various nuances make everything a little bit more complicated compared to the other popular sports in the States. If the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions transfers is “Moneyball”, well, the situation here is quite a bit different.

So, how do soccer player loans work?

There are various types of loans that we will discuss in this article, but firstly, let’s try to define the term loan. In sports (in this case soccer), a loan involves a certain player being able to temporarily play for a club other than the one to which they are currently contracted. Loan deals may last from a few weeks to a full season, sometimes persisting for multiple seasons at a time. We will focus on every detail mentioned in the definition later on.

That means that a player who already has a contract with a parent club can go on a loan deal. What about free agents? Can they be a part of a loan deal? Well, since free agents don’t have a contract with any club, they can opt to sign a short-term contract. When it comes to signing free agents various factors should be taken into consideration – age, injury-, and career history. 

Many clubs usually tend not to sign players who are over the age of 35 for example. That doesn’t mean that more experienced players without a contract don’t get to play anywhere else after their current contract expires, but they will most likely be used as squad depth players.

soccer player

When it comes to younger players, it’s not a common occurrence that a player under the age of, let’s say 23 (English Premier League sees this age as the age limit for young players) doesn’t have a contract. In that case, clubs must focus on other aforementioned factors – like the injury- and career history.
By the term injury history, we mean the number and severity of injuries that a certain player has had over the years. If a player at the age of 23 has already had a couple of surgeries, the probability of that player joining a top-level club is not that high. When we refer to the term career history, we are talking about the other factors that made that player not have a fresh contract and is a free agent at a young age – personal issues with teammates or staff, or even a criminal record in some cases. These factors are also quite important when a club wants to sign a player from another club on a loan deal.

Why would a club decide to do a loan deal?

There are many reasons why a club would opt for either letting go of one of their players or bringing a new one on a loan deal. If we take a look at English soccer, we will notice that many top-level clubs tend to send their youth stars to the lower tiers. That way, the young players can gain some playing time and a well-needed first-team experience. Sometimes it’s really hard for a young player to break through the first team right away. There aren’t that many wunderkinder being the main stars of their parent clubs at the age of 19 – there are some exceptions to this rule though.

What kinds of loans exist?

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are both short- and long-term loans. The length of these deals can vary and it depends on both sides. The most usual loan deals last somewhere around 6 months to a full season – but you might be surprised how short some of these deals might be.

Many lower-league English clubs sign players for even a couple of weeks during the winter transfer window which opens on the 1st of January – and closes on the 31st of the same month. The reason is that the schedule in late December and early January is quite hectic for many clubs, and there are many injuries that the current roster cannot cover. That’s why many really young or really experienced players tend to sign these types of short-term deals.

When it comes to the regular 6 month and full-season deals, these occur in almost every age group.

soccer players on pitch

Are there any differences between loan types in various European countries?

To put it simply – no, not really. The whole of Europe is fairly unanimous when it comes to the soccer transfer world. Something that is maybe a bit more common outside of the big 5 (English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian first division) is the higher frequency of loan fee deals. There’s not really a specific reason why it is more common outside of the big 5 but it might have to do something with the lower financial power of those leagues.

What is a loan fee?

As you might guess from the title, a loan fee is a special type of fee that the parent club receives for letting their player join another club on loan. Let’s see it in an example:

  • Everton wants to bring a player from Leeds on loan. 
  • Leeds’ roster is maybe not the best at the moment but they can afford to let go a player or two for the season.
  • Leeds’ board realizes that they could use some financial help for letting go of their players.
  • Everton is fine with the decision to pay a certain fee for the player since their roster is maybe not as solid as they would like it to be.
  • Both parties agree on the loan fee and the player joins the new club on a loan deal.

Can clubs recall players they sent on loans?

Of course – and it happens more often than you might think. Imagine a club having a terrible season – poor form plagued with injuries. Luckily, some of their players are out on loans. The club realizes that they put a comeback clause to the contract and they decide to activate it. The player is back at their parent club and is ready to help the team.

One of the most recent examples would be Nikolaj Moller’s return to his parent club – Arsenal, from a season-long loan spell with German outfit Viktoria Koln. Nikolaj was recalled after less than six months of the initial loan spell deal after performing at a very high level in Germany’s third division. Moller arrived at Arsenal in October of 2020 and after a string of impressive displays for his parent’s club’s youth side, he earned himself a loan deal that presented him with the chance to get some minutes at senior level under his belt.

Who pays for the salaries?

The party that in most cases pays for the whole salary of the loan contract is, of course, the loanee. There are various clauses that both sides can put into the contract – like the one we mentioned about recalling the player before the expiration.

In most cases, the loanee covers all the expenses, but clubs can often agree to pay a certain percentage of the salary. For example, Everton can pay the majority, around 70%, while Leeds can pay the rest – 30%.

It’s important to note that these special clauses that either club can put into the contract can vary. A club can potentially offer the loaned player various financial bonuses if the player manages to achieve certain goals. These clauses are more common with the long-term contracts that are not a loan, but even the short-term option can see various bonus clauses.

An example of the criteria for the achieved bonus would be – a certain amount of goals or assists per season; A certain amount of clean sheets if the loaned player is a goalkeeper (a clean sheet refers to a game in which the team has not conceded a goal). The bonus incentive usually works since the player is highly motivated to perform well. The players would not only potentially get the financial bonus, but also earn a permanent contract at the new club.

Some of the most famous loan deals in the history of soccer are:

Kylian Mbappé (season loan deal) – from AS Monaco to PSG in 2017-18

James Rodriguez (2-year loan deal) – from Real Madrid to Bayern Munich in 2017-19

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – from Barcelona to Inter Milan in 2010-11

Radamel Falcao – from Monaco to Manchester United in 2014-15

Fernando Torres – from Chelsea to AC Milan in 2014-15

Andy Carroll – from Liverpool to West Ham in 2012-13

Robinho – from Manchester City to Santos in 2010

Andriy Shevchenko – from Chelsea to AC Milan in 2008-09

Giovani Lo Celso – from Real Betis to Tottenham in 2019-20

Duván Zapata – from Sampdoria  to Atlanata in 2018-19

Carlos Tévez – from West Ham to Manchester United in 2007-09

Nicolò Barella – from Cagliari to Inter Milan in 2019-20

Mattia Destro – from Genoa to Roma in 2015-16

Gonzalo Higuaín (Six months loan deal) – from Juventus to AC Milan in 2018-19

Philippe Coutinho – from Barcelona to Bayern Munich in 2019-20