If you want to succeed with youth development it’s important to give young players match experience. Besides training and mentoring, playing regular senior matches is one of the factors which aids the development of youth.
Today I’ll share my approach to ship out young players on loan to get regular match minutes. You’ll learn more about how to provide the necessary match experience and how to identify suitable loan targets. I’ll examine the approaches and methods I use to find suitable clubs and divisions to loan the player out to and the importance of using loans to develop players.
This guide to using loans in Football Manager to enhance the progression of youth elaborates upon section 8 of why your players won’t develop in Football Manager, written by youth development guru DeRaamFM, by sharing my personal approach to sending youngsters out on loans.
Sending out young players on loans – An approach to Youth Development in Football Manager
Succeeding with youth development might mean you have to use every trick in the book to aid a player’s development. There are so many factors that influence the progression rate of youth. It’s a careful process of making them ready for the first team, where you need to take into account injury risk, current abilities, training performance, match and training load.
Your attention to detail will determine whether it turns out as a success story or not. It requires a constant focus and methodical approach to the player’s happiness and morale. There are constant dilemmas and decisions to be made over each individual.
We all want to see our youngsters reaching their potential ability level… AND we all want to line up with the most competitive squad no matter you’re managing Benfica or Nottingham Forest.
Finding space for each and every promising youngster in or around the first team might be difficult. Let’s be real. Most players in your squad will never be good enough to reach the first team. No matter, your task will be to let everyone within the club reach their highest potential.
Since every player’s personality and vision about themselves are unique, your approach to player development needs to vary. What might have worked for one individual may not work for another. Otherwise, the career path of one individual might be quite different to another despite eventually reaching the same level.
Your approach to squad management and how you balance every player’s happiness and needs according to the agreed playing time and future plans can both hamper and benefit player development. Just face it. You’re probably not able to give each member of your youth teams similar chances to reach first-team football. And you’re probably not able to give each individual enough senior match experience as required due to the fierce competition both between and within the squads.
Using loans to enhance the progression of a player’s abilities can be the solution you are searching for!
So let me share how I approach youth development by using loans to give young players match experience.
The Importance of Match Experience
To succeed with youth development the focus should be on training first and foremost for anyone under the age of 18. Here your attention would go first and foremost to improving players’ technical and mental attributes. Don’t worry too much about physical as they will improve naturally with age.
When turned 18, more focus and attention should be set on match experience and minutes on the pitch. Basically, the player requires more tactical knowledge to get ready for a higher playing level.
For a player to develop and come close to reaching his potential ability the player must have continuity in training as well as playing matches. It must be a balance of quality, both relating to training and playing level. Besides having quality coaches who work with the players on the training ground, the players need regular match experience at an appropriate level which makes them better at learning necessary skills relating to their position and role.
This is an essential part of player development.
By giving players match experience they will improve areas of the game relating to their position and role.
This means that a midfielder will develop attributes such as teamwork, decisions and off the ball whilst defenders will naturally learn concentration, anticipation and positioning. What they will develop ties in with their position on the pitch and duty.
The quality of the matches the player is part of is an important factor as well. It won’t help a player’s development to play for the first team too early. Yes, it can give him a push in the right direction, but it pays to be patient. What’s important to keep in mind is that he might not have the technical or tactical skills to work under the current instructions, or he may lack the physical abilities to play at the tempo of the game.
Similarly, the players’ will not learn anything if playing against opponents far below their level. Sure, every match experience will slightly aid his development but playing at an appropriate level according to his operating level will let you see far greater effects.
Player’s Operating Level vs Playing Level
A great source of progression is to play against better oppositions in or around the player’s current operating level. This information is visible within the Coach report and lets you see which playing level each player can perform at.
Knowing which playing level your B-Team, Reserves or Under-19s are at can be helpful in your quest to develop youth. This will also come in handy in the quest to find suitable loan clubs which I’ll discuss more later on. By visiting the league overview you’ll also see how the specific competition ranks according to other competitions at similar reputation level.
Using the knowledge of the reputation of the competition and give players minutes on the pitch at their current operating level or slightly above will be helpful. Some will progress more by playing for the Under-23 team throughout the season, while others may need higher standards to develop. It all ties in with their personality, current abilities, their strength and weaknesses.
A valid question in this instance is to ask yourself whether a player is good enough to play for the first team or may fall through? How far away is he to take the level? Visiting the Development Centre or examine the coach report can give you the answers your searching for. The Development Centre you’ll get brought to the attention of suitable first-team candidates.
Match Minutes and its effects?
Before looking closer into how you can give match experience it’s necessary to dip into the topic of match minutes. As far as I know, there are no golden rules to the number of match minutes necessary to see a progression. In fact, every player will develop to a varying degree if given minutes on the pitch.
This does not mean you shall throw your youngsters onto the pitch at the very first opportunity. It’s not certain it will aid a player’s development playing against opponents far above their level.
What you have to take into account are each players fitness level, overall training and match load. Some players will progress more by feature in only 50% of the total amount of matches, whilst others can play 60-90% and still develop.
For the youngest players, less is often more. This means that you keep track of their fitness level to ensure they don’t get jaded or injured.
For the Under-23s and below it might be beneficial to rotate the squad and make sure every player, at least the ones you have faith in, plays a minimum of 75 minutes per match. It might mean a heavier rotation of the starting line-ups but match performance and results are subordinate match experience.
How many minutes you give each player depends on their personality, natural fitness and injury susceptibility.
It might not be beneficial to see the same players play week in and week out. Some would benefit from a week of rest where the focus is only at training.
Giving a player 15 minutes or below of match experience will in most instances not be very helpful. It can give them a boost in confidence to get onto the pitch when the team is playing well, but in regard to the development factor, the increase is limited and therefore difficult to observe.
Similarly, a player might not develop as expected if he plays week in and week out. The strain from matches will eventually affect the training performance and its effects. I’m sure there are cases where players develop no matter the number of matches but it’s essential to find a balance between training and match experience relevant to their individual needs.
Let us look closer at how you can provide essential match experience in the next chapter.
How To Provide Necessary Match Experience?
There are several ways to give players the necessary match experience to develop themselves. My approach is often varied. As a result, there are no settled rules as I have a number of different options to choose from. It all depends on the fixture list and the respective players’ match sharpness.
But through years of expertise, I’ve come to these conclusions which may help you to give young players match experience which they need to develop.
- Promote breakthrough prospects and youngsters with massive potential to the first team. Let them train with the more experienced players and make them available to play for the Under-23, B-Team or Reserves. All according to their current abilities.
- I tend to promote three to five of the best talents. This makes them eligible to be mentored by First Team members.
- Let them get a taste to the senior playing level and select one to three of these prospects to travel with the first team. Slowly introduce them to senior match experience by letting them get 10 to 20 minutes from time to time. It’s better to substitute them on in matches against teams in the bottom half of the league.
- Throughout a season these players may record 10 to 15 appearances for the first team by simply getting substituted on in the last minutes of the match – without taking into account starting appearances.
- Let them share the enthusiasm of winning matches by substituting them on for the last 20 minutes in matches you lead comfortably. As a result, their confidence and morale will improve. With increased morale comes better training performances.
- Select your best young players in the starting line-up for cup matches and unimportant matches (e.g when being drawn against teams from divisions below you). Another situation can be if you’re already out of the CL or Europa League. Perhaps you find yourself in the middle of the table without any risks or chances to be relegated or promoted. Give your youth a chance!
- Use the second half of the season to let these players start matches before you replace them with more experienced players in the second half to settle the score.
- Trust your youth by rotating your starting line-ups for heavy fixture lists. It may cause you some points in the short run, but will give lots in return for the long term.
By following this approach, you will allow your young players to have playing time on a varied scale. They will rank up 75 to 90 minutes at their appropriate playing level, such as feature for the Under-23s. They might get anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes for the senior team. It all depends on the opponent, the score and the fitness level of the regular squad players and the youngsters.
P.S. By promoting your best young players to the first team you’ll ensure you got options if you encounter injury crises. You got players to push the more experienced players. Additionally, you got alternatives if a specific player’s form drops.
Which Players Are Suitable to Loan Out?
With a competitive squad, it’s impossible to give all youth match minutes for the seniors. As a result, it’s important to find other solutions to give the player match experience. One way is to take charge of the Under-23s or Under-19s and take care of squad selection and line ups yourself. Another option is to send the player out on loan.
Since most players will benefit more from playing regularly senior matches loans can be a great solution. Especially, if the player is someway off the necessary abilities or you got too many players eligible for the same positions.
Finding suitable loan targets can be as easy as visiting the Development Centre and update yourself on the players who need attention. The backroom staff (herein the Head of Youth Development or whoever in charge of ‘Providing Youth Development Information’) will hand recommendations of players who need more playing time and more match experience.
Another option is to browse your squads for players who either struggle to get appearances for your team. It may be players with great potential that you can’t find space for within your tactics or players who find themselves in between Reserves and First Team level.
One issue may be players who want more playing time than what you can give them despite them being likely future wonderkids prospects.
Finding suitable players to loan out can be a dilemma. Often you favor keeping them within the club to have full control of their development at the expense of playing football at a lower level than what you’ve wished for.
Paying attention to the development advice within the Development Centre or via personal player progression observations from your staff can help you find suitable loan targets. These player progression observations may be brought to you at monthly summary inbox messages. Pay attention to advice such as ‘Needs More match experience at a higher level’.
All players over the age of 17 are eligible to be put on the loan list in Football Manager. There are some leagues that let you place 16-year-olds on the loan list, but it doesn’t mean you should.
My preference is to identify suitable outgoing loan targets between the age of 19 and 23. It’s very rare I send players at the age of 18 or younger out on loan. It may happen if the reserve level is too poor or there are risks of unhappiness by keeping them at the club over their own will.
As you might know, match sharpness and injury risks affects each other. Since lack of match sharpness will increase the injury risk, and injuries hamper player development it’s important to reduce the injury risk.
Paying attention to players with lacking match sharpness is, therefore, one way to find suitable players to loan out.
Loans can also be a solution if the progress stagnates.
A Case Study of Benfica
In the current Benfica save I’m doing, I got several future prospects and breakthrough candidates. It’s difficult to give everyone a similar chance. At the beginning of pre-season I promoted Goncalo Ramos, Ronaldo Camara, Filipe Cruz, Paulo Bernardo and Rafael Brito.
In the case of Ronaldo Camara and Martim Neto, who is only 17, the most likely playing level will be playing for the B-Team. But with the number of players between 18 and 20 I can’t promise them regular football. As a result, I’ve made them available for the Under-23.
The B Team features a great number of potential Liga NOS players. Tiago Araújo, Henrique Pereira, Gerson Sousa, Ilija Vukotic and Ùmaro Embalo. Besides Vukotic, these are all typical wingers featuring quickness, dribbling, crossing and flair. Take into account Diogo Almeida, Sergio Andrade and David Barrero and we’re well-stocked!
With only two positions available within my 2-3-2-3 formation it has to go out of the development of some.
Paulo Bernardo, on the other hand, was called up to replace Pizzi which I had hoped to move on, but without any offers, he’s fallen behind in the pecking order and become a regular B team player. With great progress and performances, he’s one to keep attention at for the second half of the season.
Diogo Nascimento on the other hand is one with great potential who have struggled to get necessary match minutes. A technically skilled player who excels playing between the lines and feeds the forwards with through balls. The only con is that I don’t use a formation that suits him. It’s either to retrain him into a central midfielder or With zero appearances for the B team or improve his quickness and finishing to get familiar with the shadow striker role.
With the coming winter transfer window coming up, I’ve received a great picture on my squads, who to put my attention on and who are suitable to loan out.
In the following chapter, I’ll use the example of Diogo Nascimento, João Ferreira and Henrique Pereira and show you how to make them available for loans and how I find suitable loan clubs for them.
Placing Young Players on Loan: The solution with lacking match sharpness
In Football Manager there are three different ways of making a player available for loan. Following I’ll simply go through the different approaches using the example with the players listed above.
1. Place on Loan List
The most basic option is to put the player on the loan list. At the age of 18, Henrique Pereira is one who falls between B Team level and Under-23s. I’ve promoted him to the B-Team and made him available to play for the Under-23 for 90 minutes, but my Under-23 Manager has favored Samuel Pedro – one with less potential and abilities. Don’t ask me why, but it’s not ideal at all!
To put the player on the loan list simply go to;
Player > Transfers > Transfer Status and select Make Available for Loan
This will notify clubs about his availability and hopefully, some will come forward with a bid.
2. Put on Development List
Another option is to let your Director of Football find a suitable loan club for your player by placing him on the Development List. Here I’ve placed Diogo Nascimento on the Development List in a bid to increase his experience level outside the club for the remainder of the season. Hopefully, a few months with new inputs will be good for his career.
By placing him on the Development List you can instruct your DoF to find loan clubs under specific restrictions. As a result, you can set your own preferences regarding playing level and expected match minutes as well as positions you want your loaning club to use him at.
You can set the preferred agreed playing time, the minimum training facilities and his availability while out on loan.
To put player’s on the development list go to;
Player > Transfers > Add to Development List
3. Using Local/National Partnerships and Affiliated Clubs
Thirdly, and most importantly, you got the case with affiliated clubs. Taking advantage of partnerships and agreements where you can freely send out players can for instance be beneficial. To move a player to an affiliate club go to;
Player Name > Development > Move to Affiliate
This opens ups the screen visible above.
Benfica has several affiliated clubs – three in the same divisions as themselves and one in each tier below.
Therefore I’ll take advantage of these agreements by sending João Ferreira – a 19-year-old attacking fullback who has fallen behind Renato Matos and Filipe Cruz. He’s currently operating at the third division level and Leixões could be a suitable option – a club playing with a similar formation as us.
Another option was Alverca who plays in the third division but uses a 5-3-2 formation.
Both clubs have decent options on the right back so we’ll see how this loan turns out. I’ve made sure to have the option to recall the player if necessary and make the loaning club able to terminate the loan by unticking ‘Loan cannot be terminated’.
What to do if no loan offers come in?
Last but not least you got a fourth option. It’s often frustrating to see any clubs moving forward by making a loan offer. To speed up the process, you can offer a player out on loan. It will automatically place him on the loan list and make any clubs aware of his transfer status.
Player > Transfers > Transfer Status > Offer To Clubs > Select the Loan Offer Tab
In this event, you’ll able to set specific loan clauses, options and contract terms. In order to make sure the player develops within his position and role I normally set restrictions on the preferred position and role. The agreed playing time is also important as it sets expectations on how many matches the player will record out on loan. In this event, it’s important to be realistic and not set any higher player status than what’s useful.
How you’ll set the loan options, clauses and other restrictions depends on your personal preferences and needs.
Finding Suitable Loan Clubs
Should a player develop at a decent rate when out on loan, it’s important to find a suitable loan club that puts the player in focus. Finding the right club can be difficult at times as there are pros and cons of sending a player out on loan no matter their playing level and what they got to offer.
Personally, I can spend lots of time finding the right loaning club for my prospects. This means I’m rejecting a number of loan offers and are patient in my approach.
To find the most suitable loan clubs I focus my attention on a few strategic, but important areas of the loaning club.
1. Competition Level.
Firstly, comes their playing level and reputation. It will hamper a player’s development playing at a lower level than what my club can offer. For instance, it’s not recommended to send out a player operating at the third division level to a premier division club. For one, you can’t expect the player to make that many appearances and secondly he might not learn as much as he’s not yet good enough to play at that level.
In fact, sending a player out on loan at a playing level far above or below his operating level deviates from your original objectives – to give the player a senior match experience.
2. The Clubs Training Facilities
Secondly, it’s important to consider the clubs’ training facilities. You can not expect to send the player out on loan at ‘State of the art’ training facilities for all your players but the better training facilities the better foundation to develop. Having an overview of the different training facility levels and their impact is important.
Personally, I would avoid clubs with lower training facilities than ‘Average’. Of course, this depends on the level of your club and the expected level your young players can manage.
3. Manager Profile & Traits
The third thing to consider is the profile and traits of the manager of the loaning club. Together with the coaching staff will the influence of the manager have a huge impact on the success of the loan and the progress of the player.
The manager of the loaning club should have high ‘Working with youngsters’ and motivation. Additionally, you want the Manager to have a positive personality who can push the player on the training ground and get the most out of him.
If he got specific traits it’s advisable that these traits fit the playing style of your club, such as favoring ‘Play Out of Defence’ if you use a similar team instruction.
Favourable other tendencies you should look for are;
- Will use young players in low priority cup matches
- Signs a lot of youth players
4. The Squad Depth of The Loaning Club
Last, but not least, you have to consider the squad depth of the loaning clubs. It’s no reason to send a player out on loan to a club with many players within a similar position. You need to ensure he’ll be able to record enough senior match minutes by making sure he will be prioritized.
A different case is if the loaning club got an experienced player or a professional squad group which can be positive for his development.
For instance, Leixões got only a veteran striker in their ranks. Therefore, I decided to move Henrique Araujo, one of the most promising strikers within my squad, out on loan.
Giving young players match experience and minutes on the pitch for the senior team will be vital for their development.
Using loans for development will always have its pros and cons. When to loan out and what’s the right move is a cause to debate. It’s not always you’ll get it right.
Hopefully, this article will help you to find a solution for your young players who have stagnated or aren’t yet good enough for your team. Loans can be the solution for sorting player’s lacking match sharpness and increase their progress rate. It’s just a matter of finding the appropriate loaning club despite it may take time to find the right one.
In the next article, I’ll discuss how you can monitor players out on loan and what to do to continue their progression.
Stay tuned for upcoming content!