Arsenal haven’t had much success in the loan market… ever. But the decision to send Reiss Nelson (18) for a year-long stay with Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim on deadline day has been one of the best deals of the summer for both Arsenal and Hoffenheim.
Nelson’s six goals and one assist in 11 appearances for the Germans this season sees him scoring or assisting every 59th minute. He also received the October “Rookie of the Month” award. Stunning.
But this is no accident.
Loans with the intent of developing younger players are risky and difficult for the feeder club. A team like Arsenal have to consider several aspects of such a deal:
Enough playing time and the right coach
Obviously, Nelson needs to play as much as possible for his skills and confidence to grow. Problem is, no sensible club will guarantee an 18-year-old a starting position in their team. If so, that club isn’t competing at the adequate level for an Arsenal Under-23 player. If the loanee doesn’t break into the first team, a year of his potential development might have been wasted on the bench and no loan at all would have been more efficient.
Arsenal’s best example of this was loaning dribbling winger Serge Gnabry (then 20) to West Brom for the 15/16 campaign, under the notoriously conservative head coach Tony Pulis. An inexcusable offence by Arsenal. Poor Gnabry played 137 minutes for West Brom before his season-long loan was prematurely cancelled in February.
Next season, however, Gnabry moved to Germany, his homeland, on a loan to Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. And guess what, everything changed. The German started nearly every game he was available for, and concluded the season with 11 goals and two assists in 27 games. Gnabry’s had one year left on his contract in London so he was sold (or asked to be sold) to Stuttgart the following summer — and is now a rotational player for Bayern Munich and the German national team.
The right environment (league)
Success with developing young players is nothing new to the people who follow German football. Youth development is of high priority there — a tradition — and it’s no wonder their national teams throughout recent times have been filled with stars in every position — where third choices would be stars in most other countries.
In fact, ahead of the last international break, the Bundesliga’s U21 players enjoyed 14.7% of the overall playing time this season. The Premier League has delegated 5.3% to its prospects and La Liga 6.1%, according to CIES.
“If English clubs are not giving you a chance then abroad is always an option,” said Jadon Sancho (18), another success story from this year’s crop of talent in the Bundesliga.
“They’re always open to just seeing your ability and, hopefully, if you’re good enough then you get your chance. That’s how I felt (about the German league).
“That’s what the Bundesliga is about. They believe in you, they trust you and, even if you’re so young, they wouldn’t get you out here if they didn’t really believe in your ability.”
The former Man City prospect and, coincidentally, Nelson’s best friend, is blossoming even more than his childhood mate in Hoffenheim. Sancho has been utilised in every game this season, and has five goals and eight assists in 17 appearances for the league leaders.
Bundesliga clubs have given a staggering 28 players under the age of 21 their league debut this season. In comparison, the Premier League have given the go-ahead to seven such players and La liga 16. Throughout last season the respective numbers were 64, 34 and 42.
The Bundesliga also wins the category of youngest league, with an average age of 25,4, to the Premier League’s 27,2 and La Liga’s 27,1.
It’s a league were the kids get to sit at the adult’s table, and play with the knives too.
A different system
Why are the numbers between the top three leagues in the world so contrasting? Why is Germany so efficient in developing not only great talents but bundles of them?
Essentially, the German FA took control over the scouting and development of 8-14-year-old talent in 2003 through creating academies around the country for the top two divisions. The prospects are scouted and trained by UEFA licensed coaches, and their national eligibility is stricter than in England.
In the Premier League, it’s all up to the individual clubs themselves to find and develop young players. (If you want to read more about this I suggest reading this article).
The Bundesliga has become a loan haven for top clubs around Europe to send their best prospects to, and it’s not nearly as popular as it should be – yet.
If any prospect in the vicinity of Nelson and Sancho’s abilities get the opportunity to move to Germany on loan, escaping the incredibly competitive squads of the Premier League where there’s little to no room for risk-taking is a no-brainer.
As for Nelson’s immediate future with Arsenal, considering Welbeck’s horrible injury, recalling the 18-year-old back to London in January should be a topic on Emery’s agenda this Christmas. However, getting the scissor out now, while his development is blossoming like never before, would be a dire mistake.
Instead, send more kids to Germany!
As Nelson said:
“It might not be so good for England if they (young players) all leave, but on a personal level, I think it will be great for young players to get playing time and show everyone what they can do.”