Loan rangers - the fight to stop big clubs stockpiling talent

Michy Batshuayi's move to Crystal Palace right at the end of the January transfer window means the Belgian international striker has now played for three different clubs in the last year.

After a successful stint at Borussia Dortmund in the second half of last season, Batshuayi flopped at Valencia but now the 25-year-old is aiming to rediscover his form, and maybe do enough to be given a second chance by Chelsea, his parent club.

Batshuayi joined Chelsea from Marseille for 40 million euros in 2016 but is now one of a remarkable 42 players belonging to the London club who are currently out on loan.

A glance at the Premier League's official website shows that Batshuayi was one of 10 Chelsea players to seal loan moves elsewhere in January -- others ranged from Alvaro Morata joining Atletico Madrid to teenage Croatian goalkeeper Karlo Ziger moving to non-league Sutton United.

Many of the loan moves out of Chelsea in recent years have been to Vitesse Arnhem, the Dutch side with whom they have forged curiously close links.

Yet Chelsea are not alone -- in France, Monaco now have some 70 players under contract, enough for coach Leonardo Jardim to play five different teams, substitutes included.

- 'Sold like horses' -

The desire to stockpile players can in part be explained by leading clubs wanting to hoover up as much of the best available talent as possible, but there is a more cynical side to it.

"As football has become a business in which men are sold like horses, the aim is to have the maximum number of players under contract and then tell yourself that one of them is bound to be good and can be sold on," Philippe Piat, the veteran head of the world players' union FIFPro, told AFP.

There are myriad examples of players signed by major clubs and then sold on at a profit without ever breaking into the first team.

At Manchester City, Australian international midfielder Aaron Mooy was signed from Melbourne City -- part of the City Football Group -- in 2016, loaned to Huddersfield Town and then sold to them a year later.

For City, who have long been battling to meet UEFA's Financial Fair Play criteria, their reported profit was £8 million.

Nevertheless, the example of Chelsea is especially concerning to many observers.

- 'Stay at home and play' -

"The biggest problem in the Netherlands is that, when a talented youngster comes through, he is sold abroad and he doesn't play football anymore," Ruud Gullit, a former assistant coach to the Dutch national side, told AFP.

"That is the biggest problem we have. Nathan Ake, for example, spent almost two years on the bench at Chelsea," added Gullit, who was player-manager at Stamford Bridge in the late 1990s.

Ake, now 23, joined the London side as a teenager but was loaned out several times before moving to Bournemouth in 2017 for £20 million.

"In the end he was able to play at Bournemouth, but that is 10 percent of his career gone already. As a result, we warn young players that they first of all need to stay at home to play football."

- Change in rules? -

In the meantime, it seems only a change to the rules will stop rich clubs speculating and stockpiling talent as a means to making more money.

"I am campaigning to get FIFA to limit squad sizes," says Piat.

"UEFA, for example, limit clubs to 25 players who can play in the Champions League.

"If I were making the rules, I would say you could have 35 players under contract and then you can still loan as many of them out as you want."

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