By Nathan Bees
The loan system isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The idea of taking another team’s player on a short-term basis may help managers in an injury crisis but it tends to be of greater benefit to the parent club.
In the case of Will Packwood, however, it is proving to be a good move for Rovers as well as Birmingham City. We were in desperate need of a defender following the injury to Mark McChrystal, and at short notice Birmingham lent us promising American - Packwood.
We had no choice in this situation other than to pursue a short-term loan for a player on the way back from long-term injury with little experience.
It was pot luck as to whether he was going to perform well and make a positive impression, if we’re being honest, as he was something of an unknown quantity - bar what we would have been told by Birmingham.
From their perspective it made perfect sense. Lee Clarke could send his young defender out to a League Two side in order to give him some much-needed game time after injury.
The worst that could happen is that he would return a few weeks later having not got as many minutes under his belt as they would have liked. It wouldn’t have been detrimental to him or them in any way.
For Rovers it was, fortunately, a step into the unknown that paid off. Packwood has been an impressive member of a side that has picked up some good results in recent weeks and he has been awarded Man of the Match in two of his four appearances.
He is partnered by Tom Parkes, the youngest captain in the Football League, and the two have helped us keep clean sheets against two top 7 teams in recent weeks - Chesterfield and Oxford United.
It says a lot that Rovers missed the youngster’s presence after he was made ineligible to play in the FA Cup last Friday. It is absolutely no coincidence that we conceded 3 goals after being forced into a reshuffle.
That’s not to say those who made up our back 4 against York City didn’t play well but Packwood’s absence was noticeable in my opinion. He’s young and he’s still learning about the rigours of professional football but you can see why he’s highly rated at St. Andrews.
Given the way he has asserted himself on our side I feared that Clarke would prefer to have him back around his Championship squad or perhaps sent out to a League One team.
Happily this didn’t transpire and I was delighted to hear that Rovers managed to persuade the Blues to extend his stay with us for a further 2 months, meaning there is no pressure on McChrystal to rush his rehabilitation.
It provides a good example of how the loan system can be useful to all 3 parties; loan club, parent club and player.
I’m not sure that we needed a reminder, though, given how we have profited from the system in the past year or so.
At the turn of 2013 we drafted in goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall from Millwall and midfielder John-Joe O’Toole from Colchester United on short-term loans that were later extended.
Both went on to establish themselves as our best players during the sensational run of form that propelled us from bottom of League Two to within 2 wins of the play-off places in April.
Mildy was clearly sent out on loan as he was not part of Millwall’s plans beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of the campaign and JJ was allowed out to return to match fitness.
Given how well they played for us Gasheads could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when John Ward announced we had stiff competition in trying to sign them on permanent deals.
That is one of the risks of the loan market, unfortunately, and we had to be prepared for rejection given the calibre of the players involved.
Thankfully it didn’t come to that and we were able to sign them both (although one kept us waiting for an excruciatingly long time!) and everyone associated with the club was delighted.
If we attempted to sign players of their quality without having had them on loan first we would have seriously struggled to attract them to us given the options they would have had elsewhere.
The reason we managed to sign JJ and Mildy was because they thoroughly enjoyed their spells here at the Gas when on loan, which they may not have expected, and that’s what swung it in our favour. No loan would have meant no chance.
Dismissing the loan system in its entirety as some football fans do is unfair I think. I concede that it can be a pointless and sometimes damaging exercise - like taking a youngster on loan from elsewhere and playing them ahead of your own young players, stunting their development and threatening your long-term prospects - but if it is used sensibly, adhering to a particular club strategy, then it can prove a very worthwhile market.
John Ward knows what he’s doing in that regard and if he can continue his success rate in the transfer market then Bristol Rovers can only benefit. It isn’t at the expense of our youth department, illustrated by the emergence of Tom Lockyer and Alefe Santos so far, and it can only be a good thing for the club if we continue to improve our squad alongside that.
Now to show Bury that we’re unbeaten in three for a reason. C’mon Gas.
Have a good weekend.