Former Stoke boss Tony Pulis says making the right loan signings can help propel Leeds United to the next level. Phil Hay reports.
There is no bigger advocate of the emergency loan market than Tony Pulis. The roots of his revolution at Stoke City can be traced back to the summer when the penny dropped and Pulis realised that Stoke’s budget was best suited to temporary deals.
He remembers Stoke in 2006 as a club who were “floating around in the bottom half of the Championship.” Pulis, who had returned to the Britannia Stadium as manager a year after being deposed by Johan Boskamp, concluded that the calibre of player he wanted to recruit was too expensive to sign permanently so the 55-year-old found another way. “Basically we exploited the system,” he says.
In the weeks after FIFA’s transfer window closed, he brought in Lee Hendrie on loan from Aston Villa, Andy Griffin from Portsmouth and Salif Diao from Liverpool.
Patrik Berger and Rory Delap arrived later in the year.
They were paid a small percentage of their wage with the agreement of parent clubs who had no use for them. Stoke’s run to eighth position in the Championship that season was to Pulis’ mind the start of their rise under him.
Football League clubs, Leeds United included, will have the same opportunity when the emergency loan market opens tomorrow morning.
The Premier League’s members named their 25-man squads earlier last week and invited lower-league managers to bid for the unwanted few. After signing four players in a long and slow summer, United boss Brian McDermott is likely to use it to find for the winger he presently lacks. Pulis would urge him to do so.
“In the same position I’d go down the same road again,” Pulis says.
“We were one of the first clubs to exploit the system if you like and one of the first to actively use it as an alternative to permanent signings.
“At the time, Stoke as a club were floating around in the bottom half of the Championship. I didn’t feel that the players we could afford to sign permanently were good enough to push us on. So we found a way of signing some we couldn’t otherwise afford.
“It was a deliberate plan on our part. Lee Hendrie, Andy Griffin, Salif Diao – I knew these guys were surplus and I knew we’d have a good chance of getting them once the window closed. Yeah, we gambled a bit but we were probably the only ones thinking like that. Everyone else tried to get their business done before August 31.”
Leeds made a late attempt to land a winger before this summer’s deadline – September 2 due to August 31 falling on a weekend – but interest in Birmingham City’s Chris Burke was quelled by an asking price of £600,000. McDermott admitted that he advised United’s board against spending that fee on a 30-year-old with a contract which expires next June.
McDermott is less of a fan of emergency loans than Pulis but he is unlikely to ignore the opportunity it gives him with holes in his squad still evident. “The loan window soon opens again,” McDermott said on Wednesday, “and we still have that option.”
Short-term recruits have a chequered reputation in Leeds. No fewer than 74 players have joined the club on a temporary basis since 2004 with varying levels of distinction. Six were at Elland Road last season and eight the season before.
“It all comes down to who you sign,” Pulis says. “Personally I think it’s a fantastic opportunity and if I was managing in the Championship on a certain budget again then I’d go back into the loan market without thinking twice.
“There’s a bit of a question mark over the attitude of loan signings but I never had a problem with any of mine. They were fantastic professionals.
“It probably helped that Lee was only travelling for 30 minutes and the lads from Liverpool weren’t too far from home either.
“Andy Griffin had been our player before anyway.
“But I’d always ask about the character and the attitude of the lads we were signing.
“I think that’s where you can go wrong in the transfer market generally – by going for names rather than players who are definitely going to fit in and buy into your club.
“The likes of Lee and Andy were surplus and we were offering their clubs a chance to avoid paying their full wage. It made sense all round. Would we have been able to sign them permanently? No. We exploited the system but in fairness the system was there to be exploited.”
There is a feeling in Football League circles that the emergency loan window will not survive for ever; that FIFA will insist on the closure of a loophole which negates the restrictions put in place but its own transfer window.
Speaking earlier this week, McDermott said: “I don’t like taking a number of loan players. I’d usually only consider a loan player with a view to a permanent signing.
“I admit, though, that if the right player became available on loan then I’d bring them in.”
Stoke’s recruitment in the middle of 2006 did not lead immediately to promotion but it came their way the following year when the club finished second in the Championship and broke into the Premier League.
Pulis, who spoke to the YEP from a holiday in the USA, protected Stoke’s status as a top-tier club for five successive seasons before he and City went their separate ways in May.
“That season in 2006 was pivotal for us because it got us out of the middle ground in the Championship,” he says. “We got promoted the following season and that year was the first step.
“We’d been 12th, 13th, no better than that, and if we’d carried on the same way then we’d probably have stayed there. I wanted to make us considerably better by spending money we had on players in a higher bracket. It worked.
“The momentum of the club changed and we went from strength to strength. That’s the way to think of the loan market – it’s there to help you improve if you use it properly.
“You get players on loan who you’d never bother approaching in the summer because negotiations would go nowhere. But when they’re surplus, you’re interested and the summer window’s closed, things look different.”