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George Friend, the Middlesbrough defender, on the merits of playing regular first-team football
10:51am Tuesday 22nd October 2013 in Sport
GOING out on loan is part and parcel of football. The importance for a young player to play matches and not become stagnant within their club is imperative.
When on loan, the implications and effects on an individual are often misunderstood by those on the outside.
Personal experience, football development and character building are some of the benefits and challenges acquired while away from your parent club.
Some of best players in the world have enjoyed loan spells in their younger years: David Beckham’s time at Preston North End from Manchester United springs to mind, while closer to home, our own Ben Gibson is a shining example of what a loan move (or two) can do in pushing a player’s career in the right direction.
Middlesbrough players Matthew Dolan and Christian Burgess are at crucial stages of their own careers, both embarking on an exciting journey with a loan move to Hartlepool.
By their own admission, their decision to make the trip just up the A1 is vital for their progression as footballers.
“Perhaps at the beginning of this year in pre-season, I wasn’t quite there yet in terms of the first team,” said Burgess. “But being here has been great, I’ve had the chance to solidify the way I play in different situations on the pitch. I think I’ve really needed this loan and am thoroughly enjoying it.”
Dolan echoed Burgess’ thoughts as he admitted it was the right decision for him too.
He said: “It’s been brilliant for me to get lots of 90 minutes under my belt. I did the same last season and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I recognised that if nothing was happening at Middlesbrough, then I just wanted to be out playing football.”
It takes great desire and drive to go out on loan as a young player, as it’s much easier to remain within the comfort of a parent club. Huge credit needs to be given to these two young, ambitious Boro talents.
A loan move can come about in a variety of ways, but whose decision is it? Is it down to the player or the manager?
Burgess and Dolan, who have witnessed contrasting football backgrounds, have slightly different reasons for joining Hartlepool.
“I don’t think I was at the right stage to step up at Boro,” said Burgess. “The manager and I came to a mutual agreement about getting some games under my belt and going on loan. I think it works out best for both parties.
“I didn’t come through an academy, but just by being at Middlesbrough I can see how some people’s careers have slipped by and it’s a shame because it’s a fantastic club.
“I believe if you’re not playing then going on loan is very important, if a player had the opportunity to, then I’d definitely recommend doing it.”
Hartlepool-born Dolan, who joined Boro as a sixyear- old, explained: “Coming up through an academy, there’s the chance you can get stuck in a bubble and take things for granted. I think when you go out on loan you clearly see that.
“My goal is to get myself out there, I want to play games and build up my reputation, hopefully helping Hartlepool by winning games and being part of something successful here.
“That will be put me in a good position whether I carry on at Boro or move on in the future. If you go out and play 25 games on loan then it puts you in the shop window and can only help your career.”
I distinctly remember my first loan move in the Football League as a naive, inexperienced 20-year-old: Millwall, perhaps enough said!
A Wolves player at the time, I was in desperate need of competitive first-team football.
Although I found it hard being on my own in a small flat in south London, it was very important for me to go through the experience. I was very shy and had only played about 35 league games in my career.
After a solid debut, my performances unfortunately went downhill and the Millwall fans didn’t hold back from reminding me of the fact. It was difficult, but made me a stronger character and working under Kenny Jackett was extremely beneficial.
People often forget what a player has to go through when beginning a loan spell.
There’s that first day of school feeling, meeting new teammates, staff, management and fans, learning different protocol and adjusting to living in a new area are just some of the elements that have to be faced.
“They’re a good bunch of lads here, everyone’s been very welcoming and we have a great team spirit,” said Burgess.
“It’s been nice that we’re here both at the same time, it means you’re not coming into a squad on your own.
Having Matty here has made me feel a bit more comfortable.”
He added: “In terms of off the field, at Boro you get a lot of things done for you.
Here at Hartlepool we have to wash our own kit, you sort out your own food, it’s just different as you’d expect.”
Making tough decisions is prevalent in every professional footballer’s career.
Going on loan is often one of the most valuable and important of them all.
The chance to play regularly and boost your development and status is an enormous factor.
For younger players, the experience gained in competitive matches with three points at stake remains not just enjoyable but invaluable for an aspiring professional.
And for Burgess and Dolan, 3pm on a Saturday means game time!
by George Friend
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