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Barça or Real Madrid: Who will reap the benefits of the loan system?

Suhas Achanta



Header Image by Martin Meissner / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

For quite sometime youngsters of both Barça and Real Madrid have been sent out on loan to seek game time. Gaining experience in some of the top sides across Europe, these players tailor themselves to the requirements of their parent clubs. The ardent fans are always keeping an eye on the loaned players’ progress. But who is benefitting from the loan policy? 

The loan system helps to prepare future stars while simultaneously filtering the cream. In addition to sending players on one or two-year loans, the parent clubs can also install clauses on playing time. However, these parent clubs need to assert a clear sense of responsibility for the player they are loaning out to ensure his development isn’t hampered.

Spain’s two big giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, have taken significantly different approaches in their loan system, having both multiple examples of footballers who have been benefitted from it, and others who haven’t. But, overall, whose use of loans is being more productive?

Barcelona’s players on loan

Phillipe Coutinho | Bayern Munich
Emerson | Real Betis
Carles Aleñá | Real Betis
Rafinha Alcântara | Celta de Vigo
Marc Cucurella | Getafe CF
Jean-Clair Todibo | Schalke 04
Moussa Wagué | OGC Nice
Juan Miranda | Schalke 04
Oriol Busquets | FC Twente

Real Madrid’s players on loan

Achraf Hakimi | Borussia Dortmund
Martin Ødegaard | Real Sociedad
Dani Ceballos | Arsenal
Sergio Reguilón | Sevilla
Álvaro Odriozola | Bayern Munich
Takefusa Kubo | RCD Mallorca
Óscar Rodriguez | CD Leganés
Jesús Vallejo | Granada CF
Borja Mayoral | Levante UD
Andriy Lunin | Real Oviedo
Alberto Soro | Real Zaragoza
Jorge de Frutos | Rayo Vallecano
Luca Zidane | Racing Santander
Javi Sánchez | Real Valladolid

Evidently, Los Blancos have used the loaning system to its full capacity. By loaning an entire first team’s worth of players, they have ensured that no prospect suffers due to lack of match-time.

The azulgranas, on the other hand, have stuck to loaning out a selected number of players. They have even loaned players from those positions where there is a clear lack of dimension, like right-back or defence in general.

Real Madrid’s loan army

There’s no denying that most of Real Madrid’s players on loan are having a fruitful time at their clubs. Achraf Hakimi is tearing up the Bundesliga. The Morrocan right-back has established himself as one of the best in his position. He will reportedly return to the Santiago Bernabéu next season and give Dani Carvajal a run for his money for the starting position.

Martin Ødegaard Real Sociedad Barça Real Madrid loan

Real Sociedad, Real Madrid and Martin Ødegaard have all been benefitted by the Norwegian’s loan to the txuri-urdin side | Photo by Imago

Another footballer who has shown massive development is Martin Ødegaard. Since he is at a fellow La Liga club, Real Madrid have kept a close eye on his progress. The Norwegian has gone through a step-by-step loan process. Spending a few years at the Eredivisie before his current spell at Real Sociedad has helped him in gradually transitioning through the intensities.

In addition to Ødegaard, Sergio Reguilón has also displayed his qualities at fellow Spanish outfit Sevilla. While Dani Ceballos’ spell at Arsenal has been hampered by injuries, the Gunners’ enthusiasts are excited to see what he can provide them when the season restarts. Wonderkid Takefusa Kubo is getting regular minutes at Mallorca, often showing a maturity that is beyond his age. Though his spot in Los Blancos’ senior side isn’t immediate, it certainly is guaranteed in the future.

Confusion and chaos for the Catalans

Unlike their rivals, Barcelona hasn’t made the most of the loaning policy. Partly because of the board’s complacency in finding the right profiles, partly because of the squad being imbalanced. There is a clear shortage of options in defensive positions, while there is an excess of midfielders. In the attacking department, there aren’t enough wingers. Quique Setién has only been able to select a number of quality players at his disposal.

Furthermore, the reputed La Masía academy has also seen a sharp decline. Rather for the lack of quality, the problem has been that the existing one has not been properly exploited. Gems have sometimes been sold without even giving them a proper chance, while others have been sent to the wrong destination. There is a clear lack of vision and ambition that has hindered the flow of talent that was once not an issue for them.

The contrast in care

As we all know, not every loan spell is beneficial for a player. Sometimes, a player who is loaned out isn’t given enough game time to develop his skills. He might not be a part of the manager’s plans or is actually not even considered as a priority at all. A reason for this could be the manager’s opinion of the player not being a long-term solution for his team. After all, if he shines at the club he is loaned to, there is a great chance of the parent club choosing to incorporate him into the first team. Although rare, this mentality has surfaced on a few occasions.

It is during such situations that the parent club must step in, and do the needful to help their player out. Real Madrid has done the right thing by helping Andriy Lunin switch from Real Valladolid to Real Oviedo due to the lack of playing time. They have also moved Jesús Vallejo from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Granada. Sometimes the profile of the club to which a player is loaned to might not match the levels of development required. It is the responsibility of the parent club to vouch for their player.

Juan Miranda Schalke 04 Barça Real Madrid loan

Despite currently having only five Bundesliga appearances, Barcelona did not want to finalise Juan Miranda’s loan at Schalke in winter | Photo by Imago

Unfortunately, in Barcelona’s case, there isn’t much concern shown over their loaned players. Juan Miranda is unable to get enough playing time at Schalke, and the Catalan outfit hasn’t taken any action on this. The 20-year-old left-back is a promising prospect who has the potential to solve the blaugranas full-back problems one day. Nevertheless, there is no way he can harvest time on polishing his expertise without getting enough first-team action.

Real Madrid has ensured to put in a minimum amount of minutes clause in their player’s contracts, thereby warranting the loanee’s playing time. Barça should look to impose similar strategies if they have any intentions of benefitting from the loaning policy. With the high-profile loan of Philippe Coutinho to Bayern Munich not materialising into a permanent move, Setién will have an extra creative option to make use of. He has even expressed his desire to work with the Brazilian.

❛ I’m counting on him being here at the start of next season. I don’t know what he wants to do. Perhaps I have to speak to him and ask him. He is a great player, without a doubt ❜

Quique Setién
on Philippe Coutinho

That said, if Coutinho is back, it will be more because of his own talent than because of an evolution in the Bundesliga. Bayern displayed a similar approach with Real Madrid’s James Rodríguez, who is now struggling at the Spanish capital. Thus, it is clear that loans must be done for prospects, and high-profile loans should be avoided at all costs. The purpose of a loan is and will always be for harnessing development, and in this battle of loan–stars, Real Madrid takes the undisputed win.

See more

La Masía, priceless, could save Barça lots of money

Barcelona, it’s time to bet on potential

The reasons behind Barcelona’s recent European failures

• Single-round knockout Champions League: Finally Barcelona’s year?

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.


Team Analysis

The causes and effects of Barcelona’s inability to cope with pressure




Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images

On the back of a 1-4 trouncing at home to Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona had the opportunity to extend their 7 game-winning run in the league to a phenomenal eight, and against probably the easiest of competition to do so.

After all, Cádiz were on the back of a four-game losing streak in La Liga, having won a meagre 5 points from a possible 33, and up against a team that had won 31 from their last 33. This was as perfect a game as they came, but, as has been a motif at the Catalan club in recent years, they crumbled under pressure.

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The defence gave away two big chances, one of which came from a ludicrous and much too easily avoidable penalty two minutes from time. As for the forward line, despite having had eleven and a half chances more than their visitors to hit the back of the net, amassing a whopping 3.56xG, they could settle for only one goal, and this too from a penalty. Ronald Koeman had a mostly tolerable afternoon, but at this point, the complaints about the team make the ever-demanding fans sound like a broken record.

The inability to finish off chances has proved costly for the team continuously. (Photo via Getty)

In this article, Barca Universal explores some events that have become all too common when the team faces minimal adversity, stretching from the managers in the dugouts, the pressure the collective falls over for in crucial moments and finally, individual mistakes which, like a bad rash, spread to all corners of the team continue to plague the club.

Managerial incompetence in crucial moments

Barcelona’s last three managers, Ronald Koeman included, have each shown, and on plenty of occasions, certain character traits that, rather than improve the team, contribute to its inevitable downfall. What is most shocking is, despite being akin to water and oil in terms of their tactics, they each have an uncanny ability not only to fail to learn from each other but, more surprisingly, themselves.

Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setién, and Koeman have each shown a palpable level of a lack of tactical ingenuity whenever called upon. In one way or another, each one of them has taken the club farther and farther away from its roots, all while failing to replace them with anything sustainable enough to win points, or at the very least, make games enjoyable.

It is the same damn story. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

It comes as a shock that even in-game, whenever their set systems start to show fissures, neither one of them has consistently shown the most basic of requirements in a manager, this coming in their ability to rectify their errors.

In 2019, leading 3-0 against Liverpool, Barcelona needed just but a goal to gain a spot in the UEFA Champions League’s final. Rather than set his side up for an offensive tussle with the Merseyside club — who mind you were bereft of any real attacking talent —, the then manager deployed a controversial and rather defensive 4-4-2 formation, providing little to no width and with a clear disconnect between the midfield and the two up front.

Down by a just goal at half time, Valverde had the chance to add Malcom to attack the right flank given Andy Robertson had been taken off at halftime, but he opted not to. He had a chance to add Arthur Melo to improve ball circulation after conceding two in two minutes to Georginio Wijnaldum but instead decided to go for Nelson Semedo.

Haunting. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The sheer lack of order in the team, and his inability to react to reach the goals they scored, meant Barça would inevitably give up the aggregate lead and the tie as a whole. Impervious to criticism, he would continue to show this very same level of incompetence for the nine months that led up to his sacking.

Quique Setién did much of the same here too. Once admired for his Cruyffist tendencies, he fell apart under the unspoken power dynamics set in place by the heavyweights in the club, leading him to never make changes to his starting elevens regardless of how poorly an individual had played. Even when the game was crying for an intervention via a substitution, he, like Valverde, before him would cower in fear and take refuge in the dugouts, which for much of his tenure remained untouched.

Setien could not keep the pressure from dismounting, either. (Photo by RAFAEL MARCHANTE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite having three years worth of evidence on what not to do at Barça, Ronald Koeman continues to make the same exact mistakes as his predecessors. He at least makes rotations in the starting eleven every once in a while, but unless, of course, the team is in a comfortable winning position, he will wait until at least the 80th minute to effectuate any changes to the team’s shape, tactics, or personnel. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that almost every game that has seen Barca trail this season in La Liga has gone on to end as either a draw or a loss of all three points.

Against Paris, many fans observed the gaping holes left in between the defence at the halfway line and the poorly dispersed midfield and attack. This was at halftime, yet in the second period, he left it as it was rather than change up the team’s shape. The exact same mistakes occurred at home against Cádiz in both the first and second period and was only met with a change in the final minutes of the tie.

Almost as if Koeman does not want to learn at all. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In La Liga, where the level is lower, managers can get away with a draw here and there, but in the Champions League, where every mistake is punished, they all falter, and to the surprise of no one. When push comes to shove, they all look clueless, lose their train of thought, and as has been the case in each of the last four years, the Blaugrana have lost and lost heavily to equal opposition.

Players that simply don’t make the cut

It comes to reason that not every defeat is as a result of managerial or tactical mishaps. Sometimes, and as has been the case for many years now, tactical flaws have been compounded with some ghastly individual errors, some of which lead fans to question how it is that these players became professionals in the first place.

There are many games that can illustrate this, but none more so than Barcelona’s almighty collapse against the new sextuple winners, Bayern Munich. It is quite unjust that subsequent to such defeats, only the manager’s contract is cut short. Some of the mistakes made by the entirety of the team in that game were so blatantly unacceptable that at least half the team should’ve been sacked at the end.

A score of 4-1 against Paris, or 3-0 against AS Roma this year and in 2018 respectively could be attributed to a manager’s inability to take a firm hold of the game, but when it goes beyond five, it is imperative that the players, perhaps more than their manager, be put to question.

“The green god in Rome…” echoes strongly to this day. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Despite the average age of the squad on that night being over 30 years of age, everyone on the team, from Lionel Messi upfront to Ter Stegen in goal, made rookie mistakes. Leading from the front, the Argentine couldn’t be bothered to press for the ball, despite his individual mistakes directly leading to a quarter of their goals.

Luis Suárez partnering him, made just eighteen passes, nine of which were from the centre circle at the start of one half and one for each of the eight goals that Ter Stegen, a man whose capacity to play under pressure, is being questioned more and more by the year, conceded.

The right choice for Barcelona, or have we been fooled? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The entirety of the team has this impeccable ability to collectively fall into pieces, with mentalities that shrink to the sub-atomic level when faced with the slightest of adversity. The usual suspects in defence, these coming in Jordi Alba, who almost singlehandedly won Liverpool the second leg at Anfield, Samuel Umtiti, whose career essentially came to an end after the 2018 world cup, Clément Lenglet, whose in-game reactions can be outpaced by a tortoise, are often the catalysts to the team’s failure.

Football is a team game, but individual errors often do have a profound impact on the collective. How is Barca supposed to be challenging for La Liga when their defence is the one with the most individual errors leading to a goal in the entire division.

How are clean sheets meant to be preserved when individuals like Clément Lenglet concede 3 penalties in the same campaign, each leading to a loss of points. It is borderline impossible to challenge for anything when half the time, in do or die situations, you have defenders that shoot themselves, and thus the team, in the foot.

Lenglet continues to deceive game after game. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

But it’s not only the defence to be blamed. The attack and midfield, charged with finishing chances and creating an air of stability, respectively, do none of the like when called upon. Against the Bavarians, the midfield was essentially inexistent, with next to no pressing, and even when applied, none of it had any coordination or impact on the much superior German machine. Passing somehow from a trio or quadruple of players whose careers are built on just that, all inexplicably goes awry or loses all meaning at the slightest instance of pressure.

The forward line, as seen on innumerable occasions this campaign and during their European disasters, somehow collectively forgets how to find the back of the net. No one can be spared from this judgment, not even Messi.

Ousmane Dembélé had the chance to kill off the tie against Liverpool, but rather than blast the ball past Alisson in a 1v1 situation, he chipped it into his arms and did basically the same thing against Paris last in midweek when he wasted a chance to take the game to 2-0, only for the visitors to equalise within seconds. The same was the case as recently as yesterday against Cadiz, whereof 23 shots made, only one via a penalty found the back of the net.

Barcelona not only have to contend with managers who show complete ineptitude at understanding or implementing the one style of play asked if them, but also a team that, when needed to perform, has not the slightest idea how.


As Johan Cruyff once famously said, “football is a game of mistakes, and whoever makes the least mistakes wins.” When it comes to Barcelona, winning goes from something that should be a regular, weekly occurrence to a proverbial mountain crafted from the tiniest of anthills.

We have seen it once, we have seen it twice. And we will see it more. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

These errors span all the way from managers in the dugouts who, despite years of experience, keep making the same mistakes to the players on the pitch, who, through a lack of attention to detail, ridiculous mistakes and otherworldly missing, never cease to contribute to the demise of the team.

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