<
>

Liverpool are continuing to evolve in loan usage

When young defender Lloyd Jones was sent to Accrington Stanley this week, it took the number of players Liverpool currently have out on loan to 10. That figure will likely be increased significantly over the coming weeks as several of the club's most promising youngsters will be farmed out to Football League clubs to further their development.

The loan system is becoming more important than ever to the big clubs, but not every deal will be as successful as Jordon Ibe's recent stint at Derby County. The teenage winger spent the first half of this season at Pride Park working under Steve McClaren and that set him up nicely for a return to Anfield and an immediate call-up to Brendan Rodgers' first team. That was the exception rather than the norm, however, and loan deals can serve other purposes aside from aiding progression to the first team.

Liverpool's loans can be split into four basic categories:

The "Bridging" loan

These are solely about development with a view to introducing the player into the senior setup should he progress to the required level. In a perfect world, youngsters would follow the Raheem Sterling path and go directly from the academy setup to the first-team squad without the need to go anywhere else in between. But for many young players there needs to be a bridge between the two.

It could be a loan to another Premier League side or it may be a team in the lower leagues or overseas; it all depends how advanced the player in his development. Centre-back Andre Wisdom is already a Premier League-caliber player but wasn't quite ready to hold down a place in Liverpool's first team. He enjoyed a successful loan at Championship level with Derby last year and the hope is that a year of playing regularly in the top flight with West Brom will allow him to challenge for a place at Anfield in the near future.

Wisdom is something of a "tweener" as he's perhaps not quite tall enough at to be a full-time centre-back, and not accomplished enough going forward to make it as a right-back, especially in Liverpool's current setup. Perhaps Liverpool's recent switch to a back three will help him, as he seems ideally suited to the right-sided role in that unit and could provide cover/competition for Emre Can. Could he replace Kolo Toure in next year's squad?

Centre-back Tiago Ilori may also have his eye on that spot. The Portuguese youngster cost the Reds a substantial sum (reported to be £7 million) of money when he was snapped up from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2013 but is still awaiting his Liverpool debut. He's had an injury-hit campaign on loan at Bordeaux and not really enhanced his reputation. For both Wisdom and Ilori, preseason will go a long way towards determining where they play their football next season.

Ilori's former teammate at Sporting, midfielder Joao Carlos Teixera, has done very well at Brighton and is a player of some promise. He made his Liverpool debut as a substitute at Fulham last season, but at 22 years old, time may be running out for him to establish himself at Anfield. He is in direct competition with the likes of Ibe, Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, who can all operate as attacking midfielders.

Other loanees who fall into this category are 17-year-old winger Sheyi Ojo, who is proving to be a big hit at struggling Wigan Athletic, and Divock Origi, who has had a torrid time at Lille and must be counting the days until he can finally join up with the Reds.

The "Shop Window" loan

The idea is to increase the value of a player who is surplus to requirements. Rather than having the player spend the season on the sidelines and see his transfer value plummet, the player is loaned out to a team where he will be given regular football to showcase his talent and attract potential buyers.

Chelsea have had great success with this as proven with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne but Liverpool have generally failed miserably on this front. The closest they came to hitting on one was forward Fabio Borini, who impressed at Sunderland and was the subject of a sizeable offer from the north-east club. Had Borini accepted, Liverpool would have made a tidy profit on a player they no longer wanted. Instead, the Italian rejected Sunderland (and also QPR) and his value has now been significantly reduced following a season on the fringes at Anfield.

The success of Borini at the Stadium of Light perhaps influenced the decision to send Sebastian Coates to Wearside this season. Sunderland boss Gus Poyet was keen to take his compatriot on a season-long loan but it hasn't worked out and Liverpool's hopes of securing a decent fee for the Uruguayan have long since been dashed. Failing to oust either of the hapless John O'Shea and Wes Brown from a team is not going to do much for a player's reputation or transfer value, that's for sure.

The "Damage Limitation" loan

This is all about saving wages, and sadly Liverpool are all too familiar with this type of loan over the past decade. There are Salif Diao, Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena, Alberto Aquilani and Joe Cole, to name but a few. Even Pepe Reina comes into this category, as his high salary meant Liverpool found it impossible to secure a buyer and were forced to loan him to Napoli while still paying a significant chunk of his salary.

Under the club's current owners, Fenway Sports Group, the recent transfer policy has somewhat reduced the risk of this happening too frequently, although you can add Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto to the list (and in a few months possibly Mario Balotelli).

Aspas and Alberto were cast aside last summer after it had quickly become clear that neither were up to the standard required.

Initially, Liverpool may have even viewed both of those deals as "shop window" loans as there is often some crossover between the two (Andy Carroll is a good example of someone who comes under both categories), but clearly the Reds will lose money on both when they eventually find permanent homes. At least they've managed to get their salaries off the books for this season, so there is that.

The "Helping Hand" loan

Many youngsters at big clubs are not going to make it at the top level but will go on to make a good living out of the game. Given a few years to develop some may even work their way back up to the Premier League, but more often than not they'll find their level in the Championship or lower leagues.

Rather than keeping hold of these players to ensure success at under-21 level, Liverpool tend to allow them to go out on loan to show what they can do and hopefully secure a permanent move somewhere. Recent examples include Adam Morgan, Jack Robinson and Conor Coady.

Of the current group, Rafa Paez, Brad Smith, Ryan McLaughlin, Kevin Stewart, Jack Dunn and others may be headed the same way, although with young players it can be a fluid situation as each individual develops at a different rate.

For instance, Jon Flanagan looked to be on his way before forcing his way into the side last season. Dunn and McLaughlin may yet make the grade at Anfield, but both have seen their development slowed by nagging injuries over the past year or two.

Dunn had a brief but successful loan at Cheltenham Town recently before injury cut short his time there, and McLaughlin suffered a similar fate while at Barnsley last season. Next year will be a big one for the young Northern Ireland international, as Liverpool's current system seems tailor-made for him as a marauding right wing back, but he'll need to steer clear of injuries if he's to have a chance.

For a club to be successful in this new era of financial fair play, working the loan system effectively has become increasingly vital. From Liverpool's point of view that means more loans of the "bridging" variety and less of the "damage limitation." Too often in previous years it's been the opposite, but there are signs that the Reds may be finally getting their act together, and hopefully Ibe will be the first of many success stories.