Premier League loan players: What is lower league life like and how are they monitored?

Andros Townsend
Andros Townsend went on loan nine times en route to becoming a senior Premier league player and England international

There have been more than 100 loan moves involving English clubs in the January transfer window so far - a touch over 50% of all transfers - and there is time for plenty more.

Many of those will involve Premier League youngsters dropping down the leagues to gain first-team experience.

Youngsters like Ethan Hamilton (Manchester United), Joe Powell (West Ham) and Luke Bolton (Manchester City), will be hoping to make the same mark at Rochdale, Northampton and Wycombe respectively as the likes of Mason Mount (Chelsea) and Tosin Adarabioyo (Manchester City) have done already with Derby and West Brom.

Sixteen of Gareth Southgate's last 24-man squad began their journeys to the top by sampling life at the bottom with Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker and Harry Kane having journeyed to Darlington, Northampton and Leyton Orient.

So what does a player, fresh from the glamour of a top-flight academy, face when they take on the spit and sawdust of the lower leagues?

And how are clubs keeping a watchful eye on youngsters who have made the moves?

Buying an electric cooker and making your own ice baths

Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend knows all there is to know about dropping a few divisions to play some football.

"I'm the master when it comes to talking loans," he tells BBC Sport.

Townsend may only be 27 but he has already played under 18 different managers, largely because of nine loan moves in his early years at Tottenham.

Andros Townsend
Andros Townsend made 10 appearances for Yeovil, scoring one goal in their fight to stay in League One

That period involved dropping to League One before reaching the top-flight, via Yeovil, Leyton Orient, MK Dons, Ipswich, Watford, Millwall, Leeds and Birmingham, nearly four years later.

And he found himself taking the habits instilled at the Spurs academy with him wherever he went.

"At Yeovil me and Jonathan Obika were staying in accommodation above a pub and the food wasn't great, so we went out and bought an electric cooker," he said.

"I'm not sure if it was legal but we were cooking food in the hotel room off this cooker. We'd buy food at the supermarket and take turns to cook each other dinner every night.

"Those are the lengths we went to in order to do the right thing with our food and eat the sort of meals we had at Spurs on a daily basis."

Another element of professionalism, and one that caught on in the Huish Park dressing room, was taking regular ice baths.

A common practice at White Hart Lane, the sight of two 17-year-olds aiding their recovery in the freezing water resonated with other players during their battle to stay in League One.

"We were just so focused on trying to make an impression that we didn't care where we were," Townsend added. "We were playing men's football and fighting for our lives.

"My best experience on loan was keeping Yeovil in the division. We were in the relegation zone when I joined but we had a good run and managed to survive."

'Playing with lads who are fighting to pay their mortgage'

England's current first-choice goalkeeper Pickford is another beneficiary of the loan system - although finding him a club was not straightforward.

"Believe it or not, Jordan couldn't get in our youth team - he was actually playing more games for England's youth teams than Sunderland's at one stage," recalls Sunderland academy coach Mark Prudhoe.

"Craig Liddle [manager] at Darlington got in touch and asked if we had a keeper they could have on loan. We offered them Jordan but just imagine that sell to a non-league manager.

"'Has he played in your reserves?' 'No'. 'Is he playing in your youth team?' 'No, he can't get in it.' It's not very appealing is it?

"Craig trusted me, though, and then you started to see Jordan develop more. Suddenly he was accountable for everything he did, accountable for points, results and keeping a manager in a job."

Jordan Pickford
Preston was Jordan Pickford's final loan destination before he established himself as first-choice goalkeeper at Sunderland

Alfreton, Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston followed and then came a permanent move to Everton and a World Cup with England.

For Townsend it was not always plain sailing - a spell at Watford "didn't work and only lasted four weeks", while an injury crisis at Spurs also saw an early return from MK Dons to sit on the periphery.

But the experience "made me a stronger person".

"Players now maybe don't go out so frequently," he said.

"They play reserve football or academy football, which means they don't really know what it is like to play with lads who are fighting to pay their mortgage, to stay in the league, or for their next contract."

Twenty out on loan - how do you keep tabs?

Keeping track of loan players is becoming ever more challenging for Premier League clubs.

Take Manchester City, who have close to 20 players out on loan, requiring a team of staff to work with those leaving the club on a temporary basis.

Among those reporting to pathways manager Fergal Harkin and the club's head of football administration Brian Marwood, is former City and England defender Joleon Lescott, a two-time Premier League winner whose career spanned more than 600 games.

"I have played at a lot of levels, been injured, played abroad and I can draw on my experience in terms of telling players, 'this is what worked for me, this is what went wrong, this is what I would do or wouldn't'," Lescott says.

Jack Harrison Leeds
Jack Harrison's former team-mates include Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard

One of those City youngsters out on loan is winger Jack Harrison, who arrived at Leeds to be thrust into a Championship promotion battle.

"At Leeds the expectation is massive not only from the fans but from the players and the staff," said the 22-year-old.

"We all have the same goal of getting promoted and reaching the Premier League and you can feel it.

"I've been put in situations and not performed my best and you can feel the pressure instantly, but it comes as part of the job and I have to deal with it as a player."

For Lescott, the job can involve candid conversations with players about where their futures may lie, given the difficulty of breaking into Pep Guardiola's first team.

England Under-19 international Ed Francis is a striking example. The defender spent the first half of this campaign at Almere City in the second tier of the Dutch football, before Lescott paved the way for him to move to Wolves in January.

"People value my opinion and I was able to tell them about Ed and that could be of value to them," Lescott added.

"Not everyone is going to make it at Manchester City but we are trying to prepare them for a career in football."

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