In the first of a new feature I take a look at the top five players who have gone on to do great things after being loaned to Scottish clubs currently playing outwith the top flight. Lists are almost always controversial so comment if you disagree with my selection!
The reality of the financial climate of world football today means that clubs often call on loan players to fill gaps or to strengthen a team. Where in the past the bigger Scottish teams would develop their own talents, now it seems perfectly acceptable for them to loan players, usually from English academies.
For much of Scottish football though, the loan is not a new phenomenon. There have been some loans that would be better forgotten about, players that have flattered to deceive or just looked disinterested. However, in amongst the pile of players deemed not yet good enough by clubs in England and shipped off to Scotland as a result, there have been some players that have gone on to be a big success. Here’s a top five of players that came to Scotland on loan and went on to big things, as told by those that knew them best.
5. Danny Fox, Stranraer FC (2005, 11 appearances)
In January 2005 the then Stranraer FC manager Neil Watt made a phone call to David Moyes at Everton. His title chasing Stranraer side had been decimated by injuries and he needed players. Fox, a young left sided player was sent north to Stranraer. Stephen Swift, former manager of junior side Kilbirnie Ladeside and Stranraer player at the time recalls, “When Danny came in we had high expectations of him, coming from a Premier League club”.
He made his debut at Station Park against Forfar. “Compared to the youth football at Everton the game in Scotland was frantic and in your face and the intensity higher than he expected. It was a maybe a baptism of fire for him” Swift recounts.
He would go on to play 11 games over the remainder of the promotion winning season. Swift describes his role in winning that promotion. “He scored an absolute beauty away to Berwick (in a tough game). That showcased his quality and we saw that this boy is stepping up to the mark for us”.
After being told he had no future at Everton at the end of that season, Fox had so enjoyed himself playing for the Blues that he phoned Watt to ask for a contract, however Watt told him no, as he was destined for bigger things. Watt wasn’t alone in encouraging Fox to go elsewhere, during a holiday in Benidorm to celebrate clinching promotion, Fox told Swift that he would be interested in staying with Stranraer. Swift’s words? “You’re destined for bigger things than this”.
Fast forward 11 years and Fox has played for Celtic, Burnley, Southampton and Nottingham Forest. He has 4 Scotland caps and has earned his clubs millions of pounds in transfer fees. Celtic fans might have mixed feelings on his time with the club, but there’s no doubt that in Fox, Stranraer uncovered a gem. Swift still speaks highly of him and he has stayed in contact with his former teammate to this day.
4. Rob Earnshaw, Morton (2000, 4 appearances)
Rob Earnshaw is a well-known name to even casual followers of English football. Sixteen years ago he wasn’t well known, to then Morton manager Ian McCall he was simply “the Welsh Michael Owen”, as described by an English agent. Trivia buffs will know that he is the only player to have scored a hat-trick in every division in England as well as both cup competitions and for his national team. What might be lesser known is that Earnshaw had a short spell in Greenock early in his career. Earnshaw was sent to Morton to toughen up and played three league games and a cup game against Rangers in his time with the club, scoring two goals including one on his debut against Airdrie in a relegation showdown.
Looking back, McCall praises the impact that Earnshaw had. “He was lightning quick… a good finisher and the Morton punters loved his goal celebration”. What was supposed to be a three month spell was curtailed by a change in management and a swift recall to his parent club Cardiff City. McCall would have loved to have kept him longer, describing his spell as an “unmitigated success”, but it wasn’t to be.
His spell might have been short lived in Scotland but with 59 international caps to his name, was this always on the cards? McCall is clear that although you can never know with a player, Earnshaw had all the basics and with good coaching he felt that he would go on to become a great talent. Does the manager deserve any credit for his success since, given his short spell at Cappielow? His answer, an unequivocal no.
3. Tim Krul, Falkirk (2007-2008, 26 appearances)
Tim Krul joined Falkirk on an initial six month loan in 2007. Then a baby-faced 19 year old, Krul would learn a lot from his time at Falkirk and has recently praised the club for their role in his development as a player. Pedro Moutinho, a favourite of the Falkirk fans who played over 100 games for the club over three spells remembers Krul’s time with the club fondly.
Krul’s time in Falkirk wasn’t straightforward though. In his first two games at home to Celtic and away to Rangers he would concede 11 goals. As nightmarish a start as any goalkeeper could expect in football. Moutinho is clear that the players were still confident in his ability. “Looking back, it’s a team game. It’s not like he made mistakes that cost us goals. If it’s a poor team performance you can’t only blame the goalkeeper… I don’t think any fingers were pointed at the time or there was any doubts amongst the boys”.
John Hughes stuck with him, and the rest, as they say, is history. Krul’s loan was extended until the end of the season and he would become a firm favourite of the Falkirk fans. Whilst Falkirk benefitted from Krul, Moutinho is certain that Krul benefitted from Falkirk. “It was massive (for him). Especially at that young age. The hardest time in football is when you make that transition from under 19s to first team football. It’s a man’s world… For him it was good. He played and improved.”
Eight years later Krul has made 160 appearances for Newcastle, is currently on loan to Ajax and has been capped by Holland 8 times.
2. Jay Rodriguez, Stirling Albion (2008, 11 appearances)
In 2008 Stirling Albion found themselves fighting for their lives in the then first division. Enter Jay Rodriguez, a fresh faced 18 year old on loan from Burnley, desperate to cut his teeth with some first team action. Chris Aitken, Stirling captain at the time remembers his surprise when he found out Rodriguez was arriving on loan. “I don’t think we thought when we play at the level we do that you’d be able to get these sorts of boys up.”
He went straight in to the squad and made his first appearance as a second half substitute against Celtic in a 3-0 Scottish Cup defeat. Rodriguez joined the Stirling squad for the first time on the eve of that game. “We had a chat, he was a really nice boy and he was looking forward to playing some first team football. There was no bigger stage for him than playing Celtic in the cup. He loved every minute of it”.
Rodriguez would go on to score three goals for Stirling Albion. His commitment to the cause could hardly be questioned as he trained in Burnley and made the long weekly trip north for games. Aitken doesn’t think this affected his game. “When you’re a young boy travelling doesn’t come in to it. He would come up on a Thursday and train… and go back home on Saturday (after the match) to train with Burnley. It was good for him”. Aitken explains that at Burnley Rodriguez was in the gym every day before training, meaning he was in great shape.
Ultimately his efforts weren’t enough and Stirling would finish the season at the foot of the First Division table.
While Stirling have struggled in the years since, Rodriguez has seen his stock soar. He was signed by Southampton in 2012 for a fee of seven million pounds and has gone on to make close to 80 appearances for the Saints as well as one England appearance. Aitken is in no doubt that the player’s time in Scotland has helped him in his career. “Any boy playing first team competitive football at that level, it’s going to stand them in good stead… it definitely helped him”.
Stirling Albion fans probably didn’t appreciate it at the time, but in Rodriguez they had a player that was destined to play at the highest level.
1. Kasper Schmeichel, Falkirk (2007, 15 appearances)
Unless you were living with your head in the sand for the past few months it was impossible to escape the fairy tale unfolding down south. A key component to Leicester’s success has been the solid Kasper Schmeichel, beginning to forge a name for himself and moving out of his father’s impressive shadow. Moutinho draws parallels with Krul’s loan, as Schmeichel was moving from youth football to the senior game.
Schmeichel started his career at Man City however he never truly made an impression at the club. A series of loans included a spell at Falkirk from January until the end of the season in 2007. He would gain many admirers during his time in Falkirk and he even expressed his desire to extend his spell with the Bairns. Sadly, for Falkirk fans, it wasn’t to be. He was called back to Man City to make a handful of appearances before embarking on a tour of several lower league English clubs.
Not surprisingly, Moutinho identifies his ability even as a young player, to direct the defence and instruct his teammates. Those that watched Leicester last season will be all too familiar with the shots of Schmeichel berating his teammates and pointing his arms to instruct his defenders where to go.
Schmeichel comes from famous football lineage, his father the indomitable Peter of Manchester United fame. How did the Falkirk players react to his arrival? Moutinho says: “At first, when you first meet him that’s (the name) always on the back of your mind. Once you get to know him, you begin to respect him for who he is, not who his father is.”
Now, having won the English Premier League he’ll surely appreciate the small role that Falkirk played in getting him there.