Norwich City had more than 20 players go out on loan during the 2020-21 season.
The loan system at the club is an integral part of the player development programme and is overseen by loans manager Neil Adams. Neil gave his thoughts on the process and some of the successful loan deals the club had during the last campaign.
You can watch the interview in full right here, or read the transcript below.
canaries.co.uk: Hello Neil, we have had plenty of players out on loan this season. Looking at the loan system overall, how much of a benefit is it to a club like Norwich, considering the emphasis we put on player development?
NA: It is hugely important for everybody. For the players themselves, for the club and for the way the club’s model is. We need to produce players ourselves through the academy, or via loan moves, because that is the way it is at this football club. It has proven that it has worked, and it is really important for us to develop players that can play in the first team.
We don’t hide away from the fact that when players go on loan, ideally, they go on loan to come back and play in our first team, but if that is not to be then they increase their value or they go and get themselves good careers. So, the loan process takes three or four different pathways, but ultimately it is about producing players, giving them that experience at senior level, at whatever level that needs to be, to ideally make them good enough to come back and play for Norwich City.
canaries.co.uk: A lot of work goes into picking the right club and monitoring the players when they are out on loan. Can you just give us an overview of that process and how it works?
NA: Yes, we have regular meetings of senior staff to not only decide which players are going to be made available to go out on loan, but at what levels. That is the key to it, if you like. It is about placing the players at the right level for them. So, just for example, say a player goes out to League Two, that is not to say he is not as good as a player who goes out to League One or the Championship. It just means that they are, perhaps, not at that stage yet or not quite ready for it. It has been proven that players that have gone out to lower levels have actually ended up playing in the first team – League One for example with Ben Godfrey and James Maddison.
They have played League One football on loan, but they have played first team football for Norwich City. It is really important that we try and get that right. That the player is placed at a club where he has got a chance of playing and, ideally, the team will play a similar or close to the same style of play as us. So, the player comes back with the experience of playing senior football. If it is the first loan, then you are getting a player who is experiencing senior football for the very first time.
That is huge for us. The academy process and the academy games are really good, but it is about real football. It is about matchday, and 11 players going out there and points are on it and jobs are on the line and it means something. If you lose a game, there are the repercussions. That is what the players often find out when they go on their first loan, but there are other loans as well. For example, senior players who for whatever reason need games elsewhere.
That is where the monitoring comes in. We treat all the players the same. So, whether it is your first loan as a 17 or 18-year-old or you are a 34-year-old senior player, they are all monitored exactly the same because they are our players. That is my job then to make sure everything is fed back to Stuart (Webber) and Daniel (Farke), whether he is an academy player that the academy manager Steve Weaver needs to know about or whether it is a senior player like a Ben Godfrey, a James Maddison or a Todd Cantwell – even though they were younger then – that Stuart (Webber) and Daniel (Farke) need to know about. We will watch all the games. I will watch all the games, whether it is at the stadiums, via live streaming or whether it is via the footage that we get within two days, but also other senior staff like Stuart (Webber), like Daniel (Farke), like Steve Weaver, like Kieran Scott, will watch the games.
They will go and watch games as well and watch our loan players. It is one of the things we say to the players when they do go out on loan, you will be monitored just as thoroughly at your club as you would be if you stayed here. That is easier said than done, because sometimes words are cheap, but we feel over the years players do realise now that when you go out on loan, we will watch every kick of the ball that they make. So, there is no excuses, and we won’t miss anything. If you are playing well, we will know about it but equally if you are not, we will also know about it. The monitoring process is very thorough. It is planned, it is monitored very thoroughly, and it gives the players that do go on loan the very best chance.
canaries.co.uk: The covid-19 pandemic has created plenty of problems for the footballing world in the 2020/21 season, but how has it affected the loan system here at Norwich?
NA: I have been fortunate that it hasn’t affected anything domestically, but it has certainly affected the players that we have had on loan abroad. I am fortunate that clubs do allow a certain number of staff in to watch games. I think most clubs adhere to (letting in staff) from the next three opponents. They allow those representative clubs to go in and watch, but also – because we have got a player on loan there – they allow myself in or one of our staff. So, I have seen most of our players domestically in just as many games as I would have if there hadn’t been any Covid. It is a bit more difficult obviously, but it has been a bit more difficult for everybody. However, I have been able to go into the stadiums to see the players.
Abroad, obviously it is different. Whereas normally I would travel abroad to watch a lot of our players that hasn’t been possible because of the quarantine restrictions. It hasn’t affected us at all in watching the games, because as I said we have watched a lot of the games via live streaming, or we have watched them after the games, when we get the footage sent to us or we dig it out ourselves. So, we have still seen every kick of the ball. The actual difference is that I have not been in the stadiums to watch them, and people might say: ‘Does that make much of a difference?’ and it does because watching a game via TV or the footage, you are only seeing where the ball is. When you go to watch players live in a stadium, for example if I am watching a centre forward; it is obviously important what he does when he has the ball, but it is just as important for us what he is doing away from the ball and obviously you don’t see that on live TV, you just see where the ball is.
So, when I go to watch a player in Holland, Belgium or Germany, I am watching them all the time to see how they react to situations. That is part of the monitoring process. We need to know if they are they going to be good enough for us and you can only do that properly when you are watching them in the stadium. How they warm up, how they cool down, how they react to a substation, how they react to a missed chance or a teammate not passing them the ball. You have got to be in the stadium to see that and that has been affected, but we still have seen every game for every player that we have sent on loan.
canaries.co.uk: Archie Mair spent the season on loan at National League side King’s Lynn Town. How beneficial is it for keepers to play that level of football, where it can be quite physical, and how much of a benefit is it to have the links the club currently has with King’s Lynn in terms of it being very close to Norwich?
NA: To answer the first point of your question. Players going on loan, particularly young players when it is their first loan, it is an eye-opening experience for them. When you are a keeper, and a young keeper, it is even bigger because they normally go from academy football category one, where the ball is on the ground a lot, it is very technical and there is a lot of passing, to their first loan to the National League or League Two, for example, where the ball is in the air quite a lot.
For a player that is one thing, but for a keeper, and a young keeper, that is very different. They certainly get exposed to what football is like at the lower levels and senior level. We have had a number of young keepers who have gone out and, probably, one of the first things they say after two or three games is ‘wow, I didn’t expect the ball to be coming in under the crossbar every two seconds’ and ‘centre forwards are jumping up and I am getting elbowed’, but the benefit we get from that is huge because they then know what senior football is about and if they need toughening up, then they will toughen up and if they need the experience of dealing with a lot of crosses, then they’ll get that, but they are also getting senior football as well.
Certainly, with Archie going to King’s Lynn, he has had 25 to 30 games at a proper level where, as I say, it matters. He has been exposed to teams that will try and put him under pressure and centre forwards who want to put him on his backside. So, it has been invaluable for us, and Archie has done really, really well there. In terms of King’s Lynn, it is beneficial to both clubs. They are right on our doorstep and if we can put one or two players on loan to King’s Lynn each year then, of course, it will benefit King’s Lynn, but it will also benefit us as well. That is, certainly, a link that we will try and keep going with them because it makes sense for both clubs, I think.
canaries.co.uk: In League One Akin Famewo played 22 games with Charlton and Louis Thompson played 17 games for MK Dons, how pleased were you with the progress of those two players?
NA: It is different, because when you are sending players on loan what is the ultimate, what is the target, what is the goal? As I said before, it is to come back and play for us but sometimes that needs to be done in stages.
The goal for Akin was to go and get games under his belt, to go and prove himself at League One level and impress at a good club, a really big club, in Charlton Athletic. He has had a fantastic loan there. He was excellent. He kept six clean sheets in the first seven games, and six clean sheets on the spin, which is pretty much unheard of at any level. He was part of that back four and the goalkeeper who did that, along with the team to give Charlton credit. We have seen all his games and he has done really well. He has shown his attributes, that we know he has got. He is strong, he is quick, he can defend, and he can play on the ball. He was hampered by one or two injuries, which was a bit of a shame, because it disrupted his flow and frustrated him, but I think overall he went and showed what a good defender he is and, obviously, he has ticked that box and now it is on to next season and what decision and what pathway he has now.
In terms of Louis, it is different. Louis is far more experienced but has had horrendous injuries. He went to MK Dons because we know Russ (Russell Martin) has a similar style to us, he likes to play football, but unfortunately Louis picked up another couple of injuries this season which again has disrupted the flow for him. It is driving him as mad as it is driving everyone mad, because he is a top player, Louis. He is a fantastic kid and a great player and, obviously, him and the club, want him to go and get 30 games on the spin and that is why he went to MK Dons. He played well for them when he played, don’t get me wrong, but we are all a little bit frustrated that he didn’t come back to us having played 35 to 40 games, which is what we were hoping for.
canaries.co.uk: Yes, because when you look at a previous loan spell for Ben Godfrey in League One, who you mentioned before, he played 40 games for Shrewsbury as they got into the play-off final and came back to Norwich and did very well, so it is that kind of experience that you are looking for in terms of a loan spell.
NA: Yes, I think Ben (Godfrey) played 50-odd games for Shrewsbury that season – he played virtually every game – and played in midfield for a lot of them as a holding midfielder. These loans sort of underpin the whole process here because I am pretty sure at the time a lot of supporters might have thought ‘okay, we have got this top, top talent here in Ben Godfrey and people are thinking he could go all the way, why Shrewsbury Town? Why not go to a Premier League club or a top Championship club?’ And that is our jobs, because even though people are saying ‘why Shrewsbury Town’ if you look at why, there is a lot of reason, and considered reason behind it. We knew Shrewsbury Town, I knew Paul Hurst and how he plays, I had been to the training ground and the stadium to see the facilities and to see how the team played before he (Ben Godfrey) went there. So that is why he went to Shrewsbury, because I felt that he would get game time, that they would have a good season the year that he was there and he would improve himself ultimately to the levels we needed him to.
What I wanted from Ben Godfrey after 50 games at Shrewsbury was to make it easy for me to go to Stuart (Webber) and Daniel (Farke) and say: ‘okay, he is ready, in my opinion. Give him a chance and have a look at him’. That is what happened, and it was the same with Todd (Cantwell), we have heard numerous times: ‘Why Dutch second division to Fortuna Sittard’. Probably a lot of people had not even heard of it, but why the Dutch second division, why not the top division. Well, if he had gone to the top division at the time, he probably wouldn’t have played because he wasn’t ready physically. So, he went to the second tier, which was very technical, which was very much about playing through the thirds, which is very similar to our style of football. It would get him on the ball a lot to showcase his talents but also to expose him to senior football and toughen him up a bit. Todd did fantastic and the rest is history. That is why when people say ‘put these players at the best clubs’, well they might not get a game at the best clubs. Their development and their pathway: Is pick the right club, get them that opportunity and hope they flourish and those two examples, the ones we have just talked about, those two players absolutely flourished.
canaries.co.uk: You have talked as well about senior football and the pressure for the three points and how everything matters and how being exposed to that is important for a player’s development. Sam McCallum played a number of games for Coventry City in a real pressure situation this season as they battled for survival from the Championship. Coventry, ultimately, achieved that goal but how beneficial is it for players like Sam to be in those situations where their either battling for promotion or battling against relegation towards the end of the season and there is a lot of pressure on those games?
NA: Yes, Sam (McCallum) played 40 odd games in the Championship this season, which is absolutely fantastic for him, for us and was for Coventry. Let’s not forget that; they had a good player, playing very well for them all year. It was good for Sam in that – with the greatest respect – Coventry were at the wrong end of the table fighting, because having just been promoted into the Championship their target was to establish themselves. So, for a defender, particularly, we were going to find out quite a lot about Sam because Coventry were going to be under the cosh quite a bit in a lot of the games. I have got to say they played really well all through the season, which was fantastic, but of course Sam was tested and that is what we wanted. We had got him in, and we knew what a good player he is. He had played at League One with Coventry and now this was a step up and he has passed that test.
Sam has done excellent, and we hope now that he goes on and continues on his pathway again. These decisions are difficult because not only has he done well at that level, we have been promoted to the Premier League. So, maybe, decisions for players to come back and play for us is a lot more difficult now because we are not in the Championship anymore and that does affect it. So there are a lot of decision that have got to be made, but it is one thing playing for promotion or relegation but you are putting players under pressure and you are finding out about them at whatever level and when it is their first time out on loan, and they are finding out about football for real, you can put a player on loan for a season and just look at it in terms of how many games he has played.
If he has not played many, he has still learnt so much. It has still been a positive for us. Okay it hasn’t worked out as we wanted on the pitch, he hasn’t got as many games, but he has been training with the first team day in, day out for a year. He has been exposed to matchdays and he has played a bit of game time. So, he will have taken so much from that. One by learning what he needs to do for next time or, two, knowing that this is what it is all about. So, even a loan that doesn’t work out as it might look on paper, it might have done the best thing for the kid at the time because he has learnt so much about what it is all about.
Canaries.co.uk: Moving onto a few of the players that have spent time abroad now, in the Belgium and Holland. We have had Dan Adshead and Sebastian Soto at SC Telstar; Daniel Sinani and Melvin Sitti at Waasland Beveren and Rocky Bushiri at KAS Eupen. How pleased are you with the links the club has built up with the clubs in both those countries, considering, as you mentioned before, the style of football in those countries is very similar to the style of football Norwich City plays?
NA: In terms of the links, the more contacts and the more links you get the better and that has evolved over the six years that we have had this loan programme now that we have got very, very strong links with so many clubs and contacts for virtually all the clubs in England, but the number of clubs that we are sending players to in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Spain and France, we have got good links with those as well now. So, if, a scenario comes up, and every player is different you have almost got to put a bespoke plan together for each player, but for example Todd Cantwell. Todd Cantwell’s situation was, can we expose him to senior football but without getting beat up and in a team that doesn’t just play long balls and plays the type of football that we like to play? Well, when you narrow all those filters down, there isn’t much at the end of it, so the more contacts, or the more go-to clubs that you have got, the better. Dan and Sebastian went to Telstar because we have got links at Telstar.
Charlie Gilmore had been their previously. I know Andries Jonker (SC Telstar's head coach) really well. Andries was once academy manager at Arsenal, so you can see how the links come and you put it together. So, when we feel we have got a player for them, or they want a player off us, we can make it work. And the beauty of it is that once it has been tried and you know it works well, you trust them, and they trust you, and you are happy with the level and the style of football then, as long as the manager stays in place, and there are not too many changes, you are always going to be looking to use them and they are always going to be looking to use you. Particularly if it works well as it did with Sebastian for example. He went there just briefly with Telstar and banged in a load of goals and, of course, they are going to be delighted with it and they are going to be saying: Where is the next one?
Dan Adshead, is different, he has played 35 games and at a really good level in the Dutch second division and for an 18-year-old when he went out there, that is a huge credit to him because, while he had played first team football for Rochdale, which is why we signed him, he is still a young man and he is out on loan and you are putting him in a foreign country.
How does he cope with being in a foreign country and being on his own at 18 years old? You can’t just send anyone there, and it is credit to Dan that we trusted sending him there, we knew his mentality. He is a real, sound reasoned guy. We knew it wouldn’t affect or phase him and we knew that he could handle that, otherwise we wouldn’t have sent him there, and he did handle it with flying colours. He finished with SC Telstar only last week and Andrew (Jonker) sent me a lovely email praising how well Daniel had done for him, not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch with the way that he conducted himself, which is equally important to us as a football club. He was representing Norwich City and the email said he never had a problem with him, he was never late for anything, he was always so professional in everything he did, gave everything on the pitch, listened to advice and improved as a player. That is just a tick, tick, tick for us in the boxes that we want. So that is the beauty and the benefit of sending someone to somewhere that you know. Todd (Cantwell) probably started that with Dutch second division side Fortuna, but since then we have players on loan at Dordrecht and SC Telstar as well at that level. We like that level, we know that level and we have got the links there.
On to the guys in Belgium, in terms of Danel (Sinani) and Melvin (Sitti). Danel did really well, particularly towards the end of the season even though it didn’t work out well for them as a club. Danel also found out one or two things that he needed to improve on and he would be the first to admit that himself, and he did so. We were speaking to him regularly, having Zoom calls. As we have mentioned before, we couldn’t go out to see him, unfortunately, but Stuart (Webber) and myself were speaking to him all the time about his performances, what he had done well, what we think he needed to do better and credit to Danel, the one or two things that we asked him to improve on, he really rolled his sleeves up and got on with it. I think that played a big part in him doing so well towards the end of the season.
Melvin (Sitti) was different. He didn’t really get an opportunity there and that was one that didn’t work out for us, Melvin or for Beveren. He didn’t get the game time that we wanted but we have all learned a lot from it. So hopefully that benefits everyone going forward with Melvin with his next opportunity, whether it is on loan or whatever, you can always take something from it. You say, okay it didn’t work out, but why didn’t it work out. What could we have done better, what could you have done better, what could they have done better. Onto Rocky in Belgium. Rocky’s stock is very high in Belgium. He has played for the under-21 team and had some fantastic performances for them against some big teams. They beat Germany for example, who were regarded as the best under-21 team at that time last year and Rocky was man of the match in that game. So, his stock is really high there and it made sense to keep him there. He knows Belgium and they know him. He has been unfortunate with injuries, which we talked about with Louis (Thompson). You can’t help that, and an injury can derail you and put you back and that has been frustrating for us and for Rocky because he got himself going, and then he got an injury, and then he got himself going again, and then he got an injury and he needed surgery and then, all of a sudden, the season was over, and you are thinking it is frustrating. Rocky is a really good player and what we want, and what Rocky wants, is for him to go and have an injury free season and showcase what he can do and then everyone will benefit from that.
canaries.co.uk: You mentioned the appraisal that Dan (Adshead) got for his work off the pitch, and you have also mentioned the loans that haven’t worked out in terms of game time for players. I am guessing when it comes to monitoring, what the players are doing in training and away from the pitch is something you keep a very close eye on as well, for that reason.
NA: Absolutely. I will never lie to the players. I will never tell them they are doing well when they are not. And I’ll never lie to the club and tell them this player is a fantastic player, you should take him on loan, if he is not. I will tell them his strengths and his weaknesses and then they will go and deal with that. However, it is hugely important that the player understands that when they go on loan to a club that, number one, they get game time. That is an absolute priority, but nobody gets given gifts. So, if we put a player, like a Dan Adshead on loan to Telstar it is fantastic because we can give him glowing references to the manager Andries (Jonker) and say ‘look, we have got a fantastic player here who we feel he has got a massive future’ but he still then has to go and do it on the shop floor. He has to go and be a good enough player to play games, otherwise he won’t get picked, he’ll be dropped, he’ll be sat on the bench or in the stand. And we will never criticise a club for doing that providing we agree with it. So, for example, if Dan Adshead got left out of the team for one week, two weeks, or four weeks, then from the monitoring process we will know whether that is right or wrong.
Has he been deservedly left out or is this a bit naughty and that is where it is easy for us, because if it is not right, if we feel he has been left out of the team for the wrong reasons, then I will pick up the phone or I will fly out there and have a chat with the manager. However, he knows, and every other loan player knows, 99 times out of 100, that if you have not been picked then the manager has not picked you because you are not doing well or you are not good enough or he doesn’t feel he’ll help you win the game on Saturday that will keep him in his job. That is football. You go out there to play games, but if they are not good enough or they are not playing well enough, we say fine. I tell the players, don’t pick the phone up to me and say ‘I am not being picked, because I’ll say ‘I know, I wouldn’t have picked you either’.
What are you going to do to get back in the team? What have you got to do? On the rare occasions that we feel players are being harshly treated, maybe because they are a loan player, then it is different. We will look at speaking to the club and maybe recalling the player. Pleasingly that has happened very few and far between. We will give the players everything, they know that. The clubs that they go to, we feel will give them everything, but you have got to do it. You have got to go and play well enough to play your 40 or 50 games a season and then we are all happy. If you don’t, then we have found out that maybe you are not as good as you thought you were or we thought you were. It is then about what have you got to go and do to be a regular starter. However, you can only do that if you know exactly what is going on and we feel we are very good in that respect.
canaries.co.uk: It is very full on at Norwich and even though we have got to the summer, and there are less games, I am sure it is a very busy time for you. Can you give us an overview on what the summer looks like in terms of analysing last season and looking at the loans for next campaign?
NA: First of all, we review everything. That has been done now. Last season is done, and it is now onto the next season. So, the process for us, and we have already done this, is to get together as a group of staff, regularly, and firstly establish a list of players that might be available for loan and that goes down from the most experienced player to your youngest pro. What we do then is create a list of those and then send them to our preferred clubs. I think we have got 85 to 90 club representatives that will get this list. These are the players who are available for loan. Have a look, see what you think and give us a call.
Then, obviously, the phone starts ringing. If it doesn’t then we are in trouble, but pleasingly, even as we speak now when our season has just finished and the play-offs are still being played, we are having a lot of enquiries for players from clubs that would like to take our players on loan. The process, when you have got those enquiries, is then filtering it out and making sure the plan is bespoke for the player, it suits everyone. That can take a long time to get to the point where we feel that club is right for that player and then we will start the negotiations and the contracts will be drawn up and, eventually, after that the player will go there. And, ideally, we will get the player there in the summer transfer window ready to go on day one of pre-season with the clubs. That is the ideal scenario. Of course, that can’t always happen, because some players might not be available for loan until the end of the transfer window, because of circumstance. However, if you have got players that you ideally want to get out on loan next season then if we can get them there on day one then we feel that is most beneficial for the player, because he starts day one with everybody else at the club. He doesn’t come in as the new boy, when they have already been training for two or three weeks. We will try and get a lot of the contracts and the loans done, where possible, so they can go off with the clubs and hit the ground running.