But now? Now, they are yesterday’s news. Their time is gone. The current growth area at football clubs is a breed of employee whose title seems more suited to a branch of bank: loans manager.
Hearts appointed former player Gary Naysmith to this role earlier this week, to which the most common response seemed to be: Hearts need a loans manager? Maybe in Vladimir Romanov’s financially chaotic time, but now?
However, this position has nothing to do with debt management. It is actually more likely to signal prosperity. Or at least identify a well-resourced club, one with enough players to mean they have the luxury of sending out multiple players on loan.
In England, this has long since reached an extreme level, meaning Fifa is currently considering imposing a limit on the number, which does place an immediate question mark over the job prospects for Naysmith and others.
There are concerns that bigger clubs are hoarding players and loaning them out to smaller, less well-off teams, who, while contributing to development, do not get any of the reward if the player is eventually sold on.
Chelsea had as many as 41 out on loan during the second half of last season.
They even have a loan player technical coach – former striker Tore Andre Flo. Former Rangers skipper David Weir, meanwhile, performs essentially the same role at Brighton & Hove Albion, where it is expected as many as 20 will be out on loan by the end of this window.
Weir, who was appointed just over a year ago, has been quietly going about his business in a role that has required him to travel as far as Ecuador and Argentina to keep tabs on loanees. In some cases, these so-called Brighton players have not even set foot on England’s south coast and do not have work permits yet in any case.
Weir is their point of contact. There is a lot more to the role than simply choosing which loanee to go and watch each weekend. This is certainly the case in England, where the outlay on these players is significant.
Naysmith’s role is part-time but Hearts still expect to have as many as ten players out on loan by the end of this transfer window. Alex Petkov at Clyde and Daniel Baur and Lewis Moore, at Bonnyrigg Rose and Falkirk respectively, are already out on loan and are Naysmith’s first responsibilities.
He watched Petkov perform for Clyde against East Fife last weekend.
Rangers were the first club in Scotland to appoint a loans manager. Billy Kirkwood was given this title last year and Craig Mulholland, the club’s head of academy, has explained how vital the loan system is for the Ibrox club in the absence of a system where B, or colt, sides are accommodated. Rangers have 11 players currently out on loan, with five more likely to be fixed up before the end of the window. Kirkwood intends to be at Fleetwod Town v AFC Wimbledon this afternoon to watch Jordan Rossiter.
As well as strength in depth, the number of players on loan also indicates an unhappiness with the quality of competition on offer at youth and reserve team level. Several clubs, including Rangers, have withdrawn from this year’s reserve league.
For players too old for the youth team and not quite ready for regular first-team involvement, the only option is to head out on loan elsewhere. Those such as Naysmith and Kirkwood ensure it is not a case of out of sight, out of mind.