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Here’s what FIFA’s new loan rule proposals would do to Fiorentina

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Alternate title: Sucks to be Atalanta right now.

Italy v Fiorentina U19
Ah, the Crow in his natural habitat: chatting with the Italy U19 manager.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

By now, most of you have heard that FIFA is considering a complete overhaul to how the transfer market works in an effort to cut down on the (frequently illicit) influence that players’ agents wield. Setting aside the part where FIFA is worried about abuses of power and backroom deals (realistically, Gianni Infantino and company want to make sure that as much of the $6.5 billion that moves each year in the mercato stays with them), what’s gotten everyone’s attention is a new rule that would limit every team to loaning out 8 players over the age of 21.

The other parts of the proposal—a centralized clearinghouse where all international transfers would be reviewed, a cap the commission agents can charge on a deal of 5% of the fee or of the player’s salary, an algorithmically-generated maximum for transfer fees—would all affect Fiorentina as well, but we’ll address those later. For now, we’ll stick with the loan issue.

The Viola currently have 18 players who are registered with the senior club loaned out at various clubs around the world. Of those 18 players, 8 are over the age of 21: Jaime Báez (Cosenza), Sebastian Cristoforo (Getafe), Gilberto (Fluminense), Amidu Salifu (Arezzo), Riccardo Saponara (Sampdoria), Andrés Schetino (Cosenza), Lorenzo Venuti (Lecce), and Luca Zanon (Robur Siena). Gaetano Castrovilli (Cremonese) will turn 21 later this year as well.

Of those 9 players, only 2 (Castrovilli and Venuti) have any realistic chance of contributing to the senior side any time soon. However, if you’d like to see, say, Kevin Diks move elsewhere in search of more playing time, or if Maxi Olivera’s move abroad ends up requiring a loan rather than an immediate sale, there could be big problems down the road.

Overall, though, this doesn’t look like a huge problem for the Viola, although it would throw the finances a bit wonky for a bit; after all, the purchasing power for this year’s spending spree has come largely from the sales of players who were technically loaned out last year. While the Cheese is the only notable player currently working under this model, this change could handicap Fiorentina’s (and any other small or midsize club’s) ability to kick the can down the road another year.

Where things would get trickier for the Viola is player acquisition. The club, and DS Pantaleo Corvino in particular, loves to get players on a year-long loan with an option to buy. Look at the big names on the club that joined under this formula: Germán Pezzella, Marko Pjaca, Kevin Mirallas, Edimilson Fernandes, Cristiano Biraghi. If it gets more difficult for clubs to loan players out, an outright sale will probably be more desirable, as it will grant additional roster flexibility.

What we’d probably see a lot more of, then, are sales with buyback clauses written in. Those haven’t exactly worked out well for Fiorentina in the past (Cristiano Piccini says hi), so it’s an area of some concern. We could also see an increase in deals that guarantee the seller a cut of all future sales of a player (Ante Rebić also says hi) or that provide some sort of other financial or competitive incentive, which would, in a lot of ways, make the whole process more convoluted, more byzantine, and more reliant on experts (like, say, agents) to make it work. That seems to run against FIFA’s stated goals.

The other piece of this puzzle is the FIGC’s recent decision to allow Serie A teams to field reserve sides in Serie C or Serie D. That could change the entire texture of calcio, since a lot of Serie C and D rosters are 50% loanees sent there to get playing time. If the big teams aren’t allowed to loan players out, the lower division outfits may not have the money to get a full squad, which means we could see even more clubs fold. That’s never a good thing, and FIFA should definitely take that into account.

However, if Fiorentina could field a reserve team in Serie C (or even one day in Serie B), that would fix a lot of problems. Spanish clubs have mastered this practice, with Barcelona and Real Madrid frequently sending prospects back and forth between the first team and reserve teams as necessary. A Fiorentina second side would guarantee playing time for guys like Diks or Martin Graiciar, who have talent and need to be playing but still aren’t quite ready for regular Serie A minutes.

Instead of loaning players out all over creation, the club could “sell” them (for free, obviously) to the second side. That would ensure continuity in young players’ development, which is crucial; rather than relocating to a new city and a new team and a new style of play, the youngsters would stay in Florence and learn to play a specific Viola style that would better prepare them for the senior side, easing the transition for those who are good enough.

While this is all very complicated, Fiorentina have an advantage in Corvino, who understands the transfer market as well as anyone in Italy. The Crow has seen all sorts of changes previously and figured out how to keep working his magic, so it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be able to adapt to whatever FIFA throws at him. If he’s as good as we think, the chaos that these new loan rules could cause might benefit Fiorentina quite a bit as ol’ uncle Pantaleo maneuvers himself into the tightest spaces in search of cheap talent, and that’s not a bad thought.