‘To loan’ or ‘to borrow’ has a simple definition: to take and use (something belonging to someone else) with the intention of returning it.

And while that description doesn’t usually apply to Premier League footballers, it very much still applies when it comes to Brentford’s loan system.

This season, clubs from across the EFL and beyond have taken and used Bees players to great success and, thankfully for the west Londoners, they will return heading into the 2024/25 campaign.

A loan can be an important part of a player’s development, giving them not just invaluable lessons on the pitch but also vital life skills off it.

As mentioned, this campaign, multiple Brentford players have benefitted from loan spells away from Gtech Community Stadium, but how does that process work?

Loan manager David Langridge explains: “Me, Lee [Dykes] and Phil [Giles] will discuss the plans for the players and where we see the best place for them to develop and where we want them to play.

“Through those conversations, I’ll then put together videos and collect different data from each department, so we have all the players’ details in one document.

“We'll all go away, separately, and speak to different clubs, find any interest in the players; then we all sit down together and choose where we think is best for them.

"The most important thing is working out where’s going to maximise their potential and where’s going to give them the most opportunities to succeed.

"We want to place a player in a club where we know they're going to play, and where they're going to play a style that suits their strength so they can showcase their abilities.

“I'll also be watching certain teams and think either a) that a player we’ve got suits their style because of his strengths, or b) that the other club are missing something and this player could complement them.

“And then I'll go away and speak to the manager of the team or the player themselves and explain the opportunity for them.”

Asked whether it’s important to loan a player to a club that plays a similar style of football to Brentford, technical director Lee Dykes adds: “It’s not necessarily that they need to play the way we play, no.

“The longevity of a manager nowadays is short, so there’s always a risk that the manager will change during the season.

“We’re just looking for a good, well-structured club like ours. That’s important for us.

“A club where decisions aren’t solely made by the manager because that, by the law of averages, would put the player at risk in the 12-month period.”

One player who has had an extremely successful term out in the EFL this season is Fin Stevens, who joined Oxford United on a season-long loan at the start of the 2023/24 campaign.

The Brentford defender won promotion from League One whilst away from the Bees, featuring in both play-off semi-finals before the U’s beat Bolton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium in the final.

On his move to the third tier, he states: “The reason I came to Oxford was because I spoke to the gaffer and his philosophy suited my style of play: I like to play out from the back, I want to play football.

“The people you come up against in League One is completely different every week, which has been a good learning experience.”

And it has been a brilliant learning experience for many other Bees players who have spent time away from the club this term, plying their trade lower down the pyramid.

Langridge reviews: “This season, with every player, we've seen some real steady improvements with them all.

“In League One, Fin got promoted with Oxford, Myles Peart-Harris won the league with Portsmouth, Paris [Maghoma] won Bolton’s Young Player of the Season.

“We've seen with Paris, he’s improved in the final third, added more goals and assists to his game, got more consistent, and he now looks like a really top player.

“There are other players like Ryan Trevitt, who went out on his first loan with Exeter, and there were some question marks as to how well he would do - but he exceeded everyone's expectations, looked like one of the better players in the league at times, and scored some real important goals and had some real key moments in League One.

“But even players like Daniel Oyegoke, who had a real tough injury, went back to Bradford City, got back in the team, had a fantastic run of games, and narrowly missed out on the play-offs in League Two.

“So there has been lots and lots of development in different ways, both on and off the pitch, and it's been great to see.”

Other Brentford players who made a loan move this season include Matt Cox and Tristan Crama, who spent time with Bristol Rovers, making a combined 55 League One appearances; and Charlie Goode and Michael Olakigbe, who spent the second half of the season with Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United, respectively.

Whilst those loan moves didn’t end in promotion or maybe as many appearances as the player or the club would have liked, there are valuable lessons to be learned from every experience spent with a different side in a different environment, going out of their comfort zone.

Dykes explains: “Players can sometimes really benefit from working hard to be selected and trying to get into the team, which I think is humbling.

“Any loan experience is a good one and will add to what sort of person and player they are today.”

Langridge adds to Dykes’ point: “There's a lot of resilience, a lot of change, and a lot of adapting that has to take place during the loan, and there have been times throughout the season where players have been dropped, they’ve had to work harder, they've had to fight for their place, and respond to lots of different challenges.

“It’s a lot harder to motivate yourself when things aren't going well, so not playing can make the player stronger and give them that desire they need to knuckle down and work harder.

"Going out on loan, so many different things can happen, so there's so much personal development potential; different scenarios and different situations where players have to develop resilience.

“For some of these players, they’re going from a B-team environment into a first-team environment, where they're playing for three points, week in, week out, and the games come thick and fast.

“So, they have to be ready but they also have to adapt quite quickly to that change of environment, different managers, different styles of play, different places to live, and it's important to just support those players and make sure that they're not left alone, to remind them that there are people there to help them and to support them along the way. It's important to step in at the right time and give them that mentorship and guidance at the key moments.”

Stevens experienced a difficult loan spell during the 2022/23 campaign with Championship side Swansea City, where he made just five appearances under Russell Martin.

He reflects: “You’ve got to be a little bit careful. Last season I tried it, went to Swansea, didn’t play much, and it didn’t work out - they’re not always unbelievable and successful.

“My advice would be: don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s good to speak to people around you, the coaching staff, to see how you’re doing and if you’re ready.

“But you’ll know when you’re ready, you’ll know in yourself. For me, when I was in the B team, I got to a point where I knew I could make the jump.”

As well as finding the right loan for a player, monitoring their progress is also a key part of the process.

Ultimately, the goal is for a player to impress elsewhere, before coming back to west London and making an impact in the first team.

And Brentford head coach Thomas Frank will pay attention to how players are doing when they’re away from the club, with the view of them coming back and impressing in pre-season.

The Bees boss states: “I keep an eye on them, and we have a big group of staff whose main responsibility is to make sure everything is going well and is in the right place.

“I’ll also get a shout to say, ‘Hey, remember to look at that goal, that action, or these clips’, of someone that is away.

“We follow them. It’s an important part of how we develop players.”

Dykes adds: “Whilst they’re away, we really focus on their performance levels - our IDP programme and loan management system are really focused on transmitting the information back to the coaches here, so that they have a realistic opportunity to come back into Brentford.”

On how much contact he has with players during their time away, Langridge explains: “It's different for each player; everyone has different individual needs.

“For some players, it might be their first loan away from Brentford and their first time living away; for other players, they may have had two or three loans already.

“So there will be some that are doing really well, performing well and you can leave a bit more, and there will be others that might need a bit more of an arm around the shoulder and a bit more mentorship at times.

“But you try and check in with them as much as possible, without wanting to overload them with too much, because part of the loan process is obviously about them going away and developing, not just as a player but also as a person.

“You want to get that fine balance between when's the best time to speak to them and when's the best time to give them some time to reflect on things and develop some self-awareness.”

To end each conversation, Langridge, Dykes and Frank are asked, ‘What makes the perfect loan?’

It was posed with the thought that the trio might not have an answer, with ‘perfect’ always a difficult thing to put your finger on - but they all respond in a similar way, highlighting the alignment at the football club.

Dykes goes first: “There’s a lot of due diligence that goes into it, we like getting our players out, but we’re looking for them to play a lot of minutes - the more they play is better for everyone.”

Frank adds: “It’s so difficult to find those ‘perfect’ loans, where the position the player is going to play, the club, and the style of play is all exactly how you want it to be.

“But the main thing is that they play and get a sustained period of minutes - that’s the perfect loan.”

And Langridge finalises, elaborating on the point that a good loan involves a player getting consistent minutes: “The journey to the top isn’t linear or in a straight line, so the perfect loan has to have different challenges and different hurdles for players to overcome.

“But, ultimately, we want them at a club where they're going to get the opportunity to develop, work with good people and good coaches.

“I feel like with all of our loans this season, we've been able to place them in clubs where they've been able to develop, both on and off the pitch.”