Derby County's Kieron Freeman reflects on valuable loan spells
KIERON Freeman is proof of how a loan spell can speed up the development of a young footballer.
Freeman had stints with Mansfield Town and Notts County while he was trying to make his way at Nottingham Forest.
Now, the 20-year-old is progressing nicely at Derby County following his summer move from Forest for an undisclosed fee.
His arrival at the club in August was rather overshadowed by the £1.2m signing of striker Conor Sammon a day or two earlier.
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Freeman slipped in under the radar but the plan was for him to continue his development in the under-21 team and, at the same time, provide cover in the first-team squad.
That is exactly what has happened.
He has started seven of the eight under-21 fixtures. The one he missed, the victory at Sheffield Wednesday, was due to him being away on international duty with the Welsh under-21 squad.
Freeman has also been an unused substitute in the last half a dozen Championship matches.
The 20-year-old has settled in smoothly. "Having a lot of players around my age in the squad has helped," he said, referring to the fact 10 of the squad are aged 21 or under.
Freeman has not forgotten the importance of those loan spells and how they gave him first-team experience and shaped him as a player.
He joined Blue Square Bet Premier side Mansfield Town in November 2011 and made nine appearances for the Stags.
"Going to Mansfield was a big step for me," said Freeman. "I had a spell pre-season at Forest when I was playing central midfield and no-one really wanted to take a chance on me by taking me on loan.
"Then Mansfield came in and I really enjoyed my time there. It opened a lot of doors for me.
"Going down to the Conference, I learned a lot. I learned how to look after myself. Most of the players are bigger than me but that suits me to a degree. I don't mind the physical side.
"I played nine games for Mansfield and I loved every minute.
"Paul Cox is a good manager and there are some good professionals at the club like John Thompson, who used to play for Notts. I spoke to him a lot and he helped me.
"I was there for two months. They wanted to keep me until the end of the season but I thought I would try my luck back at Forest, because there was a lot of injuries at the time."
Freeman returned to Forest in January and was handed a first senior start in an FA Cup third round tie against Leicester City.
The following day, he went out on loan again, this time to Forest's neighbours Notts County.
"I jumped at the chance to join Notts," said Freeman. "I thought it would be good for me and it was.
"Martin Allen signed me and I learned a lot from him. I think I played five or six games before Keith Curle came in and I learned a lot from him as well."
Freeman played 19 games for Notts in League One, 18 of them starts, and he was named the Football League's Young Player of the Month in February.
His impressive performances caught the eye and Curle tipped the youngster to play in the top flight.
"I think Kieron will play Premier League football," said Curle. "If he keeps on progressing the way he is, he has all the attributes.
"He is level-headed and has good ability. He has a calmness about him and a willingness to get forward. His enthusiasm for the game is fantastic and he wants to learn."
Freeman returned to Forest at the end of last season but his taste of first-team football left him wanting more.
Aware of Nigel Clough's reputation for giving young players a chance if they are good enough, he was delighted to join Derby and sign a two-year contract.
Right-back is his preferred position but he has already shown himself to be versatile.
He played right-back, left-back, central midfield and left midfield while at Forest.
Mansfield used him at left-back but, at Notts, he was a right-back or right-sided midfielder.
"As long as I am part of the squad, I don't mind where I play," said Freeman, who has appeared at right-back for the Rams' under-21 side, although he look comfortable on the right side of midfield in Monday's 4-2 victory over Wigan Athletic.
Born in Arnold, Nottingham, Freeman joined Forest at eight and progressed through the youth ranks.
He is the youngest player to have appeared for the three senior Nottinghamshire clubs – Forest, Notts and Mansfield – and there is split allegiance in his family.
His dad is a Forest fan, his grandad supports Notts and his uncle follows Derby.