It’s the 90th minute of the World Cup final. The game is balanced on a knife edge. You win the ball on the halfway line and beat a defender, then beat a second one. After covering 30 yards with an air of invincibility you are now 1v1 against the goalkeeper. You round the keeper and score in an empty net. The cheer of adoring fans quickly follows as you celebrate this momentous goal. If you were like me as a child and had an interest in football, you probably had dreams like this one. There was nothing stopping my younger self from believing this fantasy could one day become a reality. After all I had the talent to make it…
As time wore on this dream became more of a distant possibility. I played at grassroots level and even went on trial for a professional club, but now I knew the odds were highly stacked against me. My passion for the game was strong but I had started to turn my attention away from making it as a professional footballer. Fortunately, I had a great support network that guided me through school and eventually towards starting a career in financial services.
My reality is not always the case for those who aspire but miss out on making it pro. Being a child usually means you think and act like one. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who expects a child to deal with rejection and conflict in a sophisticated way. This is often what is expected from youth players at football academies.
In the worst case scenario, youth players who are trying to make it pro and fall short are not able to deal with this rejection. To name a few, the tragic suicide cases of Josh Lyons in 2013 and Jeremy Wisten in 2020 show a serious problem that exists in modern day youth football.
Arsene Wenger was once quoted saying “[for players] between [the ages of] 16 and 20 who are professional, 67% of them are no longer in football at the age of 21”. More damningly, less than 0.5% of all boys who enter an academy aged 9 make it at any professional level (Michael Calvin, 2017). The Premier League has released a ‘Youth Development Rules’ publication for the 2020/21 season. In this near 200 page document there is no mention of how players and clubs should deal with this conflict and rejection.
The landscape of youth football has drastically changed because of the Covid pandemic. Some clubs have committed to retaining their academy talent for the 2020/21 season however there are many clubs who will have to rethink their approach to youth development as financial burdens will result in a streamlining of their talent.
This is where we at Young Pro are looking to change the narrative. We exist to provide development opportunities for young people in football. Football is a massive industry and there are so many opportunities for young people off the pitch. Our aim is to shine a light on the career opportunities available within the world of football and prepare young people to take them. We do this so the youth who have an interest in football are well informed when taking decisions that will shape their futures. Not everyone will make it pro but everyone will need to live.