Success in any career is no accident. It takes hard work, learning, sacrifice and most importantly, passion. In football, the competition is even higher and it’s a case of many are called but few are chosen.
That said, great footballers don’t just appear from nowhere. The cream of footballers in this generation took their first steps in the game at a professional football academy, an early stage where only a lucky few actually get in at a young age. Yes, luck plays a role and we don’t all develop at the same level, but there’s nothing wrong with aiming high or dreaming about a career as a professional footballer.
Still, there’s likely a chance that not everyone would play in the Premiership, La Liga or Serie A. Imagine a situation where every scholar that gets into the academy has to play for the under 10s, under 14s and then, being called into the senior team and gets called up to the national team. If only it was that easy! Progression from promise talent to a fully formed first team player may likely go contrary to plan. And here is why?
If there’s one career that has too many role models, it has to be football. How many times have we been told about the “next Zidane”, or the “next Rio Ferdinand,” only to be disappointed? No sooner than a talented kid at the academy shows glimpses of a bright future than he is being compared to past and current great names in the game. It means you go in at a level set so high, a pressure that not many can overcome. You go in already in the shadow of someone of higher class and sometimes impossible expectations.
Speaking to a group of journalists in January 2016, formal Arsenal youth team player Zach Fagan, explained that there’s also additional pressure from the coaches to perform. “At the end of the day, your wellbeing gets pushed to the back. The coaches will tell you, it’s a result business.” In the end, the only way is to think positive, believe you are going to be the one who will succeed. Fagan is just one example of ex- academy players across the country, yet there are others who have succeeded. So it comes down to a case of who can’t and who can handle to intensity of the program.
Another common factor is distraction from other scheduled activities. It is said that in order to succeed in any career one has to focus all attention, energy and time on it. The same may not be realistic in a footballing career. Uncertainties such as injuries and loss of form are proof enough that in this game, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s why parents and guardians tend to encourage other career options for their kids, just in case things don’t go as planned. The obvious option is regular schooling, which comes along with homework, travelling, and other obstacles. During a visit to a local football academy training ground, I noticed a kid on the sideline trying to complete his Maths homework before getting onto the pitch. Of course, one cannot assume that this kind of stuff happens on the training ground of a premiership club academy. Hardworking kids will always excel in various activities together with their football formation, just as a good number of them could fail to adapt or live up to expectations.
Also, poor scouting or recruitment of academy players is also another factor, but it’s hard to point fingers at anyone for this because no one can quite tell who can make the grade at an early age. However, it’s a known fact that not everybody who deserves a place gets in. There’s a wealth of unnoticed talent especially at the grassroots, who may never be given the chance. A number of past and current footballers play for some of the top clubs in the country without having gone through the academy system, and after years spent playing non-league football while waiting to be discovered. Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy comes to mind. One only wonders what could have been if they had been discovered at an early age. There’s also the case of foreign players from Africa for example, who spent most of their youth playing in the streets before turning professional.
Whether or not a player makes it through all the stages of a football club and goes on to have a glamourous career, a good number of academies proven themselves to be the best platform to begin a career in football. Can today’s aspiring young players rise to the challenge to work hard, learn, sacrifice and be passionate?