News | July 21st, 2022
TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS OF A TRIALIST
As the most popular sport in the world, it would be hard to disagree that most young children aspire to be a professional footballer. Having coached sport throughout schools, football has an overwhelming admiration between the young athletes up and down the country. With more than 13.5 million people in the UK alone taking to the pitch on a regular basis, competition to make a career out of the game could not be more challenging.
In fact, out of those millions, at any given moment there are a mere 12,000 aspiring footballers in the elite youth development system within academies across the UK. To put things into perspective, less than 1% of these athletes will ever make it as a professional, that’s less than 1,200 out of those 13.5 million footballing participants. Furthermore, the Premier League also revealed that 97% of the former elite academy players aged 21 to 26 years fail to play a single minute of a game in the top flight.
It is the unfortunate reality that most hopefuls will be unsuccessful, but most hopefuls tend to not even get close, allowing them to accept their fate. It is those that are fortunate enough to make it into the academies and are within reach of a professional contract that are likely to suffer the most.
Having dedicated their whole lives to the sport they love, often being involved in academies since their Primary School years through to adolescence, football is all these athletes know. It is no secret that football is a cut throat, brutally competitive and intense industry, but how do clubs, agents, governing bodies and leagues help the young footballers when they get released?
In 2020, a Man City academy player, Jeremy Winston, took his own life at just 17 after being released, providing a sinister wake-up call to all football clubs on why providing aftercare for academy players must be a priority. Young adults can be sold on the idea of reaching their dream, only to have it taken away so quickly.
Often, after being released from a team, trialists may not even get a response or be acknowledged from prospective clubs. Agents, Football Clubs, Parents, Leagues, Governing Bodies and any other stakeholders with an invested interest have a moral obligation to be transparent to their athletes, no matter what age or background. It is imperative that there is an open line of communication between the relevant parties, with a centralised goal to put the player first. They should be working in synergy to put the athlete’s mental and physical wellbeing at the forefront of their strategic decisions, allowing the safety of the athlete’s future whether that be within football or outside it in another working environment.
There ultimately needs to be a consistent approach from which facilitates the transition of released footballers into other clubs or employment. Methods should include; setting up educational schemes to allow athletes to attain qualifications, equipping them with the skills to enter alternative professions, alongside mental health and wellbeing officers as a support network for the players. Crystal Palace announced it was going to provide a three-year aftercare programme for released players to help them cope with the trauma of being released. On the club’s website, it states that each released player will be assigned a “Playcare Officer” to guide them through a world outside of football. From helping players find a new job to entering an education programme, this innovative scheme should be evolved and exercised by fellow clubs.
Too often athletes within football can be viewed as financial assets as oppose to real human beings. It is time we change this culture, and it requires a collective effort from all concerned within not just the industry but society as to how we tackle this plaguing problem within the sport.
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