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Why more footballers should be studying for degrees

January 26, 2017 in Opinion

The only certainty in the life of a professional footballer is that one day they will become an ex-professional footballer.

Some have long careers at the elite end of the sport and invest wisely for their retirement.

Others find themselves released by clubs and unable to find a new one in their early 20s or even younger. More still never get offered pro deals in the first place.

According to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), of those entering the game aged 16, two years down the line, 50% will be outside professional football. At 21, the attrition rate is 75% or above.

The question is: are young footballers getting the education they need to prepare them for life outside the game?

First-class honours

Many aspiring pros leave school at 16 with a handful of GCSEs, go into full-time football and spend one day a week at college.

Most are pinning their hopes on ‘making it’ but, as the statistics show, the vast majority of them won’t.

So perhaps more should follow the example of Sunderland and England U21 striker Duncan Watmore (pictured above).

In 2015, Watmore graduated from Newcastle University in BA Economics & Business Management, becoming only the second Premier League player gain first-class honours.

Watmore started his degree whilst playing semi-professionally with Altrincham. After joining the Black Cats, he managed to complete his degree, achieving the highest grade possible.

PFA help

According to a report by Xpro.org, an organisation established to assist former professional footballers of all ages, two out of five players are made bankrupt within five years of ending their playing careers, often because they have little education or training to fall back on.

Mindful of the problem, the PFA provides members with many opportunities aimed at their transition into life after football.pfa

Among those backing its work in this area is Bradley Pritchard, who featured in Sky’s ‘Out of Contract’ documentary about players left in limbo after being cut by their clubs.

Like Watmore, the midfielder began his career in the semi-professional game before going on to play for Charlton, Leyton Orient and Stevenage.

At 31, he is now back in non-league with Greenwich Borough but, with the PFA’s help, has added a law qualification to his first degree and is aiming to become a solicitor.

Another testimony on the PFA’s website comes from Carlisle defender Michael Raynes, who graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016 with a degree in Sports Science.

“I’ve always wanted to do something, my career has always been that of a lower-league footballer, so you always know that you’ll have to get a job when you finish there’s no two ways about it,” he says.

“It’s not like the Premier League players who are financially set. We know that we’ll need a job after, so I’ve always had in my mind that I wanted to have the best opportunity to do something that I enjoy and that’s how I looked at it.

“It was an opportunity for me to determine where my path after football goes instead of clutching at things and trying to find a job.”

No appeal

So why, with testimonies like these available to inspire footballers, are so many players finishing their careers with little education to fall back on?

For many, football is a way out of having to rely on qualifications to get a job. It’s their route to wealth, fame and acclaim, and it sidelines thoughts of college or university.

“Maybe it’s better to take the route of Pritchard and Watmore, who didn’t go through the professional academy system and completed their education first?”

In the higher leagues, young players are offered huge amounts of money and have agents taking care of everything for them. They are thrust into the limelight and think it will be on them forever.

Former professional Stephen O’Halloran was forced to think about life after football when two cruciate ligament injuries during his time at Aston Villa forced him to quit the pro ranks and go semi-professional.

He qualified as a physiotherapist, graduating from University of Salford in 2016 whilst playing for Salford City part-time, and now had a full-time job in the NHS thanks to his degree.

O’Halloran told the PFA website: “I made the decision about four years ago [aged 24] that I didn’t want to be going from club to club without anything to back me up.

“I was about to sign for Nuneaton in the National League when I got onto the course with the help of [assistant director of education] Oshor Williams at the PFA.”

Better off in education than academies

Watmore and Pritchard’s stories are different to those of O’Halloran and Raynes. The latter were young professionals who went back into education once they realised that football wasn’t a lifelong career.

Watmore and Pritchard completed their education and degrees before becoming pro footballers, and that fact begs the question if the fault lies with the academies of professional clubs.

The fact that older players are having to go back into education once the penny drops about brevity of their careers is surely down to a lack of guidance given to them as young pros.

Academies need to do more to encourage young professionals to go university, or study things other than sports science and exercise at college, to give them the best chance at finding what’s best for them after football.

So maybe it’s better to take the route of Pritchard and Watmore, who didn’t go through the professional academy system and completed their education first?

Review – Out of Contract

October 19, 2016 in Opinion

“You’re a product. If you are doing well, people would want to buy you.”

Sky Sports documentary Out of Contract followed five professional footballers from different levels of the game and in different stages of their careers.

According to the Professional Footballers Association, 75% of pro players who find themselves out of contract at U-21 level fall out of full-time football for good.

Out of Contract revealed the struggles that players released by their clubs go through as they search for a new one.

Michael Collins is a journeyman midfielder who you might not have come across as he plied his trade with the likes of Huddersfield, Scunthorpe an Oxford.

The former Republic of Ireland U-21 international made a bold choice when he left Oxford by mutual consent and went to play for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Premier League in order to provide for his family.

Collins, 30, won his first ever career title with Bengaluru. However since then, he has struggled to find a new club.

Contrast

Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood said: “You can earn more here [in India] than in League Two.”

As the Indian Premier League is gaining popularity, more players in the same situation as Collins, are making that move abroad in order to earn a living, find fresh challenges and remain in the sport that they love.

Of course, football is a game of huge contrasts, and whilst millionaire superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic line up their next lucrative move, lesser lights may have to consider entirely new careers.

Out of Contract highlighted the case of Bradley Pritchard who, after being released by Leyton Orient last season, decided to enter the legal profession and now has a new job as a paralegal.

The documentary brought home that these footballers are normal people just like us; often facing life-changing decisions as they battle to make the best of things for themselves and their families.

Factors

There can be a long list of factors that can jeopardise a potential transfer.

Peter Odemwingie (above, main photo) was due to move to Hull City before the 2016/17 season. The manager at the time, Steve Bruce, was a huge admirer of the player. Everything was all set until Bruce resigned and the move was off.

Odemwingie also turned down offers from across the world to focus on his family. Sometimes, it is not all about football and there are other commitments which are more important.

Success

Most of the footballers featured eventually found new clubs, but often at a lesser level and, consequently, on lower wages.

Emmanuel Sonupe, 20, was at Tottenham for 10 years before being released when his contact expired. The midfielder had trials at clubs such as QPR and Leicester before signing a one-year deal with League One Northampton Town.

Former Watford and Bolton forward Marvin Sordell found himself in the same situation as Sonupe, albeit at the age of 25.

Released by Colchester at the end of an initially promising but then injury-hit 2015-16 season, Sordell had various offers from around the world before deciding to join Coventry City on a one-year deal.

Hope

The message that came across in Out of Contract was if you continue to work hard and strive to stay in the professional game at some level, you will see success at the end of the road.

For those whose best efforts are still not enough, the PFA provides training courses and support for players who find themselves having to hang up their boots and consider other options.

Any footballer who find their career not going to plan should take some inspiration from Bradley Pritchard and his new vocation in the legal profession.

Out of Contract wove his and the stories of other players into an exceptional documentary. Whether you’re a football fan or not, their tales of overcoming adversity and battling the odds make it a must-watch programme.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

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