In football, when academy players or professional players are rejected and released from their clubs, the consequences on the remainder of their life can be devastating. In the game, the moment they are dropped and told they don’t have a future in football is known as “the red, misty-eyed moment in the car park.”
After years of dedication players as young as 16 are told their dreams are over and they are cast adrift with little or no idea of what they can do next.
Professional football clubs and soccer academies now do what they can to support young people and players through this process, but few have the skills, resources and training they need to manage this extremely challenging transition to life beyond the game.
For the player or academy star, the world they know has gone and their dreams and ambitions are left in tatters. At Newleaf, we know first-hand how devastating this can be. We specialise is helping players through this transition and support them to create a new prosperous and fulfilling future.
Common problems for footballers who are released
Players are recruited by football clubs and academies at just nine-years-old. For the next seven years they will receive expert training and guidance to become professional players. However, at 16, more than half will be released and told they won’t go any further. At 19, when they finally get contracts with a club, just one per cent of those who started at nine will succeed.
In the world of professional football, around 700 players each year in the UK are released by clubs and told their careers are over.
Some do succeed and go on to secure degrees, carve out new careers or find success in new enterprises. However, for many, bankruptcy, addiction, depression and crime will be the reality of their life. Worringly, there have also been incidents of players taking their own life after being dropped by their club.
Statistics show there are currently around 130 former professional players in prison – mostly for drug-related offences. When you consider the academy players who never made it to professional level, that number will be substantially higher. Drug and alcohol abuse is rife and often leads to criminal acts.
An incredible 40 per cent of former professional football players have also declared bankruptcy – mostly because of gambling addictions.
The scale of the problem is significant and, while clubs are battling to deliver support, much more still needs to be done.
Footballers battling depression and addiction
One of the biggest problems of the academy and club system is that, psychologically, everything is aimed at making them the best professional footballer they can be. That is only right as the clubs and academies are making a significant investment in these young people and players.
However, particularly in academies, this only gives the young star one option. In schools you are encouraged to have multiple options and consider lots of possibilities. In football, you only get one – succeed and become a soccer star.
When that option is removed, few know how to cope or find a new direction.
Gambling is perhaps the biggest issue because the clubs and academies instil the will to win. That means these players crave adrenaline, excitement and competition and they can’t turn that off when they are released.
Alcohol and drug issues often follow along with depression and even suicide. Life as they know it is over and most fall into a transition curve similar to bereavement – denial, anger, acceptance and finally positivity. However, without support, it can be extremely challenging for players to get beyond denial and anger.
What can be done to help footballers after they are released?
At the highest level – and even at academies – pretty much every aspect of a players life is managed for them. When they are released, money management is key. They have to quickly be taught how to budget and manage bills and tackle the other aspects of life so many of us accept and understand.
Education is also critical. While academies and clubs do have education programmes, most players are only interested in football and have never considered any other options.
Footballers need support to help them identify their other talents, strengths and weaknesses and then find options that they can be passionate and will deliver the future they desire.
The clubs and academies have a serious responsibility and they are aware of it. By delivering programmes like the one offered by Newleaf, they can help released footballers to embrace a new beginning and open their mind to lots of opportunities.
We make sure each player has options. We help them decided on a career and then get the education, training or skills they need to fulfil their dreams. Crucially, we support them on every step of that journey, from their home life to their first steps in a new career and make sure they don’t fall into the trap that has caught so many football players before them.
If you have any questions or experiences to share around being released from a club, please get in touch.