Is there a virus in football academies?

So why do we need to rebuild belief in England’s football academies?

Listen to this: “There is a virus of premature professionalisation of children’s football.”

Those are the words of someone working at a football club academy.

Five years after the launch of the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP), it is estimated that only 25 per cent of the people working in academies are coaches.

Many of the remainder are dealing with the grim prematurity mentioned above. This includes:

– Psychologists working with children who are often too traumatised to actually play;

– Performance analysts monitoring training sessions of 11-year-olds and upwards  – learning ‘under surveillance’ as someone else told me;

– Admin folks and lawyers of clubs ‘in dispute’ over children in their academies so they are unable to play football or train;

– Agents

Has the academy system got better since I wrote Every Boy’s Dream back in 2009, I ventured?

“No, it’s got worse – far worse. You’ve got to reflect this in your new book, Chris – and I hope you will.”

That’s why Rebuilding the Belief (the book as well as the conferences) is well under way and is focused on solutions rather than the hand-wringing problems.

But you have to recognise that problems exist in order to remedy them – and understand the folly going on.

Make no mistake, those children supposedly ‘in dispute’ aren’t playing, training or enjoying sport as they should be able to. They are sidelined during the best years of their sporting lives while adults haggle over a price on their head.

Where do you start to assess what’s wrong with this?

In fact, for the adults who have master (or rather disaster) minded this I have an idea, a very simple one. Let’s start by getting the lingo right. Stop calling them ‘players’ – they are children or teenagers. Children ‘play’ sport – but to define them as (‘premature’) professionals is wrong.

They are no more professional sportsmen than students of the school subjects they study.

But who calls schoolchildren historians, mathematicians, woodworkers, geographers or IT specialists?

In fact, bear with me for a moment, imagine any other type of commercial entity being so puff-chested as to use this terminology. They claim ownership of children as their workers and then somehow believe they deserve ‘compensation’ for the time they’ve spent training them.

The grimness of arguing the toss and seeking legal arbitration over the value of ‘their’ players (children and teenagers) is beyond belief.

Just how dismal is the act of ‘buying’ children from other clubs? Who can honestly say they are proud to being part of this? Why is the football industry – and indeed the legal system – even prepared to (if you excuse the pun) play ball? 

This is happening right here, right now – to kids in your street, your town, your city, your county, your country and on your continent.  

Clubs believing they have some sort of right to buy and sell children is a first world football problem.

At best it is commodifying kids, at worst it is treating children as chattel. And it should be stopped.

Chris Green is the author of Every Boy’s Dream – England’s Football Future on the Line (A&C Black 2009) which was nominated for 2010 British Sports Book of the Year, and the sequel Rebuilding the Belief – Putting the Voice of Children First in Football.

For details about our Rebuilding the Belief Conference on December 7 click here.

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