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What happens if I don't make it?

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At any one time there are between 10,000 and 12,000 boys in football's youth development system in the UK. With 3,500 boys in Premier League academies alone, the youngest are nine years old although pre-academy training can start even younger. Of those entering academies at the age of nine, fewer than 0.5% will ever make a living from the game (Source: Sky News, February 2021).

 

For those released from clubs the shattered dream can come as a great shock and the impact on their mental health can be considerable. One in eight are said to suffer from mental health issues and psychological distress. Some young men see no other way forward than to take their own lives.

The tragic death of 18 year old Jeremy Wisten has inspired reflection about the role that football academies play in developing young players and whether the sheer scale of the operation makes it exploitative. Jeremy was a very promising player in Manchester City's academy, starting with City's Elite Squad at under 13 level in 2016. After suffering an injury he was released by the club in May 2019. He was found hanging in his bedroom in October 2020.

There are also examples of other released players turning to crime in an effort to replicate the money and status they had playing for a professional club. Whilst in recent years there have been improvements in how clubs support the psychological wellbeing of youth players following their release, there is still more that can be done.

Photo by Nima Sarram

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