Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Education

I had a very interesting conversation a few weeks ago with someone over the value of an education for professional footballers. We were speaking in the European context however it got me thinking about the development of the game here and the push for the academy system. To breakdown the basics of the discussion my friend (Dave) argued that the reason Canada does not, and may never produce a talent the likes of a Messi or Rooney is due to the lack of a full blown academy system. Since most world superstars take the step of being elite players in their teens they need to be playing the amount of games most European club academies play (3-4 matches per week). As for the education he mentioned that academies are like professional schools in which the skill taught is football, he also pointed out that almost every academy has time allotted for regular school work; a North American example would be Major Junior Hockey in which players play, practice and train like a professionals but are allotted time to go to public school and live either with their family or with a family in the town their club is in. Dave thought that if Soccer Canada put as much as 20% of what we out into major junior hockey players, Canada would have double the amount of players playing in major leagues around the world. When I pressed him on the fact that education at some of these academies sometimes takes a back seat, he countered by saying that this is not much different that high schools that do well in sports.

As I listened to Dave I had to think about my position on the subject, on one hand I so badly want to see a Canadian tearing it up some of the massive leagues in Europe and garnering world acclaim while leading Canada to a World Cup birth. However on the other I have read too many stories of ex football stars and guys who just weren't good enough struggling to make a living after playing because they had no usable work skills outside of football. In the end I took the opposite end of the argument and sided with education. My arguments were this :

-Canada can produce the talent that can produce in some of the top leagues in the world without giving up the high levels of education the majority of Canadian internationals have (Most players have university/college degrees)

- My example for the above mentioned point was the U.S team in which all of their players have university educations and came through the U.S national residency program which forced player to juggle school and football. Also mentioned that the U.S has made every World Cup since 1990.

- I also pointed out to Dave the many cases of ex-footballers being broke and out of work within 3 years of retiring. Hard to believe with the amount of money some players make in the modern game, but without the education on how to handle money a lot of players squander what they made as a player.

-Many player have reported that it is very hard for them to anything else as a career outside of being in football. For every Robbie Fowler who has become very rich in real estate, there are 1000's of other players that cannot make the jump from footballer to regular career man.

I conceded with Dave that with more MLS pro teams coming to Canada you'll see more academies pop up, however I hope that if and when they do show up that they will each life skills on top of dribbling and tackling.

Cheers all, let me know what you think!


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