What Happens to Academy Releases?

What Happens to Academy Releases?

We are almost at the end of another football season and lost amongst the excitement of title races and relegation dog fights is the stark reality that faces thousands of youngsters – being released.

May is the most exciting month in the football calendar as it signals the end of the season and when leagues and cups are decided. It is, though, also when clubs deliver the heartbreaking news to youngsters that they will not be retained and are released.

It is no secret that only the very few make it as a professional, even among those playing at academies, but it is no less disappointing for those who reach the end of the line. Some youngsters find new clubs and still go on to achieve their dreams, while many others leave the game altogether.

Getting Released

Some players deal with the heartache of being released better than others. One prime example is that of Jeremy Winston, who took his own life at the age of 17 in 2020 following his release from Manchester City’s academy.

Many young footballers released by clubs have been part of their respective academies for 10-plus years, joining as six and seven-year-olds. It is all they have ever known and to go from living and breathing football 24/7 to suddenly not having it is a difficult change, especially at such young ages.

Crystal Palace announced a ground-breaking new scheme earlier this year with the launch of a three-year aftercare programme which will see the club support players released during the professional development phase (ages 17 through to 21). This will assist youngsters with acclimatising to life after the club by assisting them with finding a new club, enrolling on education and/or pursuing a new career.

Dropping Down

Players released from top-level academies often find themselves dropping down to lower division clubs, either in the pursuit of making as a footballer or just to keep themselves involved in the game. Jamie Vardy is perhaps the best modern-day example, having been released as a 16-year-old by Sheffield Wednesday, who went on to enjoy a fantastic career at the top level.

Vardy joined Stocksbridge Park Steels and eventually found himself at Leicester City, via Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town, winning the Premier League with the Foxes in 2016 and earning 26 England caps. The striker’s journey gives players hope that, despite suffering the setback of being released, they can still go on to make a career out of football.

Throughout non-league football, there are plenty of examples of players who had been on the books at professional clubs dropping down to play. Albeit not at the lofty heights that they may have dreamed of as children, semi-professional and amateur football still provides a platform for players to continue to play. Others choose to go into coaching, such as ex-Manchester United youngster Stuart Wormleighton, who is a grassroots football coach in York following a career in lower league football.

The Reality

Being released from a professional football club is difficult for any youngster. Many suffer from having an identity crisis, having lived in a bubble for so long, being unprepared for life after football and perhaps being guilty of believing the hype around them. Young players can feel as though they have failed themselves, as well as their friends and family, which can bring overbearing negative emotions.

Barcelona’s La Masia academy has long been heralded as the best in the world. Players must apply themselves to their studies just as must as to football. The academy ensures that its players are well-equipped to succeed in life, whether that be in or outside the world of football.

Support is needed for these youngsters, which is why the initiative of Crystal Palace is hugely welcome. Professional clubs are placing greater emphasis on ensuring that their scholars get an education that prepares them for life outside of football – something important regardless of whether they make it or not, due to the shortness of one’s playing career.

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