the difficult reorientation of those who have failed in the professional world

Three educators, three speeches. The first is expressed bluntly: “Your lack of consistency in performance, different attitudes and behaviors… There are certain points that mean we won’t be able to continue with you next season. »“He has potential, but is it enough? », prefers to question the second, when the last “don’t consider that he didn’t succeed, but that we didn’t manage to take him where we wanted him to be”. For the same reality, the football club of Le Havre announces to the young Abdelmalek, head bowed next to his father, that he will not become a professional footballer within his club.

The interview puts an end to the 17-year-old’s season at the academy, captured in 2018 in the Arte documentary At the feet of glory. We infiltrate the backstage – rarely lit – of the round ball, where we refine talents and sculpt the next Kylian Mbappé. There too, above all, where we decide on those who will not become so. Of the 2,045 players from the 35 approved training centers in France, only between 15 and 20% on average will sign a professional contract, estimates the French Football Federation (FFF).

Two suicides in England

The skimming does not always wait for the last year of the course of these budding footballers, all aged 15 to 18. But it is when the ax falls on the oldest that it can have more consequences. In October 2020, a 17-year-old Briton, Jeremy Wisten, killed himself a few months after learning that he would not be retained by his English club Manchester City, in particular because of an injury which had twisted the wire of its progress. « He thought he hadn’t received enough support to find a new club, » had then indicated his father to the instructors of the investigation.

The news, added to another suicide, in England already, in 2013, had moved European football. “This drama shows the problems that can be faced by young athletes in training centers. How many young people are left on the side without signing pro? How many find themselves at 18 without qualifications, with the feeling of being abandoned? And above all, how many are accompanied to deal with this? », Nantes-based Kader Bamba had thus wondered, himself  » devastated  » after his dismissal from the center of Toulouse, and who only joined the professionals seven years later.

Returning from a depression, the former English player Marvin Sordell had also explained to the sports site The Athletic: “When young people have to leave the club, it’s as if they no longer knew who they were. You think you are nothing. »

This psychological distress – observed in half of a hundred British footballers surveyed in 2015 in a study by the University of Teesside – is commensurate with their commitment. Prolonged estrangement from the family cocoon, sometimes since pre-training which begins at the age of 12, daily physical training, management of competition and expectations of those around them, « most often from a disadvantaged background » « They feel like they’ve made all these efforts for nothing »observes the sociologist Julien Bertrand, author of a survey in one of the most famous French training centers.

The exception of the Crystal Palace

For these young people who have gone from dream to hope and then to the goal of a career, worry can take precedence over their disappointment: how to chart another course while being armed, of course, with the necessary diploma (Bac or CAP ), but having lived their adolescence walled in the requirement of the high level?

Across the Channel, the Crystal Palace club took up the issue by becoming, in January, the first to provide a support structure for its failed footballers, up to three years after leaving the academy. “The role of the academy is to provide players for our first professional team, but we have a duty and a moral obligation to support and guide everyone else,” justified Steve Parish, the president of the club, in a press release.

He clarified this summer to The Team it would help them “to find their way, a different life. Whether it’s football jobs or not, scholarships, sports science work… Putting to use what they’ve learned here, having worked with lawyers and agents”.

The idea appealed to neighboring clubs. As in France, where a handful agree to say that it « we should aim for this model »while ruling out adopting it in the future. « It’s a question of human and financial resources, which are not the same as in England », advances Guillaume Stéphan, attached to the general management of the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP), the only players’ union in France. For several years, the former midfielder has been touring centers to “educate players, including the youngest”to the world of work outside the lawns.

“Training monetization pathways”

The approach is part of a policy to strengthen their education, announced in February when an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Sports and the UNFP. But it usually stumbles on young people « who only think of one thing: to become a footballer », slips a player agent. In the absence of sufficient data on the future of these young people, the FFF plans to launch a study, promises its national technical director, Hubert Fournier. Another agent says: “Until they are 22, they still keep in mind to become professional. » The sharing of player files and recommendation calls are then common between clubs.

In Monaco, it is thus claimed to grant a “high vigilance for a few weeks” to the thirteen young people released at the end of last season, even if a source maintains behind the scenes that it is rare to see a failed player quickly gaining access to the professional world in another team. A passage through the amateur level can in this case serve as a waiting room.

« We can be worried about the fact that a very small part turn professional, but we must also note that there are ways of making a profit from their training, on secondary football markets, notes Julien Bertrand. This is the case in France for amateurs at lower levels, or abroad, such as in the United States, to follow a university course and subsequently become a professional player. »


About 1,300 professional players in France

In France, only players playing in Ligue 1, in Ligue 2 and in some National (Third Division) clubs have professional status. The Professional Football League listed 1,361 in November 2021.

The number of players without a contract, around a hundred according to the UNFP, the only French union of professional players, has remained stable despite the crisis experienced by the clubs after the end of the championship in the spring of 2020, during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Between unemployment and the professional world, a gray area allows players to make a full-time but more modest living from amateur football.

This is also the direction that many of the 2,045 young from the 35 approved training centers in France if they are among the 80% of those who will not sign as professionals.

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