Welcome to the real world
England may seem to be the land of plenty for Premier League players with massive salaries, mansions, swimming pools and Bentleys to boot, but as the last season ended and with a new one starting in a few months time, life as a footballer is not all it’s cracked up to be for many professionals who are now without a contract.
The likes of Carlos Teves, Luka Modric and Robin Van Persie might be feeling restless at the moment as they are touted for moves away from clubs to join rivals either at home or abroad. However there is a flip side to the celebrity world in which the top players live. Spare a thought for the hundreds of fellow professionals who are facing up to pre-season without a team to play for.
According to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and other reliable sources, over 700 footballers are currently out of work as preparations for the new season begin in earnest up and down the UK.
The list includes trophy-laden footballers all the way down to trainees who have not been able to turn that experience into a professional contract.
The economic downturn that has seen unemployment escalate among the general population has also hit the world of football hard. Many high-profile footballers are now bracing themselves for a life outside the game, while many teenagers have had their dreams destroyed as football clubs tighten the purse strings.
There are, as reflected in everyday life, now clear distinctions between football’s haves and have-nots with new Uefa and economic conditions biting players hard.
Football is no longer immune to what is happening in the outside world, but given the huge amounts of money spent in terms of transfer fees, salaries, agents fees and sponsorships, as well as foreign ownership investment, sometimes you may wonder!
Without doubt the very top players are multi millionaires but that is not the case in the divisions of the Football League or the Conference. For the 700 footballers (including 200 apprentices) who are now out of work there are no guarantees that they will find a permanent club, and if they do, it will often be on a short term or non contract basis. In the lower divisions the average contract is just one year, and sometimes it can be a rolling monthly contract.
Since the end of last season and with Euro 2012 currently in the spotlight, there has been a lot of transfer talk but it remains to be seen at what level as, undoubtedly, the bigger, richer clubs will also have to focus on the Uefa financial fair play rules.
There is also the issue of clubs with spiraling debts caused by over spending, bad financial management and chasing the “dream” who are now dealing with problems, such as Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth and Leeds United who are still overcoming the effects of the problems that they got into when they were in the Premier League.
The out-of-work footballer is not a new phenomenon – and some, like Didier Drogba are voluntarily out of contract as they seek lucrative new deals – but football seems to be re-aligning itself to cope with the more austere times. It has always been competitive and players have always have been very vulnerable. It is not just a matter of players not being good enough, on average football loses around fifty players a year with permanent injury.
The PFA have a dedicated website – givemefootball.com – which provides details of players who are available. In addition details are also sent to all the clubs in the UK and abroad to make sure it is known which players are available.
It seems that many footballers now appreciate the harsh reality and are under no illusions how difficult it is to secure new employment due to wider issues caused by the economic climate.
It is now generally accepted that most clubs outside the top five or six in England are feeling the pinch which is making things tougher than ever for professional footballers to secure work.
Some smaller clubs have tried to turn the situation to their advantage, as shown last year by Stirling Albion who offered a pay-for-a-trial scheme.
Manager Jocky Scott invited out of contract players in to play in a closed-door match.
The club recognise that this was different to how it had been done in the past, but it was argued that football, in particular in the lower leagues, faces harsh financial realities and it was an initiative to explore new ways of bringing income into the club to pay running costs, the bulk of which are players’ wages.
Every player that paid to take part in the trial was there voluntarily, was aware of the format, including the £200 fee, and was also aware there was no guarantee of a contract at the end of the trial period.
Those taking part were a mix of players released from professional contracts, former professionals who had dropped out of the game in recent years, amateur players and others who had recently completed football scholarships in the United States.
Of more than thirty who took part, twelve were invited along to two weeks of pre-season training, as Stirling became the first senior club in Scotland to do so.
So as a new season dawns and we hear, read and see the hive of transfer activity, as well as the obscene amounts of money involved, as in “normal life”, there is always those fallen by the way side but still in search of the dream!