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Friday 24 May 2013

Premier League helps scholars get back on track

A group of released youngsters travel to Holland to help them continue their football career

Under-18 scholars who have been released by their clubs were given a unique opportunity by the Premier League to showcase their abilities with a two-week visit to the Netherlands last month.

The aim of the trip was to give the players a second chance and to assist them as they look either to continue in the game or find a career in another field.

The visit involved three matches against sides from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany as well as cultural, educational and language events to boost the confidence of the players and give them ideas about what they might want to do in the future if they do not forge a career in football.

The initiative is part of the Premier League's commitment to helping youngsters who have finished their two-year scholarship but who have been told that they are not part of a club's plans.

"We are there for those released players for as long as they need us"
Martyn Heather

"It's about making sure these players are physically and mentally ready to go on trial," Premier League Head of Education and Welfare Martyn Heather told "Probably the biggest thing we did was rebuild their confidence.

"It's given them the confidence to go on trial and think that they are good enough. When you are rejected, no matter how much you feel you are good enough, it's hard to lift yourself whereas they came back thinking, 'I can do this; I'm as good as those players over there.'

"We call it our 'Next Step' programme. We are there for those released players for as long as they need us. We don’t shut the door. It's important for them to know that the duty of care is still available to them. We do it because we want to help the boys. It is our responsibility to do that."

The 18 players who went on the trip were selected by the clubs, who were asked to put forward youngsters they had released but who still had an opportunity to continue in football.

The Premier League select team played against Under-19 sides from Beveren, Fortuna Dusseldorf and NAC Breda and came away from the three matches unbeaten.

The fixtures were watched by scouts from home and abroad and since the players have returned, the vast majority of them have been taken on trial.

Widening horizons

"An important part of this is that the players realise that there are playing opportunities outside the UK," Heather said. "We wanted to widen their horizons regarding playing opportunities.

"They quite liked the pace of the game. It was very technical and they liked that. It suited the styles of some of the players and there were some really good performances.

"We had a lot of calls from England while we were there, word started to get back that we were doing quite well, and the players are probably as in as good a place as they are going to be to go on trial at another club."

As well as the action on the pitch, there were plenty of activities off it to assist the development of the scholars. The players visited the World War Two museum and Commonwealth War Graves in Arnhem to learn about the conflict and the sacrifices that were made, while careers advisor Mark Scarbrow was on hand to discuss future prospects and career pathways during individual meetings.

"They are a credit to their clubs"
Martyn Heather

"The careers and education side was really important," said Heather. "It was about instilling a bit of realism that they might have to think about a career outside of football.

"They won’t think that they want to do a particular career straight away but we’ve sown the seed and they know that if it doesn't work out, they can contact Mark in the future."

Last month’s trip was the first time the Premier League has organised such an event and Heather believes it will provide a template for future years.

"We will evaluate the scheme in September to find out what affect the trip has had," he said. "This was the most successful event we have done in terms of the progression of the players from start to finish.

"As a group they were fantastic, they were focused and their self-discipline was outstanding. They are a credit to their clubs because they conducted themselves in the way young professionals should."

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Key Points

  • Premier League took scholars released by their clubs to Holland last month
  • The youngsters played three matches against teams from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands
  • Scholars also took part in educational and cultural events