Balancing Studies and a Professional Football Career

Footballers are looked upon as idols, modern day gods and role models to impressionable young minds. What with football being accessible ad infinitum, there is no denying the impact of footballers as well as their lifestyles to the masses.

Fast cars, loose women, the winning goal in the Champions League. A wet dream for some.

While the beautiful game’s elite names are some of the most recognisable faces on the planet, they’re not always viewed as bastions of intelligence and responsibility.

Off the pitch, players are more prone to stumbling out of a club at 5.00 am and running into trouble with the law than obtaining a word class education.

The increasing demands of the professional game has been given as a reason behind footballers being unable to commit to their studies. Being a top level player today takes absolute commitment so it would be very hard to maintain the balance between studies and a fledgling career in the game.

However, in the modern world, it is entirely possible for a player to balance a successful academic career with their footballing ambitions.

The belief in the tangible benefits of combining sport and academic study is also backed up by research. A study on this type of ‘dual career’ has been carried out by the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research.

The Centre noted that balancing an academic interest outside of sport helps athletes “to put their training and performance into perspective, allowing them to deal more effectively with the challenges of sport, including setbacks and injury”.

The study also revealed that combining the two elements helps sports players to “refine and develops transferable skills. Skills such as planning and goal setting, team working, interpersonal skills, commitment, leadership and the ability to prioritize are requirements of success in both the academic and the sporting domains.”

David Wetherall was the first British footballer to obtain a first class degree, when he obtained a first in Chemistry from Sheffield University in 1992. He was able to balance career and studies while marshalling the defences of Leeds and Bradford.

Maybe Wetherall isn’t sexy enough to draw in the youngsters into the classrooms.

Here’s a list of other players who were excellent both on the pitch and at uni:

1. Socrates
As if being one of Brazil’s greatest every players wasn’t enough the 1983 South American Footballer of the Year remarkably completed a doctorate in Medicine whilst playing professionally and practised medicine after his retirement. In addition to that, Socrates also held a PhD in Philosophy.

2. Juan Mata
World Cup winner Juan Mata revealed that he was completing his degree when he moved to Chelsea in 2011. Mata was studying degrees in Sports Science and Marketing at Madrid’s Universidad Camilo Jose Cela.

3. Clarke Carlisle
Defender Clarke Carlisle is perhaps one of the only footballers more famous for their brains than their feet. While playing for Burnley, Carlisle became the first professional footballer to appear on Countdown, a game show in the UK that focuses on word and number puzzles. In 2011, he appeared as a panellist on BBC politics show, Question Time. Carlisle has a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting from Staffordshire University.

4. Glen Johnson
Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has had a remarkable career with both Liverpool and England. He obtained a degree in Mathematics as a part time student at the Open University, which is an institution that supports distance learning.

5. Andrey Arshavin
The former Gunner and Russian ace has a degree in FASHION.

6. Slaven Bilic
A Masters in Law for the former Croatia hardman and current West Ham manager.

7. Mahali Jasuli, Bunyamin Omar, K. Rueben and Amiridzwan Taj
The above Malaysian internationals all have degrees in Sports Science which will put them in good stead once their playing careers are over.

Success of professional footballers in Europe and the United States where the most common way for youngsters to get picked up by an MLS team is through the yearly held MLS SuperDraft. The SuperDraft is an event in which MLS teams can select college soccer players.

The SuperDraft takes place in January of each year, in which the teams of Major League Soccer select players who have graduated from college or otherwise been signed by the league. The SuperDraft was first instituted in 2000.

Players such as Michael Bradley (former AS Roma, currently Toronto FC), Maurice Edu (former Rangers), Tim Howard (Manchester United and Everton), and Clint Dempsey (Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur) had graduated from college to have stellar careers domestically and in Europe.

Seeing that the Taipei Universiade 2017 will be held in August this year, Malaysia’s best young players (who are eligible) are currently in the second phase of training to ensure a strong performance in Taiwan.

Italy, the defending gold medallist of the 2015 Gwangju Universiade were represented by Seria A and Serie B players such as Alberto Paleari (Cittadella –Serie B), Biagio Meccariello (Ternana – Serie B), Paolo Pancrazio Faragò (Cagliari – Seria A), Leonardo Morosini (Genoa – Serie A) and Jacopo Dezi (Perugia – Serie B).

Other luminaries of the Universiade are Hiroki Yamada (Karlsruher SC – 2. Bundesliga), Kensuke Nagai (FC Tokyo), Andriy Zaporozhan (Oleksandriya – Ukrainian Premier League) and Kazuki Nagasawa (JEF United Chiba).

PJ Rangers FC shot-stopper, Amirul Aiman (currently pursuing his diploma in Sports Science) who has been called-up to the Universiade set up, has stated that the Universiade is an opportunity for players who are currently at university (mostly playing in the President’s Cup and IPT League) to shine and is an alternative route into the professional game.

So few footballers have qualifications at the moment because they’re swept up and turned into professionals at such a young age. However, with an increasing number of college and university courses available, footballers of the future will have the support and qualifications they need to thrive when their playing careers are over.

A football junkie…