As football academies search for the next Messi, perhaps they've found the next Mourinho

Makis Karteros

Posted: September 25, 2014

Football academies are always on the agenda of football governing bodies, clubs, fans and recently on the agenda of academics also. Benefits of academies have been described and praised by many and there will always be an FC Barcelona, or an FC Bayern Munich or a Steven Gerard, to support these claims about home-grown players. But there is also the dark side of the moon.

Currently about 10.000 kids are members of football academies in the UK. That means a heavy investment in money, since professional football academies have their own facilities, own technical and administrative staff and something about 300 employees meaning young football players aged 8 to 21 and a huge investment on time, since a player who joins an academy today, he will be ready to play professional football in 10 years. Or maybe is it a huge loss of time?

From 10.000 currently playing in an academy only 1% of them will ever play at professional level, the other 99% of players will be released by the academies and after 10 years focused on football.  This is where the academics come in to the scene.

Academic research these days is focused on the transition from the academy to the first team. Based on the discipline of the academic conducting the research, there are many suggestions for improving the transition rate.  There are researchers who focus on the psychological factors of the transition, others who focus on physiological factors and hours of training, there are also studies about what type of clubs’ structure facilitate this transition and the list goes on. Academically speaking academies is a well-researched area but still the transitions rates are low, actually in the UK lowest than ever.  However, there are two points academics tend to ignore.

First, some of the academy players simply are not good enough to play for the first team. It is not a matter of transition. I have been to job interviews and did not take the job. I did not blame the transition policy of my University.  I just accepted that there are others better than me. Second, with hundreds of players coming through the academy and only 20+ places available on the first team, it is not possible for everyone to become a professional player. Again, it is not a matter of transition, it is just mathematics.

What I am implying here is not football clubs to forget this 99%, but to approach it from a human resource management perspective and improve their human resource management practices. Maybe these young kids are not good enough to become professional football players, but still they have spent maybe more than 10 years in a football club, so they have what HR specialists call “tacit knowledge” an invaluable characteristic for any employee. In other words they can easily answer questions like “why do you want the job”, or “what can you offer to our organisation”. So they can offer their services to the club in which they raised and to the sport which passionately love, from different positions than players and their clubs should support them. It makes sense.  Clubs have invested money to train and educate these players. They are their human capital, so why to ignore it, instead of take advantage of it.   Jose Mourinho was never a good football player, not even a good interpreter for football managers, but he became one of the greatest managers of all time.

About Makis Karteros

Makis is currently writing a PhD on investment in human capital and its impact on football club’s performance.  He has been involved in the sports industry in many ways having worked for professional football clubs, media organisations and IT companies, in Greece and India.