Professional Football: Chasing An Impossible Dream?

Ricky O'NealAnalyst IOctober 7, 2008

Over 13 million people play football outside of the professional game in the UK.

For some of them, the possibility of professional contracts with professional clubs is a very real possibility. But for youngsters, in particular those who idolize the players in the mainstream leagues or their home town teams, only a minority will become professional footballers.

But of those with the talent to play our beautiful game, how many are chasing an impossible dream?

Contrary to popular belief, the job of a footballer is one that starts from an early age. You can't just turn around and decide you want to be a football player anymore. Especially when it has recently become virtually impossible to get signed to a professional club after players reach a certain age.

The standard of the top-tiers in the English game now calls for clubs to catch players early in the development process. This way, they can be nurtured and adapted to a particular way of playing and thinking. 

Clubs have gradually become addicted to grooming young talent in order to make the best professionals and today it is a fundamental process of a club's production.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the youngsters that chase the dream. A dream that not only consists of playing their beloved sport for a living, but comes alongside the glamorous lifestyle that a career in football can offer a teenager in today’s times. An irresistible combination for both players who have what it takes and those who don't.

I'm still amazed at the sight of seven year olds in a disciplined four-four-two formation, playing on half a full-sized pitch in my local area every Sunday. If any confirmation was needed that long gone are the days of kids playing football for fun, this was it.

Parents forcing their children to play Sunday League football is a risky and frequent occurrence across the UK. Unfortunately for the majority of them, they are not in a situation to realise that their aspiring stars are already part of a brutal cycle.

A cycle orchestrated by clubs in the higher brackets of professional football that will end any hopes many of them have of ever taking their football to the top level because let's face it, the amount of players in the highest category of professional football are in a minuscule minority. 

The days of youngsters playing football just for fun being over may be a slight exaggeration. But for an increasing number of them playing for teams, getting scouted, or getting into academies is becoming a desirable option as it is the most secure route to becoming a footballer today.

The scouting system itself even encourages youngsters to play for teams because it is the easiest way to get discovered. 

Scouts no longer walk the local parks or stand in school playgrounds in search of a toddler with a magic touch. Scouts are aware that being at the footballing academies and near the established lower league teams is the most efficient way to spend their time. They know these teams are the filter at the lowest level of players of good ability, and so do the youngsters that play in them.

Inflated wages that players in the highest bracket of professional football earn is a factor that no doubt plays an influential role in attracting young people to the sport.

Even players gone before with the best attitude required to making the elite levels would find it difficult to resist the pull of money today. But only two decades or so ago, youngsters then grew up to a completely different image of top players.

The wages in football are a luxury that the businesses in the highest tier can offer.

That is a fact. But why do many ignore that top earning footballers are frequently eclipsed by the ones that don’t earn as much in the same profession?

As ludicrous as it may sound, the reality is that top earning players are in the minority. A fact that is clouded to kids and in some cases forceful parents who pursue a dream distorted by the very same fame and attention the players that youngsters idolize get.

Football at the lowest end of the chart will always function to produce players for the teams higher up in the order. A harsh reality is that for every gem discovered, a dozen players are forced to leave behind what in some cases is a misguided dream.