Even in football, everybody deserves a second chance. A glance at the Glenn Hoddle Academy for the ‘rejects’.
“Football, Bloody Hell!”
Sir Alex Fergusson has accurately summed up the sport. The very nature of the game is so fast and dynamic that there are no second chances.
Football’s mantra has shifted from “Catch Them Young” to “Catch them impossibly young”. Clubs around the world spend millions of pounds annually to scour the neighborhoods, school grounds to find the stones to would go on to become diamonds.
Clubs convince these lads to join their youth academy to hone his football skills, try to force his way into the first team, to shine on the world scenario, to follow his dream.
Hundreds of young children join the youth academy every year. It is a cut throat competition to the next step. It takes immense discipline, concentration, dedication and sacrifices to achieve the dream. These kids spend good 8-10 years in the youth academy trying to do that.
At the end of the season only handful lads step up to the first team or the reserves. Those who don’t make the grade are simply ‘released’. Coaches have to make that tough decision. Clubs can’t afford to have a soft corner about the ‘released’ kids as their focus has already shifted on the new batch of youngsters.
No second chances.
So it’s finished. Game over. The dreams are shattered.
For a young child the realization of being rejected can have devastating consequences on his morale and confidence.
Typically a youngster joins a big premiership club and learns to play in a specific way. He gets released and goes to lower division club. But the club plays with a different system and thus the player struggles to make any impact there and gets pushed down to further lower divisions and finally he ends up playing amateur football.
Anybody remembers Bojan Djordjic?
A sensational Swedish left winger from Manchester United, Bojan even won “Manchester United Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year” award for 1999-2000.
Although he was on United’s roster from 1999-2005, he could manage only two appearances in the red shirt. He was loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday, Aarhaus GF (one of the oldest Danish clubs) and Red Star Belgrade, where he could feature in only 55 games in 3 years.
After failing to make any mark at Old Trafford, he was ‘released’ for free and Rangers snapped him. Djordjic appeared only five times for Gers before joining Plymouth Argyle, a Swede side AIK. He moved further downwards to play for a Hungarian side Videoton FC but was relegated to their reserves team.
He seemed to have got a second chance when he signed a two year contract with Blackpool. There he was placed on a mere £90 a week plus appearance money, which is a minimum wage for a professional footballer in UK. Bojan failed to make any appearances for Blackpool and is now playing with Royal Antwerp in Belgium.
There are many such stories in English football. Statistically, by the age of 21, 75% of professional footballers in England give up the game either through injury or lack or opportunity.
Something had to be done about it.
This problem was identified by ex-England player and manager Glenn Hoddle who is trying to help some youngsters deal with rejection.
Hoddle firmly believes that by proper rehabilitation and correct coaching, this downward movement can be halted, and these ‘Rejects’ can still go on and play at a decent level. Exactly this was the reason that he set up his Glenn Hoddle Academy (GHA) in 2008 to try and help these promising teenagers with a second chance. GHA selects young footballers who they feel have a chance of making it back in to professional football.
The Glenn Hoddle Academy is a first independent, professional football academy, offering an alternative to the professional club system. The primary goal of the GHA is to offer a genuine route back into professional football for some of the players released by the system itself.
In GHA, Hoddle has made a significant investment in terms of time, money and energy. Although the academy was set up in memory of his brother Carl, who died of a brain aneurism at the age of 40, it is certainly not a charity. The business model is pretty simple. Train these players, sell them to the clubs through third party and take some fixed percentage of the transfer fee.
GHA recruits the ‘Rejects’ by holding open trials where Glenn Hoddle personally selects the players for the academy.
The GHA is currently based at the Spanish southern city of Jerez in Campus El Sabio, the international residential study center. Facilities in the academy are world class and as good as some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
The campus has Grass and astro-turf pitches for its purpose and new pitches are being developed exclusively for the GHA. Sometimes the academy uses pitch at Costa Ballena, a five star resort nearby. While other outdoor sports like Tennis, Basketball, Volleyball and handball can be played in the Sports Arena, the campus also has Swimming Pool, Gym and world class accommodation. Players can also take golf lessons in the adjacent Sherry Golf course. Since the location is not in the main city, the distractions to the young players are minimum.
The players get one to one coaching from the coaches handpicked by Glenn Hoddle himself. Nigel Spackman (ex-Chelsea, Liverpool and Rangers midfielder), John Gorman (ex- Celtic and Spurs fullback), Graham Rix (ex-Arsenal midfielder) and Dave Beasant (ex-Newcastle and Chelsea Goalkeeper) are on the coaching roaster of GHA.
Hoddle and the coaches would stay in the same premises and are with the players 24*7. Thus their role expanded beyond just coaching, but also of their friends and part of the family. This constant coaching and parenting is also tough on the coaches.
Training in the academy is certainly no cakewalk and is very intense. The players train for two sessions a day, six days a week. On the ball training and learning technical aspects of the game is an integral part of everyday regime, which they don’t get that often in the regular season. But these players realized that if they are looking to get a second chance, there is no shortcut.
Hoddle has selected this location because of its climate which has roughly 300 days of sunshine. These weather conditions are ideal for a yearlong training compared to those in UK.
It is evident that Glenn Hoddle and the coaches put their 100%; it is also up to the players to grab the opportunity with both hands. However not everybody who is enrolled in the academy succeeds.
As the players return home for the summer break after six weeks, some of them join clubs for preseason training. The lads who do not live up to the academy standards in the six week training period, are told not to rejoin the academy in September.
The Rough Ride:
GHA was originally based in luxurious five-star Montecastillo Resort in Jerez, before moving back to England for some time and back to Jerez again.
The reason behind the academy shifting to England is quite extraordinary.
When GHA was established in 2008, it established a link with Tercera Division (fourth tier) side Jerez Industrial by providing them academy players on loan. Hoddle saw this as an opportunity to get the players in the shopping window by giving them competitive environment. Jerez Industrial quickly got the nickname Los Ingleses as 22 out of 24 players on Jerez Industrial’s roster were British. The remaining two Spaniards also joined the academy later.
But the club ran into trouble as it struggled to pay the player wages and was struggling to survive. Glenn Hoddle came to the rescue as he assumed control of the operations, and raised £160,000 loan so the club could wipe off the debts and remain functioning.
According to the arrangements, GHA Coaches Spackman, Rix and Beasant would assume the dugout duties by taking turns for two games at a time, working alongside Spanish manager, while Glenn Hoddle would be director of football. There were many disagreements about accommodations of the players throughout the season as well as training conditions.
Los Ingleses initially tasted good results which saw them leading Group Ten of the fourth tier. But the tides turned at the New Year’s time and they went without a win in 16 consecutive matches, out of which 14 were lost.
The club was unable to return the loan and In addition that, In March, the Club President refused to guarantee accommodation for the players. Hoddle refused to let the players travel and play for the club. Jerez Industrial eventually had to field a team from their youth academy and got relegated. While Hoddle decided to move his academy back to the UK, in an attempt to ensure that the players were closer to the marketplace they were being sold in. Currently they train at Bisham Abbey, Buckinghamshire.
Looking into future, GHA is now focusing on the development of the youngsters. For junior players to aspiring professionals, from March 2012 the expertise of the Glenn Hoddle Academy has been made available to all.
GHA have launched residential courses like two week Easter Soccer School for footballers aged 14-16. A month long Football Evaluation and Development program has been started for 16+ footballers, and are developing two week Summer Soccer Camps. These courses cost £995 for two weeks Easter Soccer School and £1,990 for Evaluation and Development program.
The GHA website clearly mentions that these courses are not trials for professional football and instead they provide dedicated training for players at all levels to fulfill their potential.
The academy has also announced that there will be no trials for football scholarships held in 2012.
In the first batch of the academy had only 25 footballers, it is now attracting more talent than ever before. The academy targets at least 15% of the boys to get back in the professional football. Since its inception, GHA has successfully managed to transport more than 60 of these ‘Rejects’ back to the professional football.
GHA played in a four team tournament at Bournemouth earlier in this season, drawing with the hosts and beating a strong Locomotiv Moscow development side 3-0. In their final game, GHA drew 1-1 with a strong Kingstonian side.
Recently in June, Port Vale snapped up a midfielder Ryan Burge (22), Birmingham City and Barnet reject and a striker Ben Williamson (22), who was released by Milwall. Another success story of the academy is Ikechi Anya, who joined Sevilla in 2009. Ikechi was released by Oxford United. Ikechi is now playing at Cadiz. Although the news did not create any ripples in the footballing world, for GHA it is a significant achievement.
Another academy graduates, Left back Mickey Demetriou who plays for Kiddnermister Harriers and Southport’s left back Andy Owens have been selected to play for England C. Andy has been instrumental in Southport this season and was even awarded Blue Square Premier player of the month for October. Owens had been let go by Liverpool and Stoke City. Andy had made his plans of quitting football and pursuing further studied until the GHA offered him a trial.
It is rightly said, “Second chances don’t always mean a happy ending. Sometimes it’s just another shot to end things right.”
The above article by me has been published in the April issue of '90 Minutes', India's first and only football magazine. I want to extend my sincere thanks to the editors of '90 Minutes' and 'Footballspeak' for their permisson to put this article.