In the modern game it’s difficult to find anything that isn’t considered to be attractive. The celebrity lifestyle, the wages, the glory of scoring a goal in front of your home crowd, the flash cars, the endorsements, the women, the list could go on and the likes of Beckham and co have only enhanced the reputation of football being a glamorous career.
The one thing that people don’t pick up on, however, is the sheer amount of work and sacrifice taken to get to that level. To many on the outside of the game, players are picked up as young, talented footballers and fast-tracked into professional clubs and paid extortionate amounts. What they don’t realise is that these players give up hours after hours of their time, as do their parents and guardians, taking them to training sessions each week, watching their diet, honing their skills and sacrificing a lot of the things you should be doing as a youngster growing up.
The modern world is seeing parks and football pitches turned into housing and business developments leaving grass roots football struggling for space. Juniors have nowhere to develop their skills, to become the next David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard etc with their jumpers for goalposts because those grassy areas that we all remember are now housing estates or office blocks.
Instead, the youth of today are left to play football wherever they can, whether it’s a park that hasn’t been taken over, their club training ground, a tennis court, school playground or setting up an equipment for the back garden to help turn their young stars into the stars of tomorrow.
Aside from the places to play, you also have a financial aspect affecting the prospects of our young players. In the past, professional clubs had scouting networks who would look to get the best young players in from age group or school football and develop them until they were ready to make a judgement on their potential. Today, however, finances are much tighter and youth academies have been scrapped to ensure that clubs have every penny they own going into the club’s development.
Not every club is owned by a billionaire with infinite funds, and the clubs down the leagues in particular have relied on homegrown, local talent. If these players slip through the net they’re missing out through no fault of their own, it’s just the economic climate today.
It’s certainly much harder for modern day youngsters to become professional footballers. With so many distractions and the need to be squeaky clean in terms of diet, activity and professionalism, they would never get away with what many former professionals got away with. It’s all about fitness, performance and image in modern football. No matter how talented a player you are, if you’re not at peak fitness, the top of your game and staying out of the media spotlight for everything but your man-of-the-match performances, you’re not going to make it.