“I’m starting to realise what life is like without football and it’s making me want it more.”
The odds of becoming a professional footballer are notoriously slim – even for those teenagers who make it into the academy system.
So add in the extra jeopardy of the current coronavirus lockdown and suspension of all sport – and it must be an extremely stressful time to make decisions on your future.
BBC Sport asked three academy footballers to share their experiences…
Excitement, boredom, frustration, determination
For 16-year-old Kamran Kandola – a central defender in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ youth academy – each day in lockdown could be hugely significant in shaping his footballing future.
“I think it started as a bit of excitement, then that turned to boredom, then frustration – and right now it’s just a determination to make myself better,” Kamran says.
Like many teenagers in the UK involved in professional academies, the next 12 months could be vital with players eligible to sign professional terms on their 17th birthday.
“It’s hard because you don’t really know how long this could take. It’s definitely been on my mind, thinking: ‘Are we going to finish this season?’ ‘Is it going to eat into my scholarship?
“If so and that time is shorter it obviously means less time to impress the coaching staff and get a professional contract,” Kamran added.
Kamran is currently part of Wolves’ Under-16s team but will move to the Under-18s once academies have been given the all-clear to resume.
He said players have been supported by the club during lockdown, with regular video calls and training guides to help with physical and mental wellbeing. And his days have become a structured routine of eat, exercise, study, sleep, repeat.
“Through this whole thing it’s been mixed emotions.
“I think it’s just trying to stay mentally strong, especially during the week where you’d usually train in the evening. I feel a little lost without it. But it’s a great time to reflect and work on the things I need to improve on.
“I’m starting to realise what life would be like without football and it’s just making me want it more.”
‘I was crushed when the season was stopped’
Huddersfield Town youth prospect Ben Midgely, 16, is another teenager who’s footballing career is being affected by recent events.
The central midfielder has trained with the first team squad on a number of occasions and says he’s using lockdown to work on his physical strength – the part of his game he says needs the most development.
“Before this all happened our season was going really well. Personally it was probably the best season I’ve had, so obviously I was crushed.
“When I go back I’ve got to show them that, you know, I really want and deserve to be at the next level.
“I guess what makes it easier to deal with is that you know everyone is going through the same thing at the same time,” Ben said.
The chances of making it as a professional footballer were already slim, even before the current pandemic.
According to a 2017 report, out of all the boys who enter an academy at the age of 9, less than half of 1% go on to play professionally.
But there are plenty of top Premier League players – such as Marcus Rashford, Morgan Gibbs-White, Jack Grealish and Trent Alexander-Arnold – who have successfully graduated from their academies into first team stars.
And there is a view that homegrown players could benefit once the sport resumes, with less money around to fund big transfers.
Training, studying and looking up to Jordan Henderson
Elijah and Micah Anthony are twins who both represent Queens Park Rangers at youth level. While both are firmly set on lives as footballers, during lockdown they are also looking at other areas that might lead to a career.
“Recently I’ve found myself interested at looking into the stock market and trading,” Micah said.
“So I’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos to see how things are done and what goes on. I’m actually really enjoying it.”
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Like many other teenagers in the UK the pair are juggling training with studying – although upcoming exams for their age group have been cancelled.
“I really miss football. The competition, companionship and just seeing my friends,” said Elijah.
“I believe if you just work hard and you persevere – have great determination – then it’ll happen. A classic example is Jordan Henderson. He’s not the most technical player but he’s probably got the best determination.
“He’s the most hardworking person in the team. And look how far it’s got him. He’s won the Champions League and he’s captain for Liverpool.”
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