Hoddle gives British footballers European shot

By Tom Harverson

Tom Harverson examines the success of the new Glenn Hoddle Academy – a project set up to give rejected footballers a second shot at the beautiful game.

Now this may come as a shock but I’m not a professional footballer. In fact, I’m an embarrassingly bad footballer but hey, that’s why I write about it. But knowing several people who could have and perhaps should have made it to the big time, I’d say one of the biggest fears for the majority of pros or almost-pros, alongside big injuries, is having your contract cancelled and ultimately being released.

My housemate for three years at university was on the books at Derby when he was younger but he was unceremoniously dumped from their academy at 15. And he assures me it isn’t a nice feeling. He maintains he could have made it somewhere near the top of the game and would have battled to secure a permanent contract had he been given more time on the field.

But there has to be a cut off point and unfortunately he dipped under the bar. Contract terminations are common, especially in the lower leagues where countless talents are discarded to the footballing scrapheap. A lot of clubs outside of the top two or three English divisions lack the essential time and the funding to nurture a potential talent and sometimes even fail to spot a spark – they deal in instant results.

Having been dumped, it takes a certain type of person and sportsman to build on the rejection and improve their game. A lot give up and settle for a part-time contract at a basement club or quit the sport altogether.

But for the fighters there is a lifeline – the Glenn Hoddle Academy. Set up in June last year on the Montecastillo Resort in the Spanish city of Jerez and boasting state-of-the-art facilities, the centre aims to give young players a second chance at hitting the big time.

The successful Academy trialists – all of which had been released from pro contracts – receive full scholarships and are set through their paces, free of charge, by the ex-England manager’s coaching team which includes amongst its ranks Dave Beasant and Nigel Spackman.

And after just a year in operation, the ground-breaking scheme is already rehousing players. The first to bag a permanent deal with an English professional club was Chris Fagan who signed for Lincoln City last month. The 20-year-old striker had joined up with Hoddle after running his course at Manchester United.

But already Fagan’s success story has been topped by another fallen star. Dropped by League One new boys Wycombe Wanders and then by Northampton Town, you wouldn’t blame Ikechi Anya for perhaps rethinking his career path. But Anya battled on and signed up with Hoddle last summer.

On 6 July 2009 he joined La Liga side Sevilla on a two-year contract with an optional two-year extension.

The move was based purely on his performances at the Academy and try-outs at Chelsea’s training ground at Cobham. The 21-year-old now has mouth-watering away trips to the Bernabeu and Camp Nou to look forward to, lining up against some of the world’s greatest players. Oh and thanks to the Andalucian club’s third placed finish last season, he has a chance of playing in the Champions League.

Not too bad for a kid who wasn’t good enough for Wycombe.

The Academy presents an exciting future for young players who thought their careers were over before they had started. Hoddle himself admits that 18 is too young to really assess the true quality of a footballer – the prime and obvious example England legend Ian Wright who had to wait until 21 before making it onto the big stage.

Hoddle and his team are ticking every box possible to ensure his lads secure another contract. One of the best is on YouTube where each player has his own highlights package giving interested clubs an instant snippet of their abilities. No longer is there a need to wait for scouting reports or DVDs via airmail for continental clubs looking for a new signing. Hoddle has harnessed modern technology to bring scouting into the 21st century.

And the knock-on effects of the scheme should go beyond just rekindling dormant talent. Historically few British players have made a success out of playing abroad, although recently the trend is being bucked slightly. Greek outfit Olympiakos have snapped up Matt Derbyshire after a season long loan and Tyrone Mears enjoyed similar success at Marseille (even though he’s just joined Burnley for the up-and-coming season).

Of course others such as Paul Ince, Ian Rush and Gary Lineker have graced foreign fields, but despite the flurry of Europeans delighting us with their skills at all levels of the British game, we have never returned the favour in any great numbers.

However, Hoddle’s experiment has the potential to change this by opening up the one-way street to two-way traffic. With his lads being advertised across the continent more foreign clubs should be encouraged to venture into the British market. In turn as demand from abroad increases, the battle for British talent will intensify and the standards of our players will hopefully improve accordingly. British clubs with then have a battle on their hands to keep a grip on those who at the moment are being overlooked.

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