By Utku Gökerküçük
Fame, recognition, great salaries, big sport cars, brand clothes, beautiful girls and beautiful houses are all supposed to be the reward of a professional football player. One of the potential beneficiaries, Spanish Sporting Gijon B player Javi Poves, decided in 2011 to protest against all the advantages related to football, when he was only 24 years old. In addition, he refused to allow his team to pay him his wages via bank transfer, stating that he wouldn’t allow the Spanish banks to profit from his money. He also returned the keys of the car that had been provided for him by the club’s sponsors.
A springboard such as football can change the living standards for young people that come from families from a bad social and economical situation. That is why so many young people are being forced to make a decision between traditional education and football. Football is considered to open doors to a securer future for poorly educated youth.
“The more you know about football the more you realize it is all about money, that it is rotten, and this takes away your enthusiasm,” Poves said to the Spanish daily ABC during an interview. His position as player of the Spanish Sporting Gijon B team, Poves has much more chance than most to have a bright future. He has had a chance to play in one of the biggest leagues of the world, in which millions of licensed football players only can dream to be a part of.
As a youngster who dropped out of school while he was just 17, Poves’ sole focus was on football. As a young man who dreamt of playing football professionally, he had to give up a regular university education. In Europe, the of footbal players is very low. In the 2008 European Championship Turkish national squad, just 3 out of 24 players had gone to university. Former national team stars Tugay Kerimoğlu, Arif Erdem and Suat Kaya could not have applied to follow the UEFA Pro-Licence Course, which awards diplomas for football coaching, because they did not graduate from high school. In the British Premier League, Europe’s biggest in terms of size and revenues, players receive no recognition for their intellectual background. Although there are some academically successful players, such as former Queen’s Park Rangers and MK Dons defender Steve Palmer who has a degree from Cambridge, and former West Ham keeper Shaka Hislop (a degree of mechanical engineering) and Chelsea winger Juan Mata (diploma in sports science), this is not an integral part of the football system.
However, some football teams, such as Amsterdam’s Ajax FC, do care about the education of its youth team players, and sometimes employ teachers to continue players’ general education.
we cannot say that there is a standard educational program for all of Europe’s young players
Despite this, Ajax does not want to give direct school education at its facilities because they believe that making a young teenager leave home at the age of 13-14 is not good for their personal development. France, for example, has well known football academy, ´Le Centre Technique National Fernand Sastre´, more commonly known as ´Clairefontaine´. The academy provides 13 to 15 year-old French youngsters with a school education, and many players of the academy are talent spotted by football clubs. In addition, some club players have a chance to be trained in Clairefontaine: Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and William Gallas are three of the academy’s most famous players. But we cannot say that there is a standard educational program for all of Europe’s young players. Even though education is available in France, it is generally difficult to get a good education if you are a football player.
Javi Poves is now living with his family in one of the poorest areas of Senegal to help those in need. His retirement from football has barely changed the system. Neither the Spanish nor British leagues, nor any famous player responded to Poves’ quitting the profession. After only one week, there was nothing about Poves in the newspapers. But there are thousands of players like Javi Poves from the lower divisions who have been struggling to get ahead in professional football and the price they pay could be a lack of education. But Poves was the one who realized this and followed his dreams instead of choosing to earn masses of money. He simply realized that there is a gap between the bigger and lower teams which is impossible to close. As he said in the British newspaper The Telegraph: “I want everyone to be equal and that we all unite and stop arguing over trivial matters and try to move forward. As it stands the world is preparing to destroy itself.” But billion-dollar owners, advertisement sectors and fans world-wide are helping to increase this inequality of opportunity, and there is no end in sight.