A study from ITV has revealed the alarming mental toll on young players being released by their respective football clubs.
2020 was a difficult year for the sporting industry following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which directly impacted the financial situations of football clubs, which resulted in many young academy players being released and their aspirations of playing the game professionally dented.
The mental health of those respective young players was put under microscope after the death of former Manchester City youth player Jeremy Wisten, who took his own life last year.
The study, carried out by ITV, exposed disturbing results on the reality for academy players who suddenly see their future in the game blurred by the cutthroat nature of football clubs who hold the power in their hands over the path a player may or may not make to the first team.
Over 100 former academy players took part in the study, with 72 per cent revealing that they felt they were not given enough support by the clubs that let them go.
Additionally, almost 90 per cent claimed to have experienced depression or anxiety since being released and more than half said they would not recommend their former club to other players.
In response to the survey, a former academy player told ITV: "People should be treated like people, not like assets to a business.”
Another said: "It’s scary when football is your whole life and then it’s taken away from you.”
One respondent was James Aspinall, a young goalkeeper released by Wigan Athletic last year. Consequently, the 21-year-old revealed experiencing suicidal thoughts and condemned the the lack of support from the club.
”There’s a lot clubs can do, maybe to put in a follow-up programme, because I was told, ‘We’ll keep in contact with you, we’ll see how you’re doing, there is a support network around you, we’re here for you'," started Aspinall.
"But I didn’t really receive any of that. They just kind of assumed, ‘You know what, it’s James, it’s fine, he’s lively, he’s a presence on the training ground.' It’s the feeling of rejection, you get cast to one side and you just feel, I can’t explain it, it’s like not a will to live.”
In response, Wigan stated that they placed "significant emphasis" on preparing young players for the challenges of football, "whether that be after a lengthy career in the game or if a player’s career doesn’t progress beyond a certain stage.”
The Premier League added: "We have a really robust database of players three to five years post scholarship and are working with clubs and the PFA to track those who are now slightly older and seeing where they are.”
When asked, the EFL refused to respond to the findings but did point to its "substantial provisions in place and a substantial amount of work undertaken to try to prepare players for the time when they exit the elite football environment.”
Author: Jake Wilkin