No Hunger In Paradise Doc of the Week

No Hunger In Paradise

From young hopefuls to fully fledged professional footballers, this is the story of the journey that thousands of teenagers begin every year as they look to realise their dreams. But there are many pitfalls along the way and very few actually make the grade in the end. BT Sport 1, Thur, March 29th 21.30

Author Nick Hornby perfectly summed up just how difficult it is to make it as a professional footballer. In his book ‘Fever Pitch’, a biographical tome on the highs and lows of an Arsenal supporter from childhood into early adulthood, he explains that he felt all doors were open to him growing up - bar one. He might become an astronaut or a film star. He might even walk on the moon. However, he knew from a very early age that he would never play for Arsenal.

This documentary from BT Sport Films is based on the third in Michael Calvin’s football-related trilogy and tells the tale of those thousands of hopefuls who either never read Hornby’s book or were simply much better footballers than he was and decided to go for it anyway. The dream they are pursuing is a scary one however - young talent is being scouted by the big clubs from the age of three onwards. It’s a cut-throat business and we hear copious tales throughout the piece of players who are on their fifth and sixth clubs by their mid-teens as they battle to make it. The actual percentage of players who do ultimately succeed is miniscule at 0.012% according to one source quoted here. The truth is that you really do have a better chance of becoming an astronaut!

Having talent is the single most important requirement in making it as a professional footballer, but it isn’t enough on its own. There are plenty of other requirements as well, with a strong mentality, dedication and a burning desire to succeed just three of them. Coaches can be too honest at times and it is important to develop a thick skin at a young age. A positive coaching experience is hugely important in bringing young talent through.

Bad influences

Young people need to be exposed to proper coaching structures from the very beginning if they are to make it to the Premier League. They also need to be kept away from bad influences. These people are vulnerable and easily influenced, we are told, particularly in urban areas where the lure of gang culture and other distractions is never far away. Having too much money at too young an age can be a dangerous thing.

Other distractions include greedy and over-ambitious parents living vicariously through their children. Many of them see their child’s talent as their route to a better life. Unfortunately, however, their influence can be disruptive as they become blinded by the prospect of instant wealth. Consequently they don’t always make decisions that have their offspring’s best interests at heart.

Street football

All the coaches talk about the importance of a structured coaching regime. However, limiting youngsters to a strict coaching regime alone is not necessarily the answer, according to former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard. He believes that it isn’t a good idea to keep them away from their friends at a very early age or to stop them playing football on the street. “It helped toughen me up and turned me into the player I became,” he explains.

Joey Barton, who played for clubs in England, France and Scotland during an often-controversial career at the highest level, believes it’s important to get as many kids playing from as young an age as possible as this will keep the talent coming through. However, the current system whereby certain big clubs are hording all the talent is ultimately not good for the game, he says. Tighter controls are required to ensure a fairer distribution of young talent coming through or many of these players will never achieve their potential.

This is a fascinating documentary and a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in football. It is a tale of hope and ambition and what happens when they meet the real world. There are so many pitfalls along the way and many are doomed to failure before they even start, often through no fault of their own. The system, after all, is far from perfect. For the special few who do make it, however, it is the beginning of something wonderful.

Images: Getty

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