By Gregory Bryce
Marcus Rashford’s meteoric rise through the youth ranks of Manchester United into their senior team is one that seems like the script of your classic Hollywood movie. The English footballer had been one of the wonder kids in Manchester United’s youth academy and in the 2015/16 season, a then 18-year-old Rashford made his debut for the senior team.
Five years later and Rashford has matured into one of Manchester United’s key players.
And his story is not the first – nor, last – of its kind.
Lionel Messi was touted as one of the wonder kids to watch back in 2004 when he made his competitive match debut for Barcelona. The 17-year-old Messi had set a record in Barcelona’s youth academy – La Masia – when he rose through the ranks of five different youth teams in a single year.
In the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of several young players through their club’s academy system. From Phil Foden at Manchester City, Ansu Fati at Barcelona and Tammy Abraham at Chelsea to name a few.
But for every 10 young players that manage to make their breakthrough with their respective senior team, there are hundreds – if not, thousands – of others who fail to make their dreams a reality.
But their stories seem to be brushed away and swept under the carpet, and herein lies the tragedy of football academies.
The name Devonte Redmond is one that a few football fans might remember – after all, the player was one of the Manchester United’s youth products and had progressed with the same group of players as Marcus Rashford.
But where Rashford would flourish on the main stage, Redmond fell into obscurity.
Redmond said that at the time, everything seemed to be on track, and he was confident of making the transition into the senior team permanently. At least, that was what he thought until he found out that he had been dropped by the club over social media.
“I looked at my phone. All of a sudden, I got loads of notifications on my Twitter. ‘All the best’ – and lots of messages like that. It was strange,” Redmond said. “But then I saw the reason why all these messages were being sent. There was a list of players that [Manchester] United had let go. It had been posted on Twitter and it was the official ‘retained and released’ list. That was how I found out.”
Despite this happening years ago, Redmond says that he still struggles to cope with the situation.
“It always hit me when United were on television. I found it hard to watch, especially because few of the lads from my age group were starting to break through. I used to think that could have been me, or maybe that should have been me,” he said. “I remember going out in my car one day – I said to my mum I was going for a drive. I set off and, all of a sudden, I found myself crying. It was one of the first times I’d had an outpouring of emotion like that for years. I’d been bottling everything up for so long.”
Redmond’s story is just one of thousands, and highlights a major problem with the football system. But while Redmond may have found some stability in his life, as he now plays for Wrexham United, there are others who found it too difficult to handle.
Jeremy Wisten made his name at the Manchester City academy as one of their best rising talents. The 18-year-old was one that many thought would be the next big global star. Wisten, however, was released from the club after an injury put his future into question.
Struggling to cope, Wisten was found dead in his room – he had committed suicide.
Many of these players – like Redmond and Wisten – have dedicated and sacrificed their entire youth into joining football academies in the hopes of making their dreams come true. It is not uncommon to see kids being recruited by academies before they even aged ten.
For majority of their lives, they have been treated as professional athletes, and it is all they have known. The clubs they have joined soon become the pivotal focal points of their lives, and to have that suddenly all ripped away can cause serious damage to the player.
Calls have been made for clubs to improve the way how youth players are being treated, and especially into aftercare for a player that has been released by a club.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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