As very few young footballers turn professional, a new Swiss education programme aims to provide a safety net for those who don’t end up earning from the sport.
The four-year course, which begins in August 2009, was presented to the media four days before Switzerland kick off their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup against Israel.
The Football Academy Zurich organised a match between journalists and an “all star” team. The pros won 8-4 – through no fault of swissinfo – but the game was just a chance to unwind after the details of the project, the first of its kind in Europe, were laid out.
Up to 48 male and female students will be accepted onto the four-year course, which begins in August 2009. For a fee totalling SFr78,000 ($70,000) they will split their days between the classrooms of the prestigious KV Zurich Business School and nearby sports fields, under the supervision of leading trainers.
Students will devote 90-120 minutes every morning to football, both on the pitch and learning about nutrition and sports psychology.
“Our goal was to create an education programme that not only develops players’ talents but also allows them to learn a profession in order to make a living,” René Furrer, managing director of Football Academy Zurich, told swissinfo.
“I have the impression that a lot of clubs don’t pay enough attention to education – they just want the football players and are not concerned about what happens if [the players] don’t become professional.”
Ottmar Hitzfeld, the German coach of the Swiss national team, says the programme offered by the Football Academy Zurich is “unique” and “solves one of the biggest problems in encouraging young talent” – namely the reluctance of parents to let their children put all their career eggs in a sporting basket.
Furrer, who used to play football himself for the under-21 side of top club Grasshopper Zurich, explained what is unique.
“Our programme brings together perfectly two aspects which are very important to Swiss people,” he said.
“On the one hand there is education, which is very important in our culture – everyone wants to have a good education and to earn their own money – and on the other there is sport, which is also very important in Switzerland.”
The first step for any aspiring footballing professional, or professional footballer, is to attend the test weeks in October at which ball skills will be assessed. This will be followed by a general health check and an academic acceptance test.
Oldrich Svab, former coach of Grasshopper Zurich and co-founder of the programme, says there is no shortage of young talent in Switzerland but he believes the educational options have, until now, been insufficient.
“That is what we want to change,” Svab told swissimfo. “Parents who set a high value on a professional education would not let their children focus just on sport. In [the Football Academy Zurich] both are possible.”
Value for money
At just under SFr20,000 a year the course is not cheap, but Furrer insists students get value for money.
“Absolutely – because you mustn’t forget that students can earn SFr18,000 by doing an apprenticeship, so that makes it [a total of] SFr60,000,” he said.
Furrer admits that the academy – which is not associated to any club – is “not a factory for professionals”, but he is confident that some alumni will turn professional – and maybe even represent their country.
“Yes, I’m convinced about this because we have Oldrich Svab on board – he’s a very experienced youth scout who has produced players including Pascal Zuberbühler, the [former] Swiss national goalkeeper, and [Basel striker] Valentin Stocker, who also plays for Switzerland,” he said.
“But we certainly cannot promise that everyone will get to that stage – that would not be realistic.”