This time I am not publishing my own post but acknowledging the great work done by José Luis Espinosa in writing this article by translating it into English to share with you. Today we’ll hear about the other side, the sour face, of football and more specifically about FC Barcelona’s Youth Academy. José Luis’s brother is Javier Espinosa, a current player for Almería and an old teammate of mine in Barcelona’s Youth Teams. Most of the things he says I agree with, some not so much, but I believe all of it holds a lesson for parents and relatives. La masia was my home and I feel proud to were there, it makes me the person who I am now. And the people over there are awesome and almost part of my family, but it is also hard, sometimes.
Now onto Espinosa’s article, originally published on mixdeportes.es:
“Time was when the voices of strangers were commonplace in a house where one of the young ones stood out for their skill at football, it meant something was being developed there. Now with whatsapp and high connectivity, that awkward shuffling to find the landline numbers for these kids is no longer needed. Agents, talent scouts and snakeoil salesmen of the lowest order (more of the latter than the former) have sought and seek ways of tricking unaware parents with their unrealistic promises, into trading their talent for a handful of euros.
The nonsense you hear from the mouths of parents, relatives and friends of children who have stood out since they were little is generally hard to believe. The very thought that a child whose age hasn’t broken two digits is going to solve all your problems because he is good at playing sports at that tender age is, putting it mildly, not realistic and saying as much is not being aware of what you are saying. It also shows unbearable egotism and highlights the frustrations of a childhood that wanted to be and couldn’t, or didn’t know how.
We have to recognize the wisdom of those who don’t let themselves get scammed and who look at the possibility of harbouring a child star as remote or, better said, a secondary concern.
The guys who travel far from home as children seeking a future as a professional elite athlete don’t tend to last long. Very few, not even 10%, will become professional athletes. Far fewer will truly triumph. The rest throw away a childhood for nothing. Nobody considers how much a person’s development, both physical and psychological, varies from 8 or 9 years old. After the failure all that’s left is frustration, an uneducated child and parents who have literally missed out on their son’s childhood.
Deciding that a son will leave the home to live very far away must be hard. If on top of that it’s from a very young age, I imagine it is even more so. Doubting those who won’t permit it is frivolous. Trying to buy this permission with false promises and money seems borderline delinquent.
Money aside, once the adventure has been decided on, they tend to sell the idea of a idealistic life that is all for the peace of mind of the progenitors. Something that catches my attention is the dismissive manner in which the Academy managers talk about studies, give them a level of importance that quickly becomes obvious. Lessons are important, yes, but football is more important. Their so-called study plan deserves a mention of its own. For example, they will remove PE for these students, as though their goal-oriented practise of a single sport covered everything in this subject.
Besides all this, we don’t need to hold our heads in despair. You could say that life in a residence for a professional team is a bit like boarding-school-lite. They eat well, if they want to. They study, if they want to. And they listen to their teachers, also if they want to.
It can be difficult to get good grades in this manner. At least that’s what it seems to me. It depends on the education they had received at home. Examples like Pablo Alfaro, who studied medicine, or, more recently, Manu Trigueros, who studied law, are examples of players showing that it really is possible to be both a high level athlete and have a higher education. Sadly, these are exceptions that prove the norm.
Having a child stay away from home costs families a lot. The salaries given don’t cover phone calls, trips and the likes, without even counting the personal cost it demands. Older or younger siblings affected differently, friendships lost due to absence, elderly relatives who are forgetful… On top of that, there are times that are very difficult to manage in these situations, such as the loss of a close relative. Living through these times as a child is hard. If on top you live alone, far away from your family, it is worse. I can’t imagine what it is like for a mother or a father. I just believe it must be incredibly hard.
Looking at another type of event, congratulating a son on his thirty ninth birthday over the phone is not a big deal. Not being able to see or hug your child on the day they become 12 is shit.
Then we have weddings, communions and other family events which, unless they’re on the meagre month of holidays they are allocated, they will miss. Having to miss a brother’s wedding due to work can’t be compensated for. The professional footballer, that person envied as much by children as by adults. An idol for so many, it is the mirror in which each generation looks at itself, for fame, money or both. The value of sport and the desire for success aren’t usually admired like this. We see them in the media, their salaries are public, they rub shoulders with society’s best and brightest… They form part of the 21st century’s equivalent to medieval nobility, the difference being that this nobility isn’t inherited.
We only notice them when they’re there. We see their cars, their houses are in magazines, they participate in the nation’s biggest social functions… We don’t pay attention to the road they took to get there, neither do we value the cost of their position. Nor do we realize that one day, most of the time without knowing why, the greatest majority of professional footballers go unnoticed, even though we include them as part of the elite, the rich and famous.
When you have seen up close and personal, as I have, the process by which a footballer develops, your idea of these people changes radically. Children who were hardly allowed to go onto the street on their own back in the village are not only leaving their villages, but they are leaving their families behind to live hundreds of kilometers from home, seeking a dream that in the majority of cases become a nightmare.
Sometimes even if they do become a pro.”
José Luis Espinosa