The struggles of young migrant football players in Premier League academies

Apr 26, 14 The struggles of young migrant football players in Premier League academies


Mesut Özil, Robin van Persie, Kun Agüero: just some names of the huge cosmopolitan workforce in the English Premier League. In the season 2013/2014 an astonishing 69.6% of the players in the Premier League isn’t born in England. (Transfermarkt, 2013) A big chunk of that 69.6% comes forth out of the many football academies in the country. All the Premier League clubs, and also in the lower divisions a lot of clubs have an academy. Young talented players aged between 8 and 18 are scouted, and trained in these academies, with the hopes of turning these players into worthy Premier League players, and an accessory to the first squad. But how is life for these young talented players? All of a sudden they find themselves in a completely new environment, a newculture, language; while they still have to undertake the demanding training at the academy. This article will take a look at the acculturation process of these young players.



What is acculturation?
The concept of acculturation finds its origin in anthropological studies, about contact between people of different cultures. Acculturation can be defined as: Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original cultural patterns in either or both groups. (Redfield et al., 1936). There are several ways to respond to acculturation, these “acculturating strategies” have been defined by John Berry. First there is the “strategy” of assimilation, which is the case when the migrant actively interacts with the host culture, without a desire to maintain the indigenous culture. Separation is where it’s the other way around, trying to maintain the indigenous culture, without embracing the host culture. Marginalization, when neither cultural maintenance nor interaction with the host culture is desired. And finally integration, when both maintenance of the indigenous culture, and interaction with thehost culture is desired. The strategy used by a person can change over time. (Berry,1997).



Youth players strive to be the next big football star such as Man City`s Kun Agüero in a tough academy environment - Picture by

Youth players strive to be the next big football star such as Man City`s Kun Agüero in a tough academy environment – Picture by



Hard start

Young players migrating to these Premier League football academies don’t have an easy start. Study by Ann Bourke (2003) shows that in the early stages of their migrations they are susceptible to “culture shock”, whereby they “experience a sense of loss regarding their old cultural environment, as well as confusion, rejection, self-doubt and decreased self-esteem from working in a new and unfamiliar cultural setting” (Bourke, 2003, p383). Ward et al. (2001, p94) also state that “the stress of migration may be intertwined with the stress of adolescent identity and development”. José Ángel Pozo. Signed in 2012 as a 15-year-old for the Manchester City academy



Life in the academies
Weedon (2011) conducted research among 16 migrant youth footballers from several different countries, such as Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Nigeria and Australia. When asked about their experiences in the academies, a lot of the players said they had difficulties
adjusting to the frequency, intensity and physicality of training. There isn’t much time to do fun things, it’s all about training, and resting. This makes acculturating outside the academy hard, because there is little time to do so. This means that the main setting to acculturate, and socialize is the academy; this influences the migrant players’ acculturation strategies. Many of the players don’t resist against the host culture, but the intensive training programme limits their possibilities to interact with the indigenous culture. Almost all the players had some trouble in the beginning: homesickness, loneliness, problems speaking English, trouble socializing with teammates. But after the rough start, a lot of the problems stated above were overcome, and they befriended with their indigenous teammates, became part of the team and some of them embraced the host culture. An essential factor in this change is the ability to communicate in the host language. Not all the players spoke English before they joined the academy, they were thought English at the academy, as it is an essential factor in acculturation. This is a good example of Berry’s (1997) theory that the acculturation strategy can change over time.



Academy Players strive to accomplishing their childhood dream they have been chasing  for years on a daily basis - Picture by

Academy Players strive to accomplishing their childhood dream they have been chasing
for years on a daily basis – Picture by



It’s a tough environment in the academies. Dozens of players competing for only a few spots in the starting eleven. It seems like migrant players, despite their great talent, start a few steps behind the indigenous players of the academy. A big change in
environment, culture, intensity of training and language can be tough on young adolescents, not to mention being hundreds of miles away from their parents and friends. The process of acculturation isn’t easy for these migrant players, especially in the
beginning. But after a while it gets better, they adapt to the culture, start speaking the language and become part of the team. Till one day, they may be standing on the pitch of a Premier League club, accomplishing their childhood dream they have been chasing
for years.



Berry, J.W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation and adaptation. Applied Psychology: AnInternational Review. 46 (1), 5-68
Bourke, A. (2003). The road to fame and fortune: Insights on the career paths of young Irish professional footballers in England. Journal of Youth Studies. 5 (4), 375-389.


Redfield, R., Linton, R. & Herskovits, M.J. (1936) Memorandum for the study of acculturation. American Anthropologist. 38 (1), 149–152.


Transfermarkt. (2013). Foreign player statistics 2013/2014. Available: Last accessed 20th October 2013.
Weedon, G. (2011). ‘Glocal boys': Exploring experiences of acculturation amongst migrant youth footballers in Premier League academies. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 47 (2), 200-216.


For full links to this article by Thor Ruiter please (CLICK HERE)




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