The problem with football development in the UK is that it defines the young people in its care. Developing footballers begin to believe that they are just ‘footballers’ and this is what solely defines them.
For many, this means that when they stop playing the game, they have a tough time finding a new identity, particularly without other skills or qualifications to fall back on.
At Bradfield, we help pupils become outstanding footballers while ensuring that they understand they are so much more than that.
My dream has been to create a programme that allows outstanding football players to stay in school and simultaneously benefit from the highest level of football, academia and pastoral care. Since 2010, the Senior Elite Programme has helped us to do exactly that.
We teach football as a science here.Director of Football Luke Webb in the Telegraph
In the academy system, an education is at best offered as a box-ticking exercise but actually it should be absolutely central, not only because qualifications give young people something to fall back on should they not make it or they have their professional opportunities curtailed by serious injury, but because it makes them better players.
Football is a problem-solving sport. If you can use your mind better, you can solve those problems better. If someone is not taught to problem solve, they simply won’t attain their potential. When you see a problem on the pitch, you need to understand how to think your way round it. And that comes from education.
Players in the Senior Elite Programme commit to all aspects of the programme from July – April each year. During the Summer Term (April – June), pupils are able to play their summer sport if they wish as the programme activities are structured around summer sport commitments.
The football learning of our players takes place here, at Bradfield.
A pupil in the programme puts just as much emphasis on his academic studies and social skills as he does on his football. Application and curiosity inside and outside the classroom is a pre-requisite of participation in the programme.
On the co-curricular side of the programme, all pupils have access to our outstanding facilities and participate each week in up to four football sessions, boxing, yoga and dance classes, two strength and conditioning sessions, psychology and video analysis sessions, plus at least one match.
None of our players in the Senior Elite Programme play at football academies but they are all football academy standard. Players see the Bradfield Football Programme as the place that will enable them to become the best footballer they can be by the time they are 18 years old; something we continue to prove year after year.
Our coaches are all professionally qualified and as Director of Football I hold a UEFA A Licence. The programme, in its provision and delivery, is the equivalent standard to a Category One professional football club academy in the UK.
Although the aim of the Football Programme is to help pupils become the best versions of themselves they can be, rather than be a professional footballer, the answer to this question is yes. We currently have two alumni playing professionally, Ed Cook (G 16-18) and Marco Micaletto (D 09-14).
Neither of these boys were at football clubs when they attended Bradfield. A lot of independent schools can boast that a professional footballer attended their school, but that player would have learnt their football at a football club, not the school. The football learning of our players takes place here, at Bradfield.
The problem with football development in the UK is that it defines the young people in its care.
Ed joined us in the Sixth Form on a scholarship having been released by a football academy. A prominent member of the team that won the Independent Schools FA Cup and League, he was spotted by Premier League Burnley and after completing his A-Levels, joined the club for pre-season training and impressed enough to earn a professional contract. In doing so, Ed became the first player to be signed by a Premier League club directly from a fee-paying school without, at the same time, attending a football club academy.
By contrast, Marco joined the College in Year 9 and after graduating from Bradfield, went to university in the USA. He earned a professional contract with South Tormenta FC in the third tier of the American soccer pyramid after completing his Masters Degree at the University of Akron, Ohio.
Despite entering the professional game through different routes, in both cases gaining a first-class education has played a key role in the pursuit of their goals. A programme that will allow you to reach professional football level, but also take care of you as a person and an academic – a dream come true!