Employers often look for the same qualities in potential employees: hard working, dynamic, team oriented, takes criticism well, someone who can work under pressure, and bilingual “would be nice”. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect this kind of resume to slide across the boss’ desk for every candidate, unless of course the applicant is a well-traveled and respected professional athlete.
Professional athletes are certainly a breed of their own. They experience life in ways that the average person could not possibly imagine. The skills that professional athletes acquire throughout their playing career are unique. The European Football Federation (UEFA) along with the World Player’s Union (FIFPro) launched an educational program where former international footballers can earn their degree titled Master for International Players (MIP). The program officially announced its launch last week in an effort to educate former European national team players in sports management and administration. FIFPro’s official website stated,
FIFPro, together with the team from UEFA MIP, will educate students about the role of players and trade unions in football governance, collective bargaining and how they can make a positive difference in creating a fair and balanced industry, as well as a profession that all players can feel proud of.
European players often lose out on traditional educational opportunities if they succeed on the field. Outstanding youth players may be identified at an early age by top European clubs, and they often are educated by the club while also attending class through the team’s academy. However, as the players get older, most pursue a professional football career instead of furthering their education.
No one understands just how a business ticks better than the men on the ground. With the MIP program, ex-players can bring that perspective to the business and management side of the game. This bridges the gap between the executives and players, between those with degrees in higher education and those with a high school education.
The career of the professional athlete is much shorter than the career of the average working person. Players often earn much more than the average person but must make their living in the small window of most playing careers. In fact, the average salary of all workers in the United Kingdom was a mere 2.9% of the average salary of a Premier League player in 2010.
It is not unheard of for the career of a promising professional footballer to be cut short through injury. Many ex-players will continue to find work on the training and athletic side of the sport. The MIP gives opportunities to these players as well, something that FIFPro can hang their hat on.
The MIP is unique to Europe and any player who played for their club internationally. The soccer model and landscape in the United States is much different, where the top flight league is only in its 20th year, and is in the process of building out a more robust academy system. Many of the players in the league are drafted after completing college (or most of college). These players are more ready for their career after they hang up their boots because they have already completed an undergraduate degree, or at least a decent part of one.
Former MLS players, such as Garth Lagerwey, have been able to transition to a General Manager role in MLS. After studying at Duke and 5 years playing in MLS, Lagerwey earned his law degree before becoming General Manager of Real Salt Lake, and before signing a lucrative deal with the Seattle Sounders at the beginning of this year. Perhaps the exception rather than the rule, Lagerwey serves as a different way of keeping former players involved in the business side of the game.
Educating former players this ways is beneficial to UEFA’s image and the image of the clubs that hire these players. Having an empathetic figure on the club’s side of a negotiations table would do well to assure the players that they have someone in the front office who understands the position in which they sit. Companies often do well when promoting from within the ranks, and the MIP allows clubs a structured way to do just that.