I was contacted recently by an ambitious, young footballer, who asked what advice I could give him as he starts on his professional career.
Even though I have reported on the beautiful game for the past 15 years, the answer did not come easily. Not that I had any shortage of ideas, on the contrary, I had too many.
Modern football is so detailed, so complex, that entering into its pro ranks and trying to make a living can be a daunting task for any youngster.
After a pause for thought, I put together a message for the player, which focused on two key points. I urged him to remember that football today is the most international of all sports, and, more than ever, it is a business.
Only a few to be snapped up by Real Madrid or Man Utd
As a journalist with Yahoo Sports, I write for an American audience. With interest in the United States national team higher than ever, my readers expect me to keep up to date with how the American players are doing for their club teams.
This can be quite a challenge at times, with regular squad members scattered around Europe, in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria and elsewhere, as well as in Major League Soccer.
But it struck me that while it is clearly important for a journalist to be flexible and able to tune in to what is happening in all corners of the soccer globe, this is even more vital for aspiring players.
Only a chosen few are going to be snapped up by Real Madrid or Manchester United, and for many players, finding the right club, the right situation for their talent to blossom, is critical if they are to enjoy a successful career.
If a player restricts himself to only well-known leagues or those close to home he is potentially missing out on a career-changing opportunity.
There is more than just training and performing on weekends
Knowledge is power in this instance. Leagues in exotic and mysterious sounding locations can be daunting to players without a good understanding of the world around them. Despite cultural differences, there are plenty of success stories of players from places such as the U.S., Africa, and Australia and finding happiness and satisfaction in locations are diverse as Iceland, Egypt or Vietnam.
The key to it is understanding, and that is where the business aspect comes in. Just as a businessman would seek to empower himself with information if he was to be offered a job at a company overseas, so too should the football player.
A player will give himself an advantage if he makes the effort to ask the right questions. Getting to know what a club is like is important, but so too is discovering what life itself is like in a new country. Many of the players who have been most successful overseas are those who bothered to learn the language and tried to assimilate with the local culture, making new friends who are not necessarily associated with football.
As times goes on it will be increasingly important for footballers to be aware that there is more to the game than simply training and performing on weekends. Those who are prepared to make the extra investment of time in gathering the knowledge to put them a step ahead of their rivals will reap the benefit.
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Martin Rogers, columnist for Yahoo! Sports, spent seven years as a football/soccer writer for the London Daily Mirror, covering English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup and international soccer. A journalism graduate from Harlow College, he is now based in Los Angeles.
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