Pro FC announced the winners of their first trials on Friday, sending two lucky footballers to train at Tottenham Hotspur and capping a successful week for everyone involved with the new scheme.
The match had been prepared for in minute technical, physical and tactical detail throughout the week, and the expressions of the winners (Jake Jacobs and Matthew Stor) would best described as stunned surprise; out of the 96 participants they had been chosen by Pro FC and Martin Allen to go and train with Tottenham Hotspur on trial. All week long the pair had been coached by the likes of Kevin Blackwell, Steve Staunton and Andy Ritchie. Now they will be playing alongside Peter Crouch and Gareth Bale.
The 16-year-old centre-back Jacobs was outstanding throughout the week displaying a calmness and cool head reminiscent of another player to go from non-league football to a Premier League club, Chris Smalling. Assistant coach Tom Preston, who had worked with Kevin Blackwell and Jacobs all week, said: “Jake
Jacobs himself, already turned down by Fulham, Reading and Aldershot said: “It just doesn’t feel real but I feel absolutely top of the world.” At Fulham Jacobs was told that he didn’t have the physical presence to play at that level but he has shown this week that technically he has the ability to make the step up.
The other player to win the ultimate prize was Matthew Stor, who showed his impressive stamina getting up and down the right flank from the right-back position. Constantly making himself available as an option, Stor also showed his excellent first touch and range of passing. Stor stated that the week working with professional coaches “…really helped me improve my positioning and anticipation.” Like Jacobs, Stor was unable to take in the fact that he would be joining Redknapp’s squad in the near future.
Stor and Jacobs were not the only players to get the chance to trial at professional clubs. Marino Peixoto, Marly Gough and Wazza Meta were all offered opportunities at various clubs. Striker Peixoto was in superb form, grabbing a brace, the second an excellent chip from close range. Peixoto currently plays for a Sunday league side but feels confident about making the step up to League One or Championship level. He feels that working with Ian McParland has improved him this week: “The manager has helped with my movement, my spatial awareness and how I hold up the ball when I get it.” Gough on the other hand plays much more of a Sergio Busquets role, constantly moving into space to pass. His range of passing was one of the major reasons why McParlands side was able to romp into a 3-0 lead despite being pegged back to 3-2 by the final whistle.
These kinds of opportunities are why Martin Allen, the former Brentford manager, set up Pro FC. Allen says that Pro FC has two aims; not only does the program give players the chance to live the life of a professional for a week, but also shows them other opportunities to make a living in football.
“We are not an academy. We give these guys the chance to live like a professional player for a week,” said Allen. “We get in Solent University, Manchester United and Prozone to talk to these kids and show them all the different things they can do in football.” Pro FC ambassador DJ Campbell of Blackpool, himself a non-league player only a few years ago, agrees with his former manager: “The vision that [Martin Allen] had slightly emulated my career, but I told him that if we do this then it needs to be the very best.” The Blackpool striker was evidently proud of giving the players the chance to work with the likes of Steve Staunton and Simon Davey, saying: “We’re giving these kids absolutely everything we can.”
Allen came to Campbell with the idea of forming Pro FC and Campbell immediately came onboard, along with other well-known figures within football. However Campbell made it clear that he would not have signed off on this project unless he had felt that the program was offering the very best opportunities and chances to the players: “When you’re young it’s so easy to get written off but Pro FC is showing that jumping to conclusions about players’ development is the wrong way to do this,” said Campbell. He went on to stress how important self-belief was in becoming a professional, and he knows what he was talking about. Only a few years ago the Blackpool striker was delivering parcels door-to-door having temporarily given up on his dream of playing. But he was unable to leave football alone and now plays week-in week-out against Premier League opposition.
When shown around the complex at Warwick University campus where the players sleep, eat and play, it’s obvious that Campbell’s talk of accepting nothing but the best is no idle chatter. The players who sign up get coached by managers and ex-pros who have worked at the highest level. All week long the likes of ex-Liverpool and Republic of Ireland player Steve Staunton work to prepare them for a game at the end of the week. Even in the break between lunch and afternoon training Staunton can be seen around the complex giving out advice on how to shape your body, mark players at a corner and similar tips. One player commented: “Kevin [Blackwell] has improved everything about me. My tactical awareness, my positioning, my timing. So many little things but together I feel he’s massively improved my play in just one week.”
And it is not just in the big-name coaches that Pro FC replicates professional clubs. The facilities available at Warwick University are luxurious with full buffets for every meal. Allen has hired an entire retinue of trained physiotherapists, nutritionists and tacticians, all of whom are at the players’ disposal. Assistant managers take care of technical details and scout opposition so each side knows what to expect from their opposition. The managers vary the training each day according to the players’ needs, from low intensity stretching to swimming to match practise.
Beyond just getting the chance to play in a professional environment, there are talks every night on other ways to get into football and make a living; from marketing and advertising to becoming a referee or a scout. Employees of Manchester United and other major clubs gave talks to show that there is more than one way to work in the sport.
A week at a Pro FC camp costs around £640 but everyone from the players to the assistant managers said that the chance to work with the coaches in these facilities is priceless. If you can afford a week at Pro FC, there is simply nothing closer to being a real professional. A Different League interviewed Josh Briant earlier in the week and we caught up with him after his match-winning goal from 30 yards out.
“[The manager] Andy Ritchie gave me the confidence to play in central midfield. My normal position is right-back but he’s given me the tips to improve my game and I’m delighted with my performance today. I would definitely do this week again if I could,” said a buoyant Briant. Hugo Langton was assistant manager to Ian McParland this week and says, “Being able to spend time with managers of this calibre is second to none. They’ve been open and honest and I’ve learned so much in just one week.”
Pro FC exists as much to let boys have fun as it does to help players become professionals. But as Steve Staunton and Ian McParland pointed out, it does highlight some of the coaching failures in English football. McParland said, “It’s crazy having under sevens, under nines or even under twelves playing in the freezing cold on a full sized pitch. That doesn’t help them develop and they can’t concentrate when they’re shivering. They should be playing in the summer months and doing inside, 5-a-side work during winter at that