IT’S a question I have asked quite a few times recently.
I have put it to many people from different backgrounds, who are all involved in different roles but are ultimately looking to continue the development of young footballers.
‘What are your thoughts on the fact that more young players are deciding to move to the United States of America to continue their education and their football career?’
It’s just a basic question to get their general thoughts before delving deeper into the subject.
But the reason for that opening question is because it is starting to become a frequent occurrence that more and more talented young footballers are making the move to colleges across the Atlantic.
Just look at Cork City Women, who are set to see as many as five up-and-coming stars leave the club for pastures new Stateside during 2021 alone.
“I think it is a good move for the girls,” Cork native and North Carolina Courage superstar Denise O’Sullivan recently told The Echo.
“The college structures here are really good in America, they will have good training so they will go through that system and I think it will benefit them.
“Becoming more independent as well will be good for the girls too so hopefully one day they can maybe play in the league here in the NWSL, we’ll see.” And that is a crucial point. I have already described them as footballers or players on a few occasions already in this piece but it’s important to remember that Maria O’Sullivan, Éabha O’Mahony, Lauren Egbuloniu, Sophie Liston, and Leah Hayes Coen are people first and foremost.
So for them to get the opportunity to experience and live in New York, Boston, Louisiana, New Jersey, and North Carolina respectively, will be great for them personally while they will also continue their education.
“Academically we’re one of the top 30 schools in the country,” Boston Eagles Women’s coach Jason Lowe told us ahead of O’Mahony’s arrival there this summer.
I know the academics are really important to her parents so she can come over, get a great degree, and play at a high level.
“It’s going to be really great for her. The job opportunities she will have here and in Europe… so many doors will be open to her when she finishes up although I know she wants to play until her legs fall off.”
David Stanbra, a recruitment specialist for College Scholarships USA, helped Egbuloniu, Liston, and Hayes Coen secure their own scholarships and he insisted; “What we don’t do is ever say this is the correct route.
“We say this is a really good route for you to progress as a professional player and get an education. Their whole tuition, room, board, everything is paid for which is really good.” During those interviews, the trio alluded to the incredible facilities they will be able to avail of as we return to the football side of the argument.
The coverage they received isn’t bad either with a lot of games shown live on ESPN with crowds in attendance often reaching their thousands.
So shouldn’t all talented young players go there? Not according to Republic of Ireland Women’s manager Vera Pauw.
“In the US, their college system they promise you golden mountains but you play only two months a year,” she recently expounded.
“In those two months there are also qualification campaigns and there are a lot of problems with coming over.
The rest of the year they play friendlies, so for your football development, the USA is not the best place to go.
“There are players who go there for their individual development and to get a degree but there are ways to do that where you don’t have to leave the country.
“I think players should look into that more instead of disappearing for four years and blocking your own development if you want to become an international star.” So that’s the downside. Also, they won’t be able to play another sport for the other 10 months of the year meaning it will just be gym work and running until the season restarts.
Their culture is often seen to focus more on developing the athlete more than the player’s technical and tactical ability compared to Europe.
The decision to leave is down to the individual and the family involved, it may be just what they need.
My own three-month spell living in Cape Cod and working as a dishwasher in a brunch cafe as part of my J1 when I was 20 years old certainly didn’t do me any harm... I think.
But there are great options here.
“If Women’s National League clubs link in with third levels, there could be good collaborations going forward,” added Greg Yelverton, who is the UCC Soccer Development Officer.
“That will keep players here and get them an education while they’re here and we can use our scholarships to entice players to stay here.
“We need everyone, the National Governing Bodies of sport, the FAI, the national leagues to sit down now and see where third-levels can help.”
UCC offers a high level of education and therefore qualifications that are more recognisable especially for people wanting to settle in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU.
The concern for students heading to America is how valuable their degree really is — it depends on where they attend — should they decide to return home.
From talking to those involved with UCC, Cork City, and the FAI, there appears to be a great willingness to collaborate and give young players an even better option to remain in Cork or at least in Ireland, even Europe.
It hasn’t happened yet but it needs to before more City men’s and women’s footballers depart.
More in this section