Almost all the young soccer hopefuls signed to Premier League clubs from training academies have left top-flight football within five years, new research shows.

Two Sheffield Hallam University researchers found that only around five per cent of those signed to clubs in the Premier League at the age of 18 were still playing in the same league when they were 23.

Dr Chris Platts and Melissa Jacobi, of the university’s Academy of Sport and Physical Activity, traced the fortunes of 142 18-year-olds in academies and centres of excellence run by 21 clubs in the four top divisions, in research which highlights the precarious nature of soccer careers.

Dr Platts told the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow today [Friday 26 April] that between 2010 and 2013, 55 of them were signed to five Premier League clubs the researchers studied.

Five years later only three of these were still playing in the English Premier League. Of the others:

• 10 were in the Championship

• one was in League 1

• three were in League 2

• 26 were in lower leagues

• one played overseas

• 11 had no team

Players who signed to clubs in lower leagues had almost a high chance of dropping into lower leagues or out of soccer altogether. Of 50 who in 2010 signed to eight Championship clubs studied, only seven were still playing in 2018 at the same level, although three had moved up to Premier League.

Of the 16 who signed to three League 1 clubs studied, only two were playing in the same league in 2018, with two in the Championship. Of the 21 who signed to five League 2 clubs studied, only one was playing in the same league five years later, and four in higher leagues.

“Contemporary debate about professional footballers’ working lives is dominated by supposed high wages, excessive endorsements and the celebrity lifestyle,” Dr Platts told the conference.

“One consequence of this romanticised view of professional football is that the everyday realities of working in such a precarious career remain largely ignored.

“The research paints a picture of the complex, precarious, unequal and relatively short careers of the majority of footballers, particularly those signed to Premier League clubs.”

The researchers also found that those signed to Premier League clubs had been transferred or loaned to other clubs an average of 2.75 times in five years. Those in the Championship league had been transferred or loaned 3 times on average, while those Leagues 1 and 2 had been transferred or loaned 2.27 and 3 times on average respectively. Only 15 from the 157 were still with the club they started at by the age of 23.

“This study highlights that, for those players who made it, their labour has been characterised by geographical relocations, short-term contracts and, in the main, transfers down the leagues, highlighting the potential hazards associated with the pursuit of a career in professional football,” said Dr Platts.

• The researchers studied in total 298 players in academies in 2010. Of these, 141 were not signed to any club at all, and 15 were signed to clubs in lower divisions than the club they were a scholar with

For more information, please contact: 

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392


The British Sociological Association’s annual conference takes place at Glasgow Caledonian University from 24–26 April 2019. Over 650 research presentations are given. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235