Former Manchester City youth star James Poole has urged young footballers to complete their education and gain qualifications in case their playing career doesn’t go to plan.
Poole, who now works as a scout, was handed a professional contract with the Blues at the tender age of 18, but by the time he was 25, he had retired from full-time football.
His dream of being a footballer had become ‘a nightmare’.
“When you’re fifteen, all you think is you’re going to be a top footballer, earn thousands every week and have a great life, but then you soon realise that that’s not what football is about,” he reflects.
“Even at the top level it’s not all great like a lot of people think.
“You soon get exposed to the realities of football and then when you drop down to the lower leagues you start to realise that it’s not all rosy and you need a plan for your life, because football isn’t going to last forever.”
Poole’s own career didn’t go to plan – something he puts down to bad timing – a case of being in the right place at the wrong time.
He was a key part of the FA Youth Cup winning squad in 2008, alongside established Premier League stars Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee, but the timing wasn’t quite right for that generation.
“I realised quite quickly after the new owners came in that I wasn’t going to make it at City,” he said.
“It was frustrating. However, I also understood the position the club were in and the need to get instant success, so as hard as it was to not be playing, I could see the bigger picture.
“There’s no shame in admitting that you’re not good enough to play ahead of Robinho, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.”
Poole left City for Hartlepool in 2010 as he searched for regular first-team football, but after three years in the North East, he signed for Bury – a spell that led to the end of his playing career.
Thankfully, he hadn’t neglected his studies while rising through the ranks and had something to fall back on.
Most of Poole’s team-mates had completed a BTEC but he felt he had more to offer and so enrolled in school at Loreto College in Hulme, where he received two A-Levels.
“You have so much free time as a footballer – it’s a real waste that a lot of players don’t do anything extra,” he says.
“I think it’s a big reason why players have personal issues like gambling addiction when they finish playing, because they’ve had all this money and free time with no real discipline.
“If more players completed their education and went the extra mile to secure qualifications – which the PFA really push – it would help a lot.”
“I would always recommend players to do something in their free time, even if it’s a manual apprenticeship.
“Then if they have to retire early because they get injured or can’t find a club, they’ve got something to fall back on.”
Poole himself is in the process of completing a business and management degree with the Open University, while working as a scouting information and content manager for the City Football Group.
He manages a team of 14 part-time scouts whose primary focus is finding players suitable to join City’s sister clubs – New York City, Melbourne City, and Yokohama F Marinos.
“I’ve always loved watching football definitely on a par with playing at least.”
“I absolutely love my job – it has ups and downs like any but I’m really lucky to be in the role and learning which will take me to where I want to be in the future.”
“I couldn’t really ask for more – I’m very fortunate.
“All my mates are jealous of my job, they all say I play Football Manager for a living, which is probably not too far off the truth!”
Poole still misses full-time football every day, but is adamant that he made the right decision.
“I definitely fell out of love with playing,” he admits.
“I was getting up in the morning and the last thing I wanted to do was go to training. I really started hating it.”
But nowadays, Poole has the best of both worlds. He has his full-time job as a scout and still plays football part time, currently for Altrincham and previously for Salford City.
“As soon as I joined Salford part-time, my love for playing came back straight away.
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently, I’m glad I made the change. The decisions I’ve made have been the right ones.”