A new deal with one of England’s biggest Premier League clubs will see the University of Wollongong groom the next generation of Australian and international football talent.
UOW has partnered with the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to create a five-year player development program on campus with two FA-accredited club coaches. The initiative was initially inspired by a rival EPL club.
Eighteen months ago a Chelsea official approached UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Global Strategy) Professor Alex Frino because the club wanted to expand their high school academy to a university level Down Under. They wanted UOW because of the proximity to Sydney and quality of sports facilities.
“Unfortunately the deal with Chelsea fell apart … but the seed had been sown by that stage,” Professor Frino said.
This program would be a world first because it is set to be different from other “academies” in Australia, according to Professor Frino.
Recruitment will start immediately with players to also be enrolled in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree simultaneously with their football training.
Students will train up to 20 hours each week around their academic timetable and compete at local, national and international levels.
Having mentored a number of elite athletes after their playing careers, Professor Frino said this initiative played an important role to ensure players would have a life after sport.
“Some of [those I’ve mentored were] suffering from depression when their salaries went from six figure amounts to five figure amounts,” he said.
Universities have an important role to play in training elite players as well as educating them.Professor Alex Frino
“Some of them were flat broke when they retired, and had nothing … Universities have an important role to play in training elite players as well as educating them.”
The program will also provide opportunities for aspiring coaches to be mentored by the Tottenham experts to enhance the level and quality of training provided across the university’s teams.
Government figures show football was the second top activity (to swimming) in 2017 for organised out of school physical activities for children, according to AusPlay. While football ranked higher for participation rates in adults ahead of rugby league, Australian rules and tennis.
UOW’s Wollongong campus currently is also a training base for several professional teams, including the St George Illawarra Dragons.