How Many Soccer Players End Up Going Pro? – The Success Rate Of Youth Players

Soccer promises the dream come true.

It’s packed full of glamour, becoming a hero to millions, not to mention the lavish lifestyle that hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars a week brings.

Beautiful cars? You got it.

Mansions all over the world? Where do you want to stay this weekend?

Footwear, jackets, jeans that cost more than an average salary? Put it in your oversized closet.

Jewellery that is so stacked with bling it could generate enough light for a small village? Wrist, finger or watch sir?

It really is what millions dream of. And the biggest soccer clubs around the world offer the opportunity to reach this level. To actually make your dreams come true.

But soccer is a double-edged sword. The media concentrates its focus on the glamorous side of soccer – but it is more often a graveyard for budding careers. 

The likelihood of a talented player making the grade at the highest level? 

Also read: What Are Caps in Soccer?

How Many Soccer Players Go Pro in Europe?

The stats are damning.

There are around 1.5 million kids playing organised football just in England. And only around 180 of those kids make the cut.

The rest? 

Scattered to all ends of the earth in search of that dream. Like an addict chasing that first high, a young player will go to any length to make their dream happen. So usually, a player who is represented by an agent will endeavour to find a club to play for in a league below the Premier League.

But the chances of that are still miniscule.

And there are so many variables to consider.

As mentioned above, a lot of players have no suitable representation. So that means zero connections with other clubs. And that means that soccer clubs further down the ladder are simply not aware of these precocious talents.

Then there are the wealth of soccer clubs in other countries. Clubs who would welcome a talented young player to bolster their ranks. A player who has been schooled from an early age by some of the best coaches and facilities in the world.

But without suitable representation, it will never happen.

And these kids have been given every resource to coax out every single percent of talent that is there. As they leave school, they can become full-time players that train daily and learn from the first team – full internationals and world class talent. 

It means that even if they are deemed unable to make the grade at their current club – they are still certainly skilled enough to make it elsewhere.

So much lies in experience. The hot prospects we do see make it at the top level, they are invariably loaned out to lower league clubs to gain the experience they need to weed out the rashness of youth and the mistakes they will certainly make.

The players who never quite make it to that step are cut mercilessly from clubs. A boy who has been with a club from single-digit age, the only club and infrastructure he has ever known. Told one day that they are being let go and that they must find another club to play soccer for.

Mental health is talked about a lot, but a body blow of such a magnitude, at such a tender age, must be hard to recover from.

Also read: What’s The Difference Between Sweeper and Stopper in Soccer?

What About MLS Youth Player Success?

The odds in the MLS are pretty much the same. College players only have a 1.4% chance of making it to the big league. 

A lot of the onus lies on the young player. If their main attribute is speed, the coaches will no doubt have them play as a winger or attacker. That means that they can continue to strengthen their strong side, or they can go one step further and make both left and right foot a strength. It is not an easy thing to do, requiring years of practice, but a genuine two-footed player? 

It’s said that around one percent is genuinely two-footed. And the ability to take the ball and use it without having to take the time to adjust your body? It would give a big edge to a team. It would make that player truly invaluable.

So there are things that a player can do, but the lack of youth players making the grade at the top level isn’t largely down to a lack of dedication from these starlets.

From a very young age, they are indoctrinated with the ethos of the respective club. Soccer fills their every cell and they are coached on all aspects of the game. There isn’t any spare time, they use every available minute to push themselves in order to gain the upper hand over their fellow players.

To gain that golden contract. To get that rare chance before anyone else.

The main reason why youth players often fail to get their opportunity is the relatively low risk that comes from overseas purchases.

Also read: How Many Players Are On A Soccer Team?

What Does It Take To Go Pro In Soccer?

Take a seasoned soccer player from Ligue Un for example. If a Premier League team expressed interest in a player from France, they would be cutting out a lot of risk.

Firstly, the purchased soccer player will have been fully blooded, meaning no mistakes coming from a lack of experience. 

Secondly, the relatively low transfer fee. It wouldn’t cost much in the grand scheme of things for a decent player. Whereas using a youth player has the potential to cost millions more, through errors costing league positions, not to mention the huge investment over time.

A soccer club can purchase an entire team from overseas and they can hit the ground running. A youth player needs – normally – a good two or three years to finally find his feet.

It doesn’t have to happen overnight either. If a soccer player gets cut from their team and is told they have no future there – it may mean a few years in some very low leagues, perhaps even dropping into amateur leagues for a period of time.

But if the talent is there, then it will rise to the top. 

It isn’t completely unheard of for a player to rise like a phoenix from the lower leagues in their mid to late twenties. The odds aren’t great at any age for a player to make the grade at the top level, but with a tough mentality, they can overcome the hit that is leaving their parent club.

Another variable is mentality. 

The age in question we’re talking of is at its weakest when it comes to temptation. The body is raging with testosterone. Thoughts of everything BUT soccer fill their heads – and oestrogen aside, the same goes for female soccer players. 

It would be so easy to give up the constant hard work and routine that a youth soccer player must go through for a prolonged amount of time. For a young person to make an error and perhaps stay out late on night?

And because competition for places is ridiculously contested, it means soccer clubs can afford to drop these players for what is an easy mistake that most of us would make.

Even diet is a huge game changer.

Soccer players have changed enormously during the last two decades. Now, every morsel of food that is eaten is carefully selected to give the right fuel, at the right time. Only during the short summer holidays are these players permitted to enjoy a few naughty calories.

So put yourself in the position of a young soccer player, perhaps 16 years old. All of your friends are out, enjoying a drink or two. You abstain from drinking, you have training in the morning, but what harm could a cheeseburger do?

Once? They might get away with it, but once one slips in, then another will follow. And that will lead to a 2 or 3 percent difference in performance.

And given the slim chances for success for a youth soccer player – either in the UK, the US or any of the other big leagues in Europe?

It isn’t worth it.

Soccer clubs invest tens of millions into youth structure. Training grounds, the best coaches. Because fanbases identify more with players who are ‘homegrown.’ And if they really do flourish? The sell on profit will be quite frankly, ridiculous.

Current England internationals Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Harry Kane are all brilliant examples of a player coming good for their club.

And then there is Jack Grealish – who shows the other, lucrative side of youth football.

Born and bred within touching distance of Aston Villa soccer club, the playmaker came through the ranks to eventually lead the side as captain. A big transfer followed, making Grealish one of the few players to break the £100m transfer fee barrier, when he signed for Manchester City in 2021.

With money like that involved of that magnitude – it’s easy to see why we all dream of being a professional soccer player.

Manuel Esposito

Hello everyone! My name is Manuel and I've recently got my PhD in Sport and Excercise Science at the University of Portsmouth. I'm raised and born in New York, and I've been a big fan of soccer my whole life. Soccer is the reason why I got my PhD in Sport and Excercise Science, and my goal with this blog is to help you improve your soccer techniques, strategies, and knowledge!

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