SCL and Pro:Direct
building exciting project


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Mesmeric, absorbing and full of excesses, the Premier League is back for football fans across the globe, and with it comes the expectations of many youngsters across the UK of one day becoming a professional footballer. 

While a lucky few get to sign pro deals, others are faced with the harsh realities of being let go by their respective academy clubs. 

Pro:Direct Academy, however, works closely with leading education provider SCL to empower the next generation and achieve success both on and off the field. The academy has four sites where SCL deliver programmes, with their study programmes enabling students aged 16-19 to achieve a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Sport alongside their passion for playing football. 

Within the last year eight students from the SCL programme have secured professional contracts at various clubs up and down the land, while a number of youngsters have gone on to university, apprenticeships and employment.

Jaden Philogene-Bidace, 17, was snapped up by Premier League outfit Aston Villa earlier this year, while Derby County secured the services of 18-year-old attacker Zaid Al Hussaini. Harry Draper and Mackye Townsend-West joined League 2 side Stevenage Borough, with Andrew Harris-Sealy making the switch to ambitious club Wolves following a good loan spell with Farnborough Town. 

Meanwhile, further successes include Jack Morrell joining Gillingham and Nesta Guiness-Walker landing a contract at AFC Wimbledon. Alkeo Bani, who signed for Fleetwood Town during the programme, earned a move to Watford Under-18s and featured in their run to the 2018/19 FA Youth Cup semi-final. 

With the new academic year now underway, Head of Sporting Excellence at SCL, Danny Payne, is relishing the prospect of seeing further feel-good stories bear fruit. 

“We’re busy all year round, but September is particularly hectic with the new academic year starting and the subsequent intake of first year students,” said Payne, who shapes the strategy for the whole academy. 

“The course is back underway, and from my point of view it is about getting the lads into a routine of playing football in conjunction with their studies, which is equally as important. 

“SCL’s education provision is crucial to what we are striving to achieve as an academy, with football being the hook for the students to express themselves both on and off the pitch.”

“We also aim to educate them, not only in the classroom, but also about life skills and the realities of the football industry. A lot of youngsters believe they are going to secure professional contracts by joining the programme, but as an academy we aim to open their eyes to the demands of getting into a club and present them with alternative exit routes. 

“It’s about educating the lads on the course and improving them to be the best they can be in all areas of the programme. Getting the education right at all of our sites is really important to us.” 

A passion for developing young talent, Payne began his career as Lead Academy Coach at Stevenage Borough, before moving into recruitment for Premier League side Watford. At the turn of this year, Payne became academy scout for Manchester United which runs alongside his role at Pro:Direct. 

Delighted with the progress of Pro:Direct and the opportunities that it creates across the industry, Payne added: “We have a number of areas across the sporting industry in which we can provide youngsters with work experience opportunities. With the support of Pro:Direct Soccer, the world’s biggest online sports retailer, we have unique opportunities and experiences for our players throughout their time with us” 

“It could be in the form of marketing and communications placements, analysis, coaching, strength and conditioning, photography or retail. The list is endless. 

“By doing this, we give the students the best foundation possible to ensure each of them has a successful exit route. 

“Our strong relationships with top sporting brands has certainly helped create those opportunities, and in the past we’ve had students go on to scholarships in America as well as progression to university, employment or apprenticeships.”   

Whilst the academy, which was established in 2010, has enjoyed rapid growth, the women’s game has come into sharp focus with plans afoot to launch a number of girls programmes. 

“We have four girls’ sites currently running across the country, but we’re looking to join forces with SCL to provide more,” said Payne. 

“We have to be quite selective in terms of the locations for our programmes because women’s football has different demands to the men’s game. 

“So far, we’ve identified specific locations as places for our girls’ programmes to grow, and we look forward to seeing these develop over the next few years.”