UEFA has officially launched its UEFA For Players initiative, built around an app, with former players offering guidance and essential information to footballers of all ages to ensure their well-being both on and off the field.
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Navigating the potential pitfalls footballers face on and off the pitch can be a daunting prospect – especially without the correct guidance. With these factors in mind, UEFA has officially launched its UEFA For Players initiative with the help of a number of former top international players who know first-hand the potential problems footballers can face. The first major step of this programme is an app, which is available for all elite players in Europe.
"It would have been wonderful to have had the chance to have this kind of information when I was starting out my career," explained Eric Abidal. The former France international contributed to the My Image section on the app, which looks at how to manage a player's career in respect to relations with the media and how to use social media.
"The app covers a number of different topics, from how to manage your finances to how to deal with the media and your image as a footballer. This is invaluable information for any footballer regardless of the stage of his or her career."
'A ground-breaking initiative'
Previously there was no centralised initiative to give the same level of education to footballers around the continent and share best practices. The UEFA For Players initiative aims to fill this void and will be available to download for national associations and clubs and players unions throughout Europe.
The app contains a wide range of educational modules on various topics, all based on immersive simulation videos and real-life case studies. It is highly interactive and gamified, delivering the latest information on football career management.
"This is a ground-breaking initiative from UEFA to introduce an app that can really help players to make key decisions at different stages of their careers," said Nuno Gomes. The former Portugal forward used his wealth of experience to help design the My Game module, which offers advice about football regulations and the laws of the game.
"The app gives the players career advice and guidance at the touch of a screen, while there are various simulations on eight different subjects – ranging from learning about the dangers of match-fixing and what to do if approached, to preparing for a life after football."
'One day the money stops'
At this year's UEFA Youth League finals in Nyon, UEFA held UEFA For Players Session for the four teams that qualified – Barcelona, Chelsea, Hoffenheim and Porto – where they were also given an introduction to the app.
One of the key aspects concerned the importance of receiving proper advice on how to save the wealth that comes with a career in the professional game, with David James passing on his advice to the four teams.
The former England goalkeeper cited the statistic that 40% of ex-footballers have no money within five years of leaving the sport. "You think you're going to play forever, but very few players actually decide when they will stop their career; most of the time it's not a choice," he added, arguing for the need for young players to start planning ahead early. "If you don't have the plan, then one day the money stops; the lifestyle you have changes, and if you have an expensive lifestyle it's difficult to continue."
The app will also be made available to the 64 teams competing in this season's UEFA Youth League, which means around 2,500 players will have access to the learning initiative.
The vast majority of players will not earn large sums of money from their footballing careers and young players are especially at risk from betting syndicates who can offer money in order to fix the outcome of a game.
Viola Odebrecht helped to create the module to warn players of the pitfalls of match-fixing, with advice of what to do if approached to fix a match as well as the consequences a player can face if they are found guilty of involvement.
"The app helps players to differentiate and enlighten," said the three-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner. "What is match-fixing, when does it start and how can you protect yourself? There are different forms and types of match-fixing that are not known in detail to everyone.
"I would give players the advice that match-fixing is not worth it. They ruin their lives, the lives of their family and the best game in the world. These consequences are not worth it."
Planning for the future
Simon Rolfes, a former German international midfielder who is now the sporting director at Bayer Leverkusen, gave his input into the My Finances module. He understands that players have to face "many new things" at the start of their careers, from financial to media matters.
When asked about what advice he would offer to players, he said: "Only do things that you fully understand. If you don't understand something, then it's not for you. This will help you to avoid a lot of problems."
A footballer never knows when his or her career is going to finish, with injuries or a loss of form a constant worry, and this is why it is imperative to think about a life after football.
"It's really important to keep your eyes open in regards to what you can do after your sporting career – you never know what can happen in between," said Bianca Rech, who gave her thoughts on how to look ahead towards a second career after football.
"I was looking for advice about how I could manage my sporting career and also focus on something I would like to do afterwards. I also had skills in other areas and wanted to prove them."
Following retirement in 2015, she had a clear plan of wanting to work in football administration, which took her to Köln and then UEFA. Rech, who is now the sporting director for women's football at Bayern München, believes the app will be a massive benefit for any footballer.
"It can help them to get the right idea about what they have to do next, in which direction they need to go and gives them good advice about the next steps in their personal process of development."
The app will initially be accessible in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian and Spanish, while Greek, Polish and Turkish will be added during the course of this season.
Interested national associations, clubs and players unions can contact UEFA at email@example.com to request access for their elite players.
UEFA For Players is one of the many initiatives delivered by the UEFA Academy, UEFA's central hub dedicated to providing professional people working in football opportunities for development.
• My UEFA – Key messages about UEFA, its values, roles and mission
• Anti-Doping – Information on anti-doping to raise awareness and protect players
• UEFA Integrity – Key information and takeaway messages on integrity to better protect players
• My Game – Key information about the Laws of the Game and the regulations of UEFA's main competitions
• My Second Career – Information on preparing for life after football and education programmes that can help
• My Image – Communication, media and social media training with the main dos and don'ts and takeaway messages.
• My Finances – Information on the importance of players properly managing their finances and financial obligations
• Social Fair Play – Information on diversity and inclusion and how to act as agents of change on and off the field