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The 1%: how do footballers make it? Exclusive interview with Sam Clucas

Some say only 1% of budding footballers actually make it as a professional. So if you have 1000 aspiring ballers, the stats show that only ten or so of those will ever make it. So, we’ve been in touch with a number of football clubs up and down the country, speaking to both players and management to gain an insight into how tough it is to make as a young footballer.

Does being released from a big club spell the end of your career? How has the loan system helped young stars? We did some digging, and here’s what we found. In ‘The 1%’ mini-series, I will be delving a little deeper into the type person you have to be to represent the 1%. In this edition, I spoke to Sam Clucas of Hull City.

A young journeyman

Sam Clucas is currently biding his time at Hull City and has played for six clubs since turning professional back in 2009. An attacking midfielder who can also double up as a striker, Clucas has played 17 games for Hull, scoring three times and assisting on a further three occasions. Sam has played at all different levels of the game in England, from non-league to the Championship. After starting his career with Leicester City as a schoolboy, Clucas has since played for Hereford United, Mansfield Town and Chesterfield, where he made 41 league appearances, scoring nine goals in the process before making his £1.3million switch to Hull City in July of 2015, signing a 3-year contract.

I asked Sam about what it took to make it as a professional and what he did differently to his friends that helped him reach his dream:

“I sacrificed a lot of my personal time, after school I would play football and train instead of going out with my friends, like on Friday nights when my mates would meet and hang out, I would be in bed early because I had a game Saturday morning.”

Sam joined Leicester City at the age of ten years old, which isn’t uncommon in the football world. Players are generally picked up from a young age after being seen by club scouts who are watching youth team games up and down the country. However, he was released from the club at the age of 16. I asked Sam if at any point he doubted himself and questioned whether he could make it as a professional, to which he replied:

“I’ve had a lot of setbacks in my career but I think the most heart breaking was my release from Leicester at 16 after being there since I was ten years old. I spent a big chunk of childhood playing for Leicester and my family made a lot of sacrifices so I could play for them, especially my dad who would drive me three times a week, on a three hour round trip, sometimes having to take time off work and not do other things with my other two brothers. I owe a lot to my parents. That was the most gutting part of my career but I never wanted to give in I just wanted to prove the people at Leicester wrong.”

Seeing the sacrifices that have to be made by such young players to achieve their dream is really astounding. Without the right people around them, young players can often be led astray and let stardom go to their heads. Sam, however, has strong support from his family that helps him stay grounded.

I asked Sam what advice he would give to any young players looking to follow in his footsteps:

“My advice for youngsters in football is take it seriously and train hard, play your best week in week out as anything can happen and you never know who’s at your games watching. A lot of scouts go to local football games to get young hungry players. Also, never give up on your dream. If your dream is to play football, it’s a game of opinions, one manager may not like you but another might, so never give up.”

Giving up is not something that would cross the mind of many professional players I’m sure, but imagine being 17-19 years old, being signed by a club, and never seeing a minute of game time… It would become extremely demoralising to any young player in what are the most crucial years of their development.

Days on loan

One way that clubs are overcoming this problem is the use of the loan system, where a team can essentially “borrow” a player who is not needed by their club. This means that the player gets game time and the club loaning the player gets a talented addition to the team without paying a transfer fee. I asked Sam what his thoughts are on the loan system and whether it helps or hinders a young players career:

“I think the loan market is good for young players, as it gives them players to platform to go out and play regular league football and try to gain the attention of their respective manager. League football is totally different from academy and under 21 games so it’s vital players get out and play league games for that experience.”

What next for Sam Clucas?

Sam is now a huge part of a Hull City team who will be looking to make their way back to the Premier league this season as they battle it out at the top of the championship table. I asked Sam about his aspirations for his career and whether he sees himself playing in the Premier League in the coming seasons:

“The Premier League is the pinnacle for any footballer, apart from playing for your country, so I would love to play there, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work getting there. Hopefully I can achieve my dream this season or next whilst I’m at Hull.”

The way that this season is going for Hull, we could well be seeing Sam in the Premier League sooner rather than later.

Any readers with a footballing story of their own? If so I would love to hear from you. Let us know your story. Keep a look out for the next interview in the series, as I speak to a former Premier League Striker.

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The 1%: how do footballers make it? Exclusive interview with Sam Clucas

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