Anelka may be gone yet FA punishment raises issue of Education

By Laura Jones. In February, Nicolas Anelka was banned for five matches and fined £80,000 for his "quenelle" gesture. However, Laura Jones is more concerned about the compulsory education course

which the striker was ordered to complete as part of the punishment..

We’ve all been in that session at work where a trainer has been called in to give you an annual refresher about diversity or to remind you which fire extinguisher can you use on an electrical fire. I can see your eyes glaze over even as you read that first sentence.

Mandatory training is essential to keeping us in touch with the real work world, making us understand what is expected of us and in some case keeping us alive. As I thought about this I couldn’t help but imagine the look on Wayne Rooney’s face as he was being trained how to conduct a Display Screen Equipment workstation assessment.

Nicolas Anelka makes his "quenelle" gesture

Nicolas Anelka makes his “quenelle” gesture

As part of Nicholas Anelka’s punishment for his quenelle gesture, the Football Association’s Independent Regulatory Commission had ‘ordered’ the player to ‘complete a compulsory education course’ on equality and diversity. As the Frenchman is no longer a West Bromwich Albion player it’s unclear at this time whether his FA punishment will stand.

The negative slant on the fact that Anelka was being ‘ordered’ to complete a course of learning and that it is seen as part of his punishment doesn’t sit well with me, mainly because I train adults in a workplace learning environment.

Learning to me is something that is a human right and something to cherish, which unfortunately for some people in the world it isn’t an option. Encouraging people to learn shouldn’t be an order.

Do footballers have to go through mandatory training as we mere mortals do? The typical image of footballers is they train for a morning, go to the gym and then spend the rest of their time eating Nandos or playing FIFA on the PS4. Education doesn’t seem to fit into that timetable.

Wayne Rooney is a big fan  of the EA Sports FIFA franchise

Wayne Rooney is a big fan of the EA Sports FIFA franchise

I contacted all the Premier League clubs and the Professional Footballer’s Association to find out about their educational offerings and the signs were surprisingly encouraging.

All 16 to 18-year-old academy players do complete a two programme of study which is compulsory. By the end of their apprenticeship they will have gained a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Sport, an NVQ Level 3 in Achieving Sports Excellence and their FA Level 2 coaching certificate.

The clubs also make sure that all academy players have basic functional skills in literacy and numeracy. This is particularly encouraging as only a handful of apprentices go on to have full-time football careers, so those who remain playing part-time or who leave the game altogether will have a basic education to build for their future.

Pat Lally, the PFA’s Director of Education, believes this scheme is shaping ‘the players of the future’ and with pass rates of 95 per cent from the apprenticeship programme, Premier and Football League clubs are doing their part in providing a minimum level of education.

Pat Lally (right) is Director of Education at the Professional Footballers' Association

Pat Lally (right) is Director of Education at the Professional Footballers’ Association

As well as the compulsory training, these young footballers receive ‘enrichment workshops’ that cover subjects from equality and diversity, drugs, alcohol, sexual health, driving awareness, financial management and even bereavement sessions. These are offered to all levels of seniority of footballer.

The older senior players, however, have a patchier academic career and Mr Lally admits that these individuals are harder to reach. ‘They believe that if they’re going to make it at the highest level then they need to concentrate on their training and playing and they don’t want anything to interfere with that.’

He believes that ‘it’s far more difficult with the senior players with their training timetable and playing regime to fit a lot of these enrichment programmes in.’

I asked the former Swansea City footballer if there was negativity about learning in the sport and he said it ‘wasn’t like it was 20 years ago’ and that older players are more willing to try courses. The Director believes this is partially due to the ‘influx of foreign players who tend to want to carry on their education more so than some of the British players.’

A senior player’s interest in education is peaked towards the end of their career when they are transitioning footballer to ex-footballer.

Lee Bullen, a former captain with Sheffield Wednesday and graduate of the PFA’s degree in Sports Media and Broadcasting, is as Mr Lally describes.

Bully, as he is affectionately known to Owls fans, is now primarily the club’s under 21s coach but also works with the Wednesday first team. He feels that as he got older he had a better understanding ‘of how important further education became’ to him. However, he doesn’t believe that courses like equality and diversity should be mandatory for all footballers as he thinks that the ‘majority have a clear and natural understanding’ of the subject.

Lee Bullen

Lee Bullen is a graduate of the PFA degree in Sports Media and Broadcasting

As a trainer, I would argue against this sentiment as you have no idea what understanding people have of a subject until you sit them down to discuss it. Public comments made out of ignorance or naivety can follow a player for the rest of their career. This is where workshops can help footballers to understand.

We are a few generations away from having these fully trained apprentices as managers and coaches in the game. It would be interesting to see whether learning has become a lifelong passion for them and whether they pass this onto their own players.

Compulsory training can sometimes be a tick in the box for employers to show that they aren’t liable for their employee’s action because they have a certificate to say that they provided adequate training for them.

I really hope this isn’t what the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission had in mind for Nicolas Anelka. If the FA wants to truly ‘enrich’ player’s lives they should immerse themselves in a world that is beyond football. Learning isn’t a punishment.

If you have an opinion on the matter then please do get in touch!

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