Southampton striker Charlie Austin has the perfect rags to riches story in football but it’s not always been plain sailing for the former non-league man and he thinks football clubs sign children too young.
Charlie Austin knows just how it feels to be released by a professional football club as a teenager.
Having spent six years at Reading the Southampton forward was convinced he was going to be a professional footballer but his plans came to a halt when he was released aged 15.
Thrust back into ‘normal’ life he found himself misbehaving at school and eventually got a job at his dad’s building company.
While he managed to get himself back on track through non-league football and hard graft, it’s not the same for all footballers in that position.
In March 2013 a young man killed himself after suffering years of mental health difficulties following his release by a Premier League football club academy at the age of 16, and Austin thinks part of the problem is children are taken in too soon.
Speaking to The Offside Rule Exclusives he said: “Not that I think academies are bad, they can be great things.
“But I got to where I am through hard work and we do take kids in too early.
“Six, seven, eight, even when I went to Reading at nine. Maybe it was too soon, I should have been able to play more with my friends at the weekend and play on my school team.
“That’s quite hard to take – not being able to play in school matches – and the other kids start to think: ‘Well, he must think he’s better than us.’
“Unfortunately that’s the way it is.”
While there’s plenty of concern over how being let go will affect young players, Austin used his experience to get where he is today.
“At the end of the six years it was quite difficult for me, the last two months were hard because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. So it was kind of relief at the end, which is sad,” he said.
“I didn’t fill out until my late teens and I was playing against all these other lads who were massive and I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.
“What I would say, to all young kids and their parents, is if you’re not enjoying it there’s no point.
“I just thought it was never going to happen and I would just do as well as possible in non-league, and then luckily for me doors opened.”
Having worked as a builder Austin had skills to fall back on should he need them and he thinks more should be done to help youngsters in the game.
“Football is a sport driven by success and it’s great to have it. But as soon as it doesn’t go to plan these young boys need protecting,” he explained.
“The sad thing you have is that only a handful of those players will make it and the rest will fall away. That’s part and parcel of it.
“But what we need to make sure they have as much support as possible because some of them won’t have anything to fall back on.
“It’s a big wide world out there away from this bubble.”
Launched in 2017, The Offside Rule Exclusives is our Webby-nominated monthly podcast hosted by Lynsey Hooper, Kait Borsay, and Hayley McQueen. It features in-depth interviews with some of the biggest names in football like Phil Neville, Jermaine Defoe, and Casey Stoney.