Football players also looking to prepare for a career outside the sport will be able to play professionally at a Welsh club while studying for a degree as part of a scheme launched by a university.
According to Glyndwr University, the Glyndwr Wrexham Football Academy, due to be launched on 20 March, will “boost student numbers” at the university and provide the club with “top soccer talent”.
The academy deepens the university’s involvement with Wrexham Football Club – in 2011 the institution bought the football club’s stadium, which now includes Glyndwr in its name.
Adam Owen, a former Wrexham player and assistant manager for Sheffield United FC who is helping to lead the project, said that there were a “frightening” number of players released each year from clubs who needed to retrain for a different career.
Only a “very, very small” proportion make enough money professionally to not need to worry about finding a job after football, he added.
The scheme was unique because it allowed footballers to play professionally while studying and offered more than just sports-related degrees, he explained. It is hoped that the academy will take on up to 24 players in total.
Players would not be restricted to sports science qualifications but would be able to study any Glyndwr degree subject, and so retrain as accountants, events managers or engineers, he said.
He explained that the scheme would focus on the “quality not quantity” of players, as they would need to be good enough to play for Wrexham, which currently sits in the Conference Premier, the top tier of non-league football in England and Wales. Others not up to Wrexham’s standard could play for Lex XI, a non-league side also based in the city.
Lee Jones, a former Wrexham player who went on to play for Liverpool FC, is also helping to steer the project. “When my [football] career ended, I was just 32 years old and had no idea what to do next,” he said. There are many footballers who will “jump at this chance”, he added.
The former Liverpool FC and England striker Michael Owen is acting as an ambassador for the academy.