Ahead of Sunday’s era-defining European Championship final, England’s Manchester-born Euro 2020 stars, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford won’t just have years of football education behind them to call upon.
In Foden’s case, a private school where yearly fees can top £10,000 a year.
Both players have spoken publicly of their admiration for their former schools, with Rashford coming in for lessons two days after helping United to FA Cup glory and Foden thanking his old school on social media.
And bosses at both City’s and United’s academies have now paid tribute to the role their programmes have played in helping them develop into not just outstanding players, but also mature young men who they believe are now better able to handle the pressure and expectation being thrown their way.
City run a programme which sees all their young academy hopefuls given the option of scholarships at the historic independent Roman Catholic school St Bede’s, in Whalley Range, where annual fees range from £8,000 to £11,000 a year.
Or they can be placed at The Barlow RC High school, a small state school a few miles further south in Didsbury, depending on their preference and that of their parents.
Sancho, from London, went to St Bede’s after joining City from Watford’s academy aged 14, and spent three years at the club before leaving for German giants Borussia Dortmund in 2017, aged 17.
Precocious talent Sancho was the first pupil through the academic programme to gain full international honours for England.
However he was closely followed by Stockport-born Foden, now a first-team regular at City, with both having played a role in helping England reach their first major final since 1966.
Foden, from Edgeley, attended Bridge Hall Primary School in neighboring Adswood.
He then spent his first year of high school at Stockport Academy in nearby Cheadle Heath, before moving over to St Bede’s when City formed their agreement with them.
As with all other students, players must sit an entrance exam to ensure it is right for them.
However unlike in yesteryear, where kids were often forced to fit their football around their schooling or vice versa, sometimes to the detriment of both, young players can now be given bespoke programmes which allow them to study the essential subjects, as well as chosen topics, ensuring time is put aside for training, City say.
At City, players normally attend school for two full days and three half-days each week. Then in years 10 and Year 1 1 they normally spend one full day at the City training ground, with St Bede’s teachers brought into the specially-built classrooms at the City Football Academy (CFA) opposite the Etihad.
It is also made it clear to the youngsters on their books that a spot in the first team is not guaranteed – with the club encouraging them to consider an alternative career as part of their development, whether it be in business, medicine, sports, science or academia.
The most important thing until the age of 16 is that the boys get a good education,” Head of Education at City, Mark Adams, told the Manchester Evening News.
“It’s important we give them the chance to the best they can be, both on and off the pitch.
“And at both schools (St Bede’s and The Barlow) we felt there was a real child-centric perspective to the education in which we thought the boys would excel, but would also enable them to be normal children during the day.
“So when they go to the school our players just blend in like any other student. They are exactly the same as everybody else.
“They are treated in the same manner, if they don’t do their homework they are sanctioned like any other child, go to school on the school buses, wear the same uniform and follow all the same rules as everyone else.
“The only difference is that either after school or during the school day, the boys come to the academy to train.”
“The schools also provide us with excellent pastoral care and support and that’s an important part of the schools we work with and why we chose those schools,” he added.
“St Bede’s is a small school, its not over-subscribed, it s a school which has capacity but which also enables us to have a bespoke curriculum.
“We can also bring St Bede’s into the academy and we sometimes use the classrooms here and bring their teachers in to teach them here.
“Obviously St Bede’s is an independent school and one of the big pillars of an independent school is about them developing a young person socially and that definitely happens for our kids going into the school.
“The socialising with other people, who they get to meet, is very different to what they have been exposed to it.
“Their academic success also improves, we’ve found.
“And we feel there is a marginal gain around them channelling their ability in the classroom to when they go on the pitch.
“It helps them focus more, it helps them be more prepared on the pitch and we are seeing the benefits of the programme over the last nine years, which are getting better and better.”
A great example of that is Phil Foden.
Earmarked as a star from an early age, the club developed a bespoke education programme for him which fitted around his footballing commitments, and which has ultimately helped him cement a place in the first teams at both City and England.
When he became the then youngest English player to school in the Champions League in 2018, Foden responded to a tweet from St Bede’s congratulating him by saying “Worth forgetting to do my homework to practice for a night like this!”
Meanwhile, his former PE teacher at Stockport Academy, Rob McGahey, said Foden was very dedicated as well as ‘popular and well-liked’ during his brief time there.
He had ‘lots of friends, was very competitive and loved sport but especially football,’ he said.
He said the whole school was ‘very proud’ of him adding: “It’s so nice to see any student develop and thrive after school but it’s very special to see it on the world stage.”
And Mark echoed those words, saying that throughout his time at St Bede’s Phil was nothing short of a model student.
“We’re just so proud of him,” he said.
“We’re proud of all the players who have come through the system, him being just one.
“But everything which we would want a player to be, Phil is that, on and off the pitch.
“He worked really hard at school, as hard as he could, in all of his subjects. The only days he will have missed was to play for England as a junior.
“He was very, very approachable and friendly.
“I’m sure he would say himself he made friends outside the football cohort as well as within the group of players.
“So we’re incredibly proud of what he’s doing, what he’s done so far and we wish him all the luck on Sunday.”
And Mark thinks Phil’s time at St Bede’s will help with the spotlight and responsibilities which have come with his success for England.
“Being fortunate to go to an independent school, it gives players the confidence and exposure they need to have to be in these kinds of situations,” he said.
“When you listen to Phil being interviewed he’s confident. That happens because they do a lot of public speaking, they are exposed to lots of different scenarios they wouldn’t normally be exposed to in the other system.”
However every player and parent has a choice and despite St Bede’s, which has around 700 pupils, being the preferred option, the club also has a link with Roman Catholic state school The Barlow.
“When we’re bringing players in from inner city London, and they are coming into Manchester, it’s already a big enough transition coming from one city to another never mind also going from one education system to another,” Mark said.
“So we think it’s very important to have more than one provider.”
Meanwhile, Manchester United say a desire to see their players get a ‘wholesome, normal grounding’ was the reason they decide to send their academy players to one of the region’s top performing state schools.
United’s programme sees players offered the option of going to Ashton on Mersey School in Sale, part of the Dean Trust, rated as good and outstanding in its last two Ofsted inspections.
Five of United’s homegrown players who spent time at the school have featured in this summer’s Euros – England’s Marcus Rashford and Sam Johnstone, French world cup winner Paul Pogba, Scotland’s Scott McTominay and Wales’ Dylan Levitt.
Mason Greenwood and Dean Henderson, who missed out on the England squad due to injury, and Jessie Lingard, who narrowly missed the cut, were also pupils.
United’s link-up with the school dates back nearly twenty years when the club moved from their training ground at The Cliff in Salford to their current base in Carrington in Trafford.
Dave Bushell, formerly the club’s Education Officer and now Player Liaison Officer, spent a lot of time visiting ‘every type of school’ within a ‘sensible distance’ from Carrington, the club say, before settling on Ashton on Mersey
The formal programme between the club and school, which is just 12 minutes from United’s AON Training Complex, has been going on for around 11 years, and is the longest standing of its type in the country.
“It provides an outstanding education but actually the fact it is a state school means it provides a wholesome, normal, grounding, humble education which is synonymous with the values of Manchester United,” said United’s Head of Academy Nick Cox.
“The feeling was that it was very easy for an outstanding state school to ramp its provision up to support a highly academic student.
“But it wouldn’t be quite so easy for a private school to cater for the needs of more average students, for want of a better word.”
With the help of a number of host families they work with to house boys from outside Manchester, they have ‘created a little Manchester United community with families, the school, and the boys who could walk to their mates houses and to the school’, he added.
United say they are slightly different to some other clubs in that they only put a small number of kids into the school at any one time, normally around 15.
“If you fill a school with boys that actually aren’t going to progress as footballers, you end up with a lot of raised hopes and boys in a school for no reason, so you don’t want to make a big upheaval to a child’s life until you’re confident about their football potential,” Nick said.
They also enter the school at different ages, with some entering from Year 7, aged 11, like Marcus Rashford, or others entering at the age of 14.
“As you get closer to the age of 16, the more involvement you have with the football club increases, likewise the involvement you have with school and exams increases, so if you can dovetail the two, you can make sure the boys are successful in both worlds,” Nick said.
“And you can create a bit more of a harmonious lifestyle for them so they’re not making ridiculous sacrifices in terms of doing homework at midnight and that kind of thing, or travelling really long hours and getting to bed late.”
Marcus, who went to Button Lane primary in his hometown of Wythenshawe before moving to Ashton on Mersey, was an ‘obvious role model’ for the club to point to, Nick said, adding that they were incredibly proud of everything he had done on and off the pitch.
However, he said the club and its academy ‘can’t take the credit for all the wonderful work he’s doing’, such as his campaigning on child poverty, which last year saw him awarded an MBE.
“He’s surrounded himself with wonderful people, a supportive mother and brothers,” Nick said.
“But we like to think we’ve contributed to that, helped him stay in the love with the game and nurture him a bit.
“But the person who is responsible for his success on and off the pitch is him.
“A formal education is essential because no one quite knows where a footballers’ journey might end up so you can’t afford to neglect your formal education.
“But more importantly the informal education from those two organisations, the school, and the football club, also opens up a lot of informal opportunities to develop yourself as a person.
“Understanding to carry yourself in the public eye, understanding how to be a role model.
‘Understanding how to communicate with others, understanding what it means to represent high-profile organisations. All those things happen informally but they’re just as important.
“If you break into Manchester United’s first team all eyes will be on you, so it’s good to have a system that prepares you for that.
“We allow boys to be themselves.
“Boys aren’t angels and there will be a little bit of mischievousness and we embrace that and celebrate that.
“Marcus potentially would have been no different.
“But there’s the infamous story that he played in an FA Cup final, and turned up the following morning to complete his studies.
“He’s also been back to speak to the current group at Ashton on Mersey to explain the reason he did that, as he believes it’s important to end chapters of your life properly and in a respectable fashion.
“So education for Marcus has definitely been a valuable part of his development.”
“We’ve had a lot of representation in the Euros and we are very proud of all of them,” he added.
“But those boys are exceptions to the rule.
“There are boys who you may never learn their names and never be household names, but our staff as are committed to them and as passionate about making sure their experience sets them up for a successful adult life, regardless of how things went for them on the pitch.
“Ultimately we enjoy seeing young people achieve their dreams and if a couple can do that this weekend then we’ll be watching with a smile on our face.”
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