The nature of the beast! Contracts run out, players are surplus to requirements and find themselves on the scrap heap of footballers scrapping to get back into the game. Read on to find out all about being out of contract as a footballer.
Finding out that you won’t be offered a new deal
So you are called into the manager’s office and as soon as the gaffer pulls you, you know what conversation you’re about to have. As a player, you normally have a gut feeling on whether you’re going to receive a new contract or not. Personal performance levels and game time are the things we tend to go off of.
As you sit down there is only one thought racing through your mind with your contract due to expire shortly, “Am I getting offered a new contract or not?” You can normally sense whether it’s going to be positive or negative news as soon as you walk into the room.
A huge weight is lifted off of your shoulders when you hear something along the lines of, “We’d like to offer…”. Your hands stop sweating as you relax and continue the conversation with the manager. You’ve been offered a new deal and regardless of the finer details of the offer, you are wanted and that is a great feeling.
However, it is a different story when the conversation starts with something along the lines of, “I’ve got to be honest with you…”. You know straight away where the conversation is heading and the club won’t be retaining you. Even if you walked into the manager’s office expecting to hear it, actually hearing it is a surreal feeling. Your future has just been thrown into the air and all you can think is, “Where do I go from here?!”.
Many emotions will hit you as the news sinks in;
Those are just some of the emotions that you will feel after discovering that you didn’t do enough to earn a new contract. With your immediate future in doubt, it’s normal to be overcome with worry.
What happens after you walk out of the manager’s office with no contract offer on the table?
Straightaway your attention turns to earning a contract for next season and where that contract is going to be. The fact that there is no guarantee of a contract elsewhere adds to your concerns.
It’s now that you will begin to put a plan together. You will speak with your support network; family, friends and your agent, to discuss your options. Hopefully, your performances from the season will generate interest from other clubs meaning your uncertainty could be short-lived.
However, for some that might not be the case.
Either way, your agent will begin to speak with clubs and inform clubs of your situation to generate some interest. Agents will also begin to speak with clubs to find out the positions that clubs are looking to recruit for.
The waiting game within professional football
Something that you are going to need over the next few weeks/months is patience. As time passes you will become more and more frustrated and worried about your situation. As pre-season approaches and begins, you will start to subconsciously think that you won’t find a club.
It’s easy to look at all of the players signing for new clubs in your position and start to think things like;
“I’m a better player than them.”
“How has their agent managed to sort that but mine hasn’t?”
It is easy to start comparing yourself to others and watching on in envy but you have to remember that by doing so, you are only adding to your problems.
You will start doubting whether that phone call to say that there is a contract for you will ever come.
As difficult as it can be to wait, you have to make sure that you are taking control of what you can in the meantime.
So ensure that you’re maintaining a basic level of fitness so that when you go into a club, be it on trial or to sign, you’re ready to hit the ground running and positively start your new chapter.
Trust in your agent to get you a contract, that is why you have entrusted them to represent you on your behalf.
The thought of not being able to do the thing that brings you so much joy can be hard to take and the longer it goes on, it’s natural to start contemplating what you will do if you don’t have a contract soon. Will you have to go and find some work? Or can you afford to sit around and wait for that call to come? With a family to provide for or bills to pay, you will likely have to find some sort of income until you sign a contract.
What can you do whilst you wait to see where your next contract will be?
So whilst out of contract, there are things that you can control and as always, things that you can’t.
Here are three things that I would advise any of you to do when you find yourself out of contract:
1. Take a small break to enjoy some downtime
Firstly, you might think that you have to work relentlessly through the off-season and that you don’t deserve a holiday, or a break because you’re out of contract. My advice to anyone out of contract would be to still take some time to recharge mentally. The season is long and regardless of how the previous season has gone for you, the mental and physical demands are draining.
Enjoy some downtime with family and friends, or however you like to spend it. Hopefully, the new season will be a long and positive one for yourself, so you don’t want to work relentlessly throughout the off-season and then head into a rigorous full season.
You would be extremely lucky if you didn’t pick up an injury or suffer from burnout because you haven’t allowed your mind and body to recover. Whilst enjoying some downtime, you can still tick over by doing activities like; swimming, cycling, or tennis for example.
However, as soon as that short break is over it’s time to get back to the graft. You are in the difficult position of being out of contract, so you are going to have to work hard and earn that new deal.
2. Be open to taking risks
Secondly, keep all of your options open. We all have ambitions to play at the highest level possible but sometimes we might have to take a step back to go forward. Dropping a league or taking a wage cut is the last thing we want to do, but sometimes it is necessary to get back in the game.
When I was leaving Crystal Palace to join Colchester United, I knew that if I ever wanted to achieve my childhood dream of playing in the Prem, then I would have to go and play football elsewhere to give myself a chance.
When I joined Maidstone I was dropping a league and had to take a pay cut because at the time that was the best option for myself and my family. I had fallen out of love with the game sitting on the bench, so the opportunity to go somewhere that I was going to play week in, week out made sense. It was an opportunity to get a full season of games under my belt and reignite my love for football which is exactly what materialised from that move!
You might find yourself in a similar position and you perhaps aren’t willing to take what appears to be a step backwards.
I hope that you won’t have to drop down the leagues to play your football but you have to accept that it might be the case.
In your career, you have to be ready for whatever is thrown your way. You only get one chance so don’t allow your pride to take your shot at getting back in the game away!
You are going to have to take risks to get to where you want to be. It’s then up to you to make sure that the risks pay off and you have to back yourself to be able to do that.
3. Believe in yourself
Lastly, you have to have belief in your ability. You aren’t a bad player all of a sudden because you’re out of contract. You wouldn’t have got to this position without having qualities and talents. It’s now about finding a club and manager that appreciate those qualities.
Hopefully, it happens in time for pre-season, but be aware that it might take a little longer. You can’t lose belief when it seems that things aren’t coming together.
Have trust in your agent to do their job and make sure that when an opportunity comes along you are ready to snatch it with both hands.
I have had many times in my career where I’ve struggled to see how things were going to improve, yet things always worked out and there was always a reason for why those things happened.
It wasn’t down to luck, it required a willingness to work hard and mental resilience to never give up, so don’t think that things are just going to click into place for you. They might work out without you giving it everything, but why would you want to leave your career down to chance?
Instead, make sure you leave no stone unturned in your pursuit of a contract.
You might think that you are grateful for what you have whilst in contract, but believe me, you don’t really appreciate what you had until it’s taken away from you!
And just like that, the season is over! I’ll be taking a little break to recharge and spend time with family, whilst getting fit for wherever the journey takes me next.
I’ll be back with more Fly On The Ball blog posts very soon. In the meantime, please follow me on the socials below where I will still be posting bits of my journey and other useful bits for you all!