How to Become a Professional Soccer Player in Europe

For those who dream of playing pro soccer, a European league is probably part of that dream. Compared to the U.S., where soccer ranks fifth in most popular sports, Europeans live and breathe soccer. It’s the most widely-played sport on the continent and played on every pub, bar, and cafe TV screen from nation to nation. 

So, how does one become a professional soccer player in such a competitive sport? Knowing the in’s and out’s of the industry can get you lengths ahead of the competition, so here are a few things the football dreamers should check off their list on the rise to the top. 

Play for the best teams and clubs when you’re young

American pro hopefuls usually get their start by playing for universities, then moving on to MLS teams. In Europe, the program is a bit less education-centered and more focused on local teams and official youth club leagues. 

Local Teams

Playing on a local team is a great way to get your start in professional soccer. Players move up the ranks to better and better teams. The sooner you start playing for these teams, the further you’re likely to go. 

Professional Youth Academies

Another way to get picked up by a professional team is to play for a professional youth academy. Think of it as an apprenticeship for European football. Barcelona, Bayern, and Manchester United all have their own Youth Academies, training children and young adults and preparing them for professional careers. Playing for a Youth Academy provides a considerable advantage to professional hopefuls. Coaches watch their players grow on the field and foster the skills needed to help them reach the professional level. A Manchester United coach is more likely to offer a spot to someone who spent six years in the team’s Youth Academy and has shown years of coachability. 

Establish and maintain the right connections

Do your best not to burn any bridges. Tensions can get high in sports, and you may say or do things you’ll regret in the future, so don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Try to refrain from harboring bad blood with teammates or coaches, and always leave a team on good terms. Ruining your career prospects because you bad-mouthed a former coach will only lead to regret!

Seek the help of a sports talent professional

Having the help of a professional talent-seeker can help you become a professional soccer player. Here are two of the most common types of professionals you may work with:

Agents

European players often hire agents to connect them to the right teams and opportunities. The process is similar to hiring a Hollywood talent agency, and it can be tricky to find the right match. Agents should be well-connected and personally interested in European soccer. 

Scouts 

Getting the team scout’s attention isn’t in your control, but it is worth your awareness. If you are playing for a local team and know of a scout in bleachers, get your playtime and make it count. 

Climb the Pro Ladder in the US

If you don’t have a European passport, this is probably the way to go. You’ll have a better chance of getting picked up by a European pro team if you can manage to go pro in U.S. MLS. American players usually get their rise by playing in high school and college, then either trying out or getting picked up by pro scouts. Of course, the university you play for is sure to affect how and where you end up playing professionally, so you’ll want to be very selective about where you go.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle

Becoming a professional footballer requires a healthy mindset. The sport is physically demanding and requires one to think and act quickly on his feet. Players who are serious about soccer often adopt healthy diets and limit, if not eliminate, alcohol intake. For many, smoking is an obvious “no”. The competition for a single pro-team spot is heavy, so do everything in your power to put yourself in excellent physical shape. Coaches prefer to train players who abide by strict diet and workout regimens, seeing it as a sign of discipline. Make your performance on the field a top priority. 

Participate in Team Trials

Team trials are a fantastic way to make yourself known to a professional team, so make it count. You’ll get to know the coaches and other future players while getting a feel for what each coach wants to see within his team. Even if your performance isn’t perfect, use each trial as a learning experience and prove that you have natural ability and coachability. Be respectful to everyone and try to make an impression. 

Going pro in a country that lives and breathes soccer isn’t easy, nor should it be. If you’re able to start young, play local or join a youth academy and follow through with each one of our suggestions, you may have a chance to play alongside some of the greatest players in history.