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"We all need to do better" - Jeremie Frimpong launches plan to help young players who don't make it

"We all need to do better" - Jeremie Frimpong launches plan to help young players who don't make it

Bayer Leverkusen star Jeremie Frimpong tells SPORTbible about his new project helping young footballers who face rejection.

For Jeremie Frimpong growing up, football was the most important thing in his life.

“I always wanted to be a footballer,” Frimpong tells SPORTbible, while taking time out of his busy schedule locked in a Bundesliga title race with Bayer Leverkusen.

“Football was more important than school for me. I had to be a footballer because I just loved the game so much.”

He came to England from the Netherlands at the age of seven and then just two years later, scouts came to watch him tear it up for Clayton Villa, one of two local teams he was playing for.

Liverpool, Bolton and Manchester City were among the teams keen to recruit the young prodigy.

“I think I scored a hat-trick and won Player of the tournament,” he recalls.

“City, Liverpool and Bolton told me to come for trials. I think it was Bolton first but I didn’t like it. I went to Liverpool, and I was going to choose Liverpool, but we didn’t have a car and it was kind of far. City was 15 minutes away from me on the bus.”

Image: Cas Manders
Image: Cas Manders

Frimpong joined City in 2010 and came through the youth ranks. His teammates at youth level include Cole Palmer, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Eric Garcia and he was a regular in the Premier League 2 and UEFA Youth League competitions.

But not long after helping City to the Youth Cup final, he held a meeting with academy chiefs and that gave him the indication that moving on was perhaps the best decision for his career.

He explains: “I kept playing [an age group] down and I think when I was Under 23’s at City, I remember going in for a new contract and that’s when I knew my path at City was different.

“They were talking about how I couldn’t get into the team and were comparing me to other players in the academy that were doing better than me.

“I thought, ‘Yeah I clearly don’t have a future here’ so I’ve got to take a different step.

“I remember going to that meeting and he was saying, ‘You’re too small’ and it’ll be too physical. That’s when I was thinking, ‘Oh s***’, where am I gonna go?’.

“I have no regrets at all. We all know not everyone can play for City’s first-team as an academy player. It’s still not nice hearing these things as a kid but I just had to take a different path.”

Celtic was the next destination, with Frimpong signing a four-year deal with the Scottish giants and establishing himself as a fan favourite.

He won the domestic treble in the 2019/20 season and was named the club’s Young Player of the Season.

Image: Cas Manders
Image: Cas Manders

Fast forward to the present day and that same electric pace and tenacity has been on display for Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen, who are eight points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and in a great position to finally win the big one.

Netherlands international Frimpong has been an integral part, with seven goals and seven assists in 22 appearances from right-back.

The 23-year-old recovered from rejection and setbacks to make it to the big-time but he is well aware that it is not always the case.

A survey carried out by ITV news uncovered that 72% of released players feel as though their club did not provide a sufficient level of support when they were cut.

That’s why Frimpong has launched his ‘Pathways’ project in a bid to help those who do not make the grade.

The foundation applies to male and female players 15-22 in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany and Ghana, striving to unlock new opportunities and aid the transition into a different life.

“I knew where my football would take me and had a strong belief and now I can actually do something about it,” Frimpong says, discussing where the idea came from.

“I’m a footballer myself and getting told you’re not going to be a footballer, as a young kid that can destroy you. I know in the past when people were told they weren’t getting scholars [contracts], clubs would just leave them and you’re on your own.

“Now, I can do something to help – even if it’s little. I know that feeling and no-one wants that, especially as a kid.

"My goal is to help the kids and help as many as possible. Of course, if it goes big, then great – the most important thing is working and helping the kids with what they want in life.

“It’s giving them the resources and ideas and not only football – whatever you want to be you can do it. It doesn’t mean it’s the end.

“Football was everything for me as a kid. If I was told I wasn’t getting a scholar [contract] I don’t know what I would have done.

“We all need to do better and I feel like it has got better. It’s really important.”

The issue is one that is clearly close to Frimpong’s heart and he speaks passionately about it. Frimpong tells the story of one of his close friends, Justin Johnson, a former Manchester United academy player who was turning out for the likes of Dundee United and Hamilton and now plies his trade with Chorley in Non League.

But another example cited is the tale of Ryan Corrigan, who played with Frimpong at City. He ended up at Stoke City but after being forced to train by himself for 18 months, was released by mutual consent in July 2021.

Image: Ryan Corrigan
Image: Ryan Corrigan

After falling out of love with the beautiful game, he no longer plays professional football and now works at the same primary school as his mum and brother, as a one-to-one mentor for kids who require additional support.

Frimpong has enlisted the help of his former teammate, who will be a point of contact for kids in the UK.

Corrigan will share his story with youngsters through calls and meet ups. It was a decision that just “made sense” for Frimpong.

Frimpong adds: “I was with Ryan in the academy and we both wanted to be a footballer.

“Obviously things didn’t go his way and now he’s working at a school. He can tell his story to the kids because he’s been in their shoes and he’s find something else to do.

“Just because you’re not a footballer doesn’t mean it’s over. That’s how small kids think, they think they are finished. I would have thought like that.

“For Ryan to be in this project is top because he’s lived it.

“He’s going to do the UK side and he’s just going to focus on that part. He works with kids so it won’t be a problem for him. It just makes sense that Ryan is onboard because that’s his work anyway.”

Image: Cas Manders
Image: Cas Manders

The initiative’s focus is on those who have been in academies and covers fields such as tech, property, gaming, and finance.

In addition to tailored guidance and resources, there will also be access to a network of mental health practitioners for those who submit an application.

But what advice would Frimpong give to those whose football dream hasn’t quite panned out the way they planned?

He finishes by saying: “You have to have that belief in yourself and let your feet do the talking. They can say you’re small, not strong, skinny but they can’t justify who you are.

“Just keep going and never give up. Don’t let anyone say that you can’t do it. And prove them wrong, that’s what I like to do. People who talk too much, I like to prove them wrong and that hurts them.”

Pathways was founded on January 3 and helps players 15 to 22 years old. Youngsters can sign up using the online form on the Pathways website.

Featured Image Credit: Cas Manders

Topics: Bayer Leverkusen, Manchester City, Celtic, Spotlight