Education deficit in Argentinian football, says former star


Former Premier League and  striker Carlos Tevez made a shocking revelation in a recent interview with Argentinian broadcaster El Nueve.

“Three of the boys we have in the squad today, obviously I won’t say their names, told me they did not know how to add or subtract,” the man now head coach of Independiente, one of the biggest clubs in the country, said.

Footballers forgoing their in pursuit of a professional career is not unheard of across the globe, but Tevez’s comments seemed so extreme.

The 39-year-old explained how pivotal it is that young people know how to read, express themselves correctly and make informed decisions, both for life and a potential career in where the ability to read and understand contracts is an important part of career management.

Independiente has since responded, arranging classes for players so they can study after training every day until they have filled the gaps in their education. But the comments of their head coach have highlighted a glaring issue.

Despite having one of the best K–12 — from kindergarten to 12th grade — education systems on the continent,  still suffers from a high dropout rate in upper secondary schools. A 2023 UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report revealed that according to data from the Permanent Household Survey in Argentina, three out of 10 students do not complete their schooling.

Geographical challenge for teams in Argentina

Mariano Levisman is an Argentinean football coach and economist who has worked at a number of teams across Argentina. He believes that part of the problem is the amount of travel required for young footballers in the Argentinean system.

“I spoke to one player who was nominated for Argentina’s U17 team and may be part of the U17 World Cup squad [who said], ‘I’m coming to Buenos Aires every one to two weeks, I stay the whole week. How can I go to my school in Cordoba?’” Levisman told DW, before adding another player he spoke to told him he had to move six times to finish school.

“You also have poor people who are struggling with the balance between needing to go to work before they are finished with school,” Levisman explained.

A lot depends on the family, the club and the school but even then there is no escaping the travel. Youth players in play all around the country, some traveling from Buenos Aires to Tucuman, for example, which is an 18-hour bus journey. That means leaving on Thursday to play Saturday, which is two days out of school. And that’s every weekend you play away.

FIFPRO making positive impact

To combat the geographical challenges, FIFPRO’s (The global football players union) Director of Education in South American Jose Pablo Burtovoy says they have developed a program that allows young players at any of the 152 professional clubs in the country to finish their high school education virtually, on phones or computers.

FIFPRO’s affiliated player union in the country, Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados, launched the “Go back to study” campaign in early 2023, but Burtovoy acknowledges high school is the real challenge.

“At the moment we have 580 young and professional footballers who are finishing their high school studies,” Burtovoy tells DW. “It is a job that we are tackling very strongly and there is a lot to do because in professional football more than 35% are school dropouts.”

“What Carlos [Tevez] is raising is a problem that needs to be addressed. There is much more to do. That’s why it’s important that the new generation in management, technical directors, coaches, has healthy communication and addresses these issues,” he continued.

Burtovoy, a former goalkeeper who played in several Latin American countries between 1993 and 2014, added that 3,000 football players have their studies paid for by sporting institutions every year but he wants to see that number closer to 30,000.

Holistic approach

With so much focus on technique and tactics, the real drive has been towards a new conversation around the athlete as a whole and how big a role developing the athlete’s intellect plays in the overall success of the individual. But that becomes much more difficult when the young player in question shows an ability beyond his years.

“If they’re good, then it becomes less easy to say no to the player playing if their grades aren’t good,” Levisman explains. “The big clubs, such as Boca Juniors and River Plate, can afford to say you’re not playing because you’re not good [in terms of grades] because they have more talented players to choose from and more resources, but for smaller clubs it’s not so easy.”

That is a challenge for football academies all over the world. But for people like Burtovoy, this work is not just necessary to give young people the best chance in life, but also pivotal to the world’s understanding of Argentina.

“The  are a population that changes people’s lives. So, if we keep working on perfecting what we do on the pitch, there is always something to improve, to develop, to grow, perfect. But if we reinforce that with education, with knowledge we really are the people that can change the lives of the people in your neighborhood, your city, your province and your country.”

“I’m not saying this because I’m passionate, I’m saying it because of the data. In Argentina, footballers have been throughout history and today more than ever, a source of pride and the most representative population of our country in the world.”

Edited by: Matt Pearson

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