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"Football should just be part of your life and not your whole life"

Careers in Football spent time with Piero Mingoia (who has played professional football for Watford, Accrington Stanley and Cambridge United) to hear more about his journey as a player and his development on and off the pitch.

Growing up, I convinced myself that because I was a footballer, school wasn’t for me. Even though I was quite intelligent, I’d tell myself that I didn’t know how to revise. There was a bias in my head and that bias said one thing: I am a footballer.

And in some ways, that bias was right.

After being picked up by Watford’s academy at 13 I progressed through the age groups. At 16 I was offered a two-year scholarship. At 18 I was offered a one-year professional contract.

With every year, my reputation grew. I was highly regarded at Watford and fortunate enough to make my debut in the first team at the age of 20. I even managed to score.

A two-year extension followed. After making several appearances in my first year as a pro, it was decided I’d go on loan to Brentford in my second year. That was my first reality check. I didn’t know much about the lower leagues, and given that everything up until that point had been positive, I expected to go to Brentford and play.

I didn’t even make the squad.

I went back to Watford thinking that I had failed. Yet at the same time, I didn’t blame myself for that failure. Watford were better than Brentford and Watford thought highly of me. That was all that mattered.

In the final month of the season, the opportunity to get games at Hayes and Yeading in the Conference [National League] came up. That proved eye-opening. Instead of training in perfect surroundings, wearing perfect kit and playing perfect football, players would turn up on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in whatever they liked. After games they’d have beers on the way home and stop off for kebabs. It was the first time I’d seen anything like it. Coming through the academy system, I’d always thought that everything has to be perfect. Hayes and Yeading taught me it’s okay to relax at times.

In 2012, the Pozzo family took over at Watford and brought in Gianfranco Zola as manager. I was sad to see Sean Dyche go. He had our backs, always making sure the young players were involved with the first-team. Still, Zola coming in gave us all a fresh start and every single player the opportunity to impress. I felt I took that opportunity well. I started pre-season in the form of my life and scored a few goals. But I was fighting a losing battle. As soon as the official games started I was nowhere.

Opportunity came in the form of Accrington Stanley, who offered me a loan move. I didn’t have a clue where Accrington was. I’d never really been north before. Still, I took the loan and it started well. I settled in, got on with my teammates. And then the manager was fired.

That summer, my contract at Watford expired. Just one club came in for me: Accrington.

If it wasn’t for that loan, I’m not sure what would have happened. Perhaps I was naïve. There were 91 other professional clubs, I was sure that I’d get at least one offer. Only now do I know how hard it is to bounce back. There are thousands of footballers and if you’re coming out of a club with just a handful of senior games under your belt it’s going to be hard.

That was the moment my mentality changed. 91 other professional clubs and I’d been picked by the 92nd best.

I had to take the opportunity with both hands.

In my mind I was in Accrington for one reason and one reason only: to be a footballer. If I couldn’t make it at the smallest club in the Football League, what next? I decided I had to give everything to play games and forge out a career.

My dad encouraged me to try things beyond football. I was alone, in Accrington, with hours to spare, he reasoned. I had to do something.

I gave a couple of things a go, mainly around property. I had the best of intentions, but mentally I wasn’t there yet. I was still too focused on football.

It was only at the age of 26 when my mentality changed. I’d signed once more for Accrington after a spell with Cambridge. That wasn’t the only change in my life. I’d also just got married. While my wife stayed in London, I headed north alone.

After a few weeks, I realised this wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like.

After a few months, I was out of the team. I was only up in Accrington for football and football wasn’t working.

I started to dig deeper. What was it that I really wanted?

To be more than a footballer.

The interest in property was still there so I read books about property and self-development. I spoke to people, went to networking meetings, learned more about different areas. I considered a degree. It would be nice to have one, but I came to the conclusion it wasn’t essential for the areas I was looking at. Especially not when it would take five or six years to complete.

The more I learned, the more focused I became. I decided I like working with people. Sitting at home on a computer didn’t excite me. Helping people does.

It was exciting. Once I saw the bigger picture, there appeared to be opportunity everywhere.

For years I told myself that I wouldn’t be a coach, for example. Getting home from training every day, the last thing I wanted to see was a football. But after a bit of time away from football due to the pandemic I gave coaching a go. And I loved it.

During coronavirus I was lucky that the club I was at, Boreham Wood, continued to pay full wages. Even so, every time payday arrived I grew nervous. It made me realise I shouldn’t have to rely on others.

So much so that when it became time to go back and play football, I decided to step away from the sport entirely.

It was scary but the time had come to try other things. To make it work I’m having as many conversations as possible, growing my understanding, trying things, developing, giving performance coaching and football coaching – the two areas I’ve developed real interest in – a go. Every conversation is an opportunity where something could happen. Every day is a chance to improve my coaching.

For so long, I felt that I limited myself. I was stuck in a bubble as a pro footballer, believing that I had to dedicate every minute of every day to football. That isn’t healthy.

Football should just be part of your life and not your whole life, otherwise it can drive you crazy.

Now I’m developing myself, learning new skills, putting myself in control. I’m more than a footballer. So much more.


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