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"The extras are what can make the difference"

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

We caught up with Head of Player Care at Sunderland AFC Michele Di Mascio. Here, he tells us about his career journey to date…

‘I always knew that I’d like to work in elite sport, specifically within education. Teaching young adults particularly appealed, and with that in mind I began a degree with Exercise Development at the University of Sunderland. A PGCE followed, allowing me to qualify as a teacher. I was lucky: I got a job as soon as I graduated, working as a lecturer with Sunderland College.

From the moment I began in the world of work, I’ve had the same attitude. Just because I’d finished at university, it didn’t mean I had to finish learning.

Continuing to learn, and continuing to challenge myself, could make sure that I pushed myself one step ahead of those around me.

One way of doing so was with the exam board Pearson. As an examiner and standards verifier, and eventually as a team leader, I was able to become a little better at what I do every day.

And then there was the PhD. A PhD in sports physiology – looking at the repeated sprint ability of footballers – seemed the perfect continuation of my pathway. As part of my studies, I went in to do voluntary testing with Newcastle United. Then I spent a season-and-a-half with Hartlepool United looking at GPS data, conducting fitness tests and working with the u18s on a matchday. That allowed me to understand what football’s really like while also teaching me important skills such as time management.

Those extras helped. They made me stand out from the crowd while also giving me skills to take back into the education sector. For six years, the education sector – and Sunderland College – was where I remained.

I guess you could say it was the right place at the right time.

The college was linked with Sunderland AFC. Their academy players were educated by us – until the football club decided to bring their players’ education in-house. With my role heading up the sport department at Sunderland College I already line-managed a number of the football club’s staff, so when the football club asked me to take charge of their programme the move made sense.

It may have been the same job description, but the job itself was totally different. Fortunately, having already done work in football clubs, I had some idea of what to expect. As I got stuck into the job, what I came to enjoy most was everything that happened around the actual education. Player support, welfare and personal development were all new avenues for me that provided a challenge.

Given that, player care seemed a natural progression. Three years into my role with the football club, the academy manager came and offered me the role of Head of Player Care.

Thanks to all those extras I’d been doing over the years, I was a suitable candidate.

Michele’s Career:

Lecturer at Sunderland College

Curriculum Leader: Sport and Exercise Science at Sunderland College

Assistant Head of Education and Welfare at Sunderland AFC

Head of Player Care at Sunderland AFC

Player care is fantastically rewarding. No two days are the same and few things beat seeing players you’ve worked with flourish. There’s one in the first team right now, but there are also players having success with interests away from football, such as property, and others who were released from the club and have gone and got contracts elsewhere. Chris Allan, over in America with Memphis 901, is a great example.

In player care you can’t stand still. You have to keep on learning and developing because football is constantly evolving. If you do the same thing every season it just doesn’t work. Six years ago players were different to they are today. Six years down the line they’ll be different again. If you don’t change with them then you’ll be left behind.

My network helps me to develop. I speak regularly to other clubs, seeing what I can take from them and apply to player care at Sunderland. I’m also helping to develop player care as an industry with the Player Care Group and as part of the working group with the Football League.

To anyone looking to break into the football industry, the extras are what can make the difference. You need to learn what football is like. I had five or six years of learning about football before making the jump. In that time I learned about key parts of the sector, such as EPPP and the audit. Without knowledge of the audit, my interview may not have been successful.’

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