Chris looks beyond the ball with the PFA

Chris McCready is a former professional football player who has recently completed a Ph.D. and currently works as a Player Care assistant at Manchester United. With support from the PFA Charity, Chris started his academic journey towards the end of his playing career and based his research around the relationship between football, identity and personal development.

Chris McCready

The studies Chris took have shaped the work he carries out with the Manchester United academy players.

Chris explained why he choose to pursue an academic education, saying:

I stayed in touch with Oshor Williams from the PFA after taking a few A-levels as a scholar at Crewe Alexandra, but I thought focusing on my football would be the best way to get me where I needed to be career-wise.”

There was always something in the back of my mind that said ‘there’s more to you than football,’ and that voice kept getting louder the older I got. When it became evident I was going to need to do something else when I stopped playing, a good friend of mine helped me find a course about science and football at John Moores University, and I knew that was where I needed to be.”

Chris feels that going back into adult education was the best decision he ever made and feels it opened up his mind to different ideas and met new people that challenged him to think differently.

Chris explained:

I graduated in 2014 with First Class Honours, which was pretty cool. I still don’t feel that well educated or clever to be honest, so it’s always been a challenge for me to navigate that.”

I didn’t go into university thinking I would become a doctor, but on my very first day, I got lost and was wandering down a corridor where every door had a nameplate that said ‘Doctor’ and I found that quite inspiring, thinking, ‘that could be me.’ 

Studying for a PhD was a struggle at times, but worth the hard work. Chris said:

In a way, I had stumbled into my PhD, and truthfully there were times I thought it was the worst decision I ever made because it was so difficult.”

I probably would’ve kept playing if I was offered a new contract, but when I graduated, my time at Morecombe came to an end. I didn’t want to drop leagues, so it just felt like it was over. After some tears and soul searching, I called it a day in my career as a football player. Then John Moore’s offered me some funding to do some research, which turned into funding for a Ph.D.”

As part of the Ph.D. Chris’s research explored identity and personal development as a journey through football. This was based on the idea that there is more to people than the job’s they do.

Chris believes that having a broader identity is good for mental wellbeing and makes people better at work.

Chris explained:

We know all footballers are going to become ex-footballers at some point, so if they only have this narrow identity, what’s the cost of that further down the line?”

I try to bring the idea of a broader identity to young footballers much earlier. I’ve found if you can get players to understand that developing yourself can be beneficial for your football career and your life in the future, then it’s easier to get them thinking more broadly while they're playing.” 

Chris feels footballers need to not just focus on their game. Most usually finish training around 3 pm, and if they don't fill the free time they have productively, there are many things they can do that are very unproductive for their careers.

Chris said:

t's very interesting when people say you should only focus on football, and I always use Vincent Kompany as an example. The year Manchester City won the league, he graduated with an MBA in business - he used that outside interest to fuel his mind and help him perform on the pitch.”

I'm not against focusing on your career at all, but I would argue in any pressurised job, having some ideas outside of your career could actually help you perform better. You're able to come back to work refreshed, and you're dealing with the pressure that comes with professional football better because there's more to who you are than being a player.”