3 Major Reasons Football Import Players Go Home Early and How to Prevent It

Every year there are many import players who go overseas, have a great time and leave their mark. However, there are also some failed import-club relationships that result in a separation of ways, and we have narrowed it down to the three most common factors using the information we gathered from clubs and imports who have been involved in these situations previously. We have used this information to improve our service with the end goal of minimizing these occurrences. In the end, it is not good for the club, the player and the growth of the global game so if you are considering playing overseas, we suggest you read this article prior to committing to a club.

Here are a few observations and proposed solutions:

#1) Poor Performance

Most imports who are sent home early had not performed up to the club’s expectations. Poor performance can be chalked up to a number of things, but most common are:

Lack of self-discipline – Many college or pro players who go overseas often find that for the first time in their career, nobody is telling them what to do and when. They are so used to a daily workout regiment provided to them by their previous coaches, that when overseas they find out that things are different and that they are now fully responsible for maintaining their physical condition. If they are not able to adapt and improvise to find a routine, they can get distracted by the lifestyle of living overseas and ample free time that comes with it.

Solution: Just knowing this and being proactive prior to arrival by coming up with a schedule and workout plan while finding out from your club what resources are at your disposal, will help you execute your plan and stay in top shape.

Cultural differences – This is a tough one. When going to a country that is culturally very different, it can be a challenge for anyone, even a seasoned world traveler. Things may get challenging and things can sometimes be different to a point of discomfort and in turn, affect your performance. Also, football culture in itself can be quite different overseas and can vary greatly from country-to-country, club-to-club, and season-to-season. Some organizations will have a strong winning culture year-after-year while others may struggle to keep people consistently motivated, often in a country where football is a sport that traditionally does not provide much opportunity outside of its domestic league.

Solution: The key is informing yourself and preparing for this cultural undertaking. Find out if you are you the only import. If there is another person who is also a native English speaker to share your experience with, it will make a big difference. Also, learn about the country where you are going as much as possible beforehand and embracing it. The best thing to do from a football standpoint is to speak with previous imports about their experience within that country, club, and league and try and get a feel for what football is all about in that part of the world.

#2) Poor Communication Prior to Signing Contract

This is often two-sided and can either be a lack of questions from the player side, and a lack of proactive information-sharing from the club side. Despite the enormity of such a decision as committing to live and play football in another country far away for an extended period of time, players often rush into signing an agreement without really knowing what they are signing up for. From the club side, most general managers in semi-pro leagues overseas are volunteers and can have varying degrees of experience in signing import players, which sometimes leads to the unintentional omission of information that should have been communicated upfront.

Here are the two most common communication breakdowns that we have identified:

Unrealistic expectations of what pro ball is like in the country the player signed in – This is usually a case of the player having a more glamorous view of what being a pro player in that country is in reality. In the end, professional football is not glamorous unless you are one of the top 0.5% of pro players in the world currently lacing up their cleats. Overseas, there are so many levels that offer paid opportunities that you need to do your research before committing, especially if the level of play is a top priority for you. What happens on occasion, is that players who feel like pro ball in the U.S. has not been fair to them will have a chip on their shoulder, and when faced with playing in a league they feel is beneath them, egos will sometimes take over and their appreciation of the opportunity in front of them diminishes to a point of frustration.

One important rule of thumb that many do not realize….. import players are brought in to be a dominant player in the league, which means the league most likely is at a level LOWER than where the player has most recently played if benchmarked properly by the recruiting club. Just know that going in an set your expectations accordingly.

Misunderstanding of duties on and off the field – From the perspective of the club, they provide an import player with an opportunity of a lifetime, which is to see another part of the world and experience another culture all while playing the game they love at no cost to them (sometimes even banking a bit). From the player’s perspective, they envision themselves playing football, traveling, having fun, and that is it. However, in most leagues, that is not the case as clubs will expect the import to be involved in the club as much as the local players and extended family and friends, all of which are volunteers and put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the organization. So with that comes expectations to do your share, usually contributing to the development of younger players, lend a helping hand around the clubhouse, setting up for home games, promotional events, etc. Sometimes, however, the expectations of this are not always communicated well by clubs.

Solution: This is where we come in, to provide you with information about leagues, clubs, contracts, etc. Ask us for our contract checklist, a list of contract items to asking about and in turn will help clarify exactly what you are signing up for. The best advice we have heard time-and-time from former imports is to “leave your expectations at the door and come with an open mind” or “Embrace the experience and assume the role as ambassador of the game”. Our advice is to ask questions until you have a clear idea of what you are signing up for, and speak to former imports of the club before signing.

#3) Lack of Due Diligence from Either Side

You know the old saying “Dot the i’s and cross the T’s”? Sometimes both sides of the import-club relationship need a reminder of this concept.  Here are a few of the most common mistakes that can easily be avoided:

  • Player wants to travel a lot but did not communicate it with the club beforehand. Duties are ditched to travel, the club gets pissed, the club sends the player home or withholds payment.
  • Player arrives, and the living situation is not ready. Sometimes the apartment has no internet or no laundry facility, etc. Sometimes the living arrangement is temporary and the player is moved around a few times before settling in somewhere. This can happen when the contact vaguely states: “accommodations provided”.
  • Player arrives out of shape or recently had surgery and did not disclose to the club. The did club ask for a recent video or ask of any recent injuries. Club sends home within days of arriving. Not good for anyone.
  • Club does not pay on time. Nothing is stipulated in the contract when the club is to pay and what happens when it is not on time.
  • Import roommates don’t like each other or host family and import have issues.

Solution: Our contract list we provide members is a great tool for this. Most issues revolve around having false expectations or the living arrangement. If you have a clear understanding of the living arrangement and what the experience will be like, both on and off the field, you have a better chance of enjoying the expeirence and having no hiccups. Ask a lot of questions!

A Step-By-Step Guide to Signing with a Club Overseas

Okay… your profile is live and now what? The following is a step-by-step guide to making the most of this opportunity, starting with best positioning yourself to hopefully receive multiple offers and ending with a detailed contract so that you can set yourself up for the best experience possible. 

Step 1: Attract as many offers as possible

This goes without saying, but the more offers on the table, the better the chance you can find a good fit. This all starts with the profile and how you present yourself to clubs. Obviously, the more experience and success you have at a high level, the more offers you will attract. If you are a seasoned professional player with a long history of success and a lot of info online about you, the offers will naturally come in and this article is perhaps less applicable, but still worth a read to maximize your potential offers.

Regardless of your level of experience, here is a profile checklist we recommend you follow:

Video – Since there are no tryouts and clubs cannot send scouts to put eyes on you, a recruitment video is the most important part of the profile. In addition to a recruitment video, we strongly recommend making a demo video of your abilities at your secondary position(s). While you are at it, throw in a demo video of your speed, agility and strength.

If you are not very savvy with editing and uploading to YouTube and making a playlist, send your video files to us by email using www.wetransfer.com and we will take care of it for you.

Statistics – Stats are another important part of the profile. Teams rely heavily on stats since they offer an unbiased and objective gauge of your playing ability. There is no point in not including seasons where stats are poor, as any serious club will find them. If there are gaps years in stats, make sure to explain why. 

“We strongly recommend making a demo video of your abilities at your secondary position(s).”

– Football Jobs Overseas tip

Primary/Secondary Positions – Since teams are limited to how many foreign players they can bring over, most clubs target quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. This doesn’t mean that teams do not sign Dbacks, Linebackers or Linemen, but it is typically only in leagues that allow for more importing or teams that have bigger budgets. Since most teams are operating on smaller budgets, they seek imports that can play both ends of the ball, kind of like a 2 for 1 deal. Therefore, especially for those with no pro experience, your primary and secondary positions are very important to include and can make a big difference between receiving an offer or not. This is why I want to take this moment to reiterate that claimed secondary positions should be backed up by a demo video if no in-game highlight footage is available.

Testimonials – Testimonials from credible football people, preferably a recent coach, can help clubs not only further verify your skills but probably even more importantly, your character. Since budgets for imports are earned through a lot of hard volunteer work, it is very important to clubs that they bring in someone who will embrace the role of ambassador of the game. Not only is it important to have a quality teammate who has your back on the field, but off the field, the organization relies on imports for a multitude of things such as bringing in fans, promotional events, and working with their youth.

Catchy tagline – Highlight your best assets in the tagline which appears under your cover photo and on the import listing.

BIO – In a few paragraphs, without rambling on, this is your opportunity to sell yourself. In your bio, we recommend including the highlights of your career awards, accomplishments, articles, a summary of your abilities, and explaining any poor seasons or gap years (ie. injury). If you have not completed a year or more, it is important to clarify what you have been doing during this time to remain in shape. In this situation, we recommend recent video showcasing your current shape as clubs have been burned in the past with imports showing up looking nothing like they did in their outdated video.

Passport – If you do not have a passport, list on your profile that you do have one and get the application in pronto. No club will make a formal offer until you have a passport. Once you have it, update your profile. 

Other aspects of the profile are also not to be ignored:

  • A profile picture of you smiling
  • An attractive cover photo (which we can help with)
  • Providing multiple ways of reaching you (social media, WhatsApp). You can’t receive offers if they can’t reach you. Check your email spam folder regularly as well
  • Links to articles about previous successes

Step 2: Evaluating offers thoroughly

Many players are way too quick to sign and don’t spend the necessary time making sure that a particular club or league is a good fit for their overseas goals and expectations. There are three sub-steps here to follow thoroughly which will help avoid potential headaches:

Ask Questions

Asking a lot of questions until you have a complete understanding of what you are about to sign up for is best practice. Brainstorm a list of questions with family or friends and send them in an email so the reply by the club is documented for later review, follow up questions, and potential contract items. Let them know that you want to ask some questions so that everything is clear upfront before you sign. If they are serious about you, they will be happy to answer. If you are one of 30 guys they contacted, they might ghost you and save you a lot of time in the end. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

“Send questions in an email so the reply by the club is documented”

Football Jobs Overseas tip
  1. When does the contract begin and end and are there any breaks in the season?
    • Sometimes there is overlap with personal commitments. Breaks allow for extended traveling but make sure that if there is a break in the season that you want to take advantage for traveling, that it is part of the agreement. Sometimes during breaks clubs will ask their imports to help run a youth camp, etc.
  2. When are games played and how many games in a season plus playoffs?
    • Some leagues are longer with a schedule that is more spread out, others are shorters and more compact. Depending on what you want to get out of taking your career overseas, this may affect your decision on where to sign.
  3. How many practices per week and on which days?
  4. Are there any other weekly responsibilities in addition to playing that will be part of the agreement (for example coaching, camps, clinics, promotional events, fundraisers, field maintenance)? If so, how many hours per week and which days and times of the week?
    • Some organizations will expect a lot more of their import than others for the same pay. Typically, the lower leagues tend to try and get more return for their dollar than the bigger leagues and will want their imports in some sort of role in their youth program.
  5. Which days would I have completely off to explore the country and surrounding countries?
    • Note: It is good to have at least two days back-to-back with no responsibilities if you are looking to get some traveling in.
  6. Which visa will I be traveling on and will this visa cover my entire stay? Is there any cost to me to obtain this visa?
    • The most common visas used to import players to Europe are a visitor’s visa with extension and a student visa. The student visa is the best option because it will a) be long enough to cover the length of the season and b) qualify you for local health insurance. Sign up for a language class and you don’t even need to show up to class, that simple. Heck, in Europe it doesn’t even have to be the same country you will be playing in, as a student visa in a Schengen zone country will give you the right to travel freely in any Schengen zone country.
    • The visitor’s visa (aka tourist visa) is often for 3 months which is shorter than the length of most seasons. Therefore if the club expects you to travel on a visitor’s visa but play the entire season, you need to clear up if they have the experience and ability to get an extension for their imports on the visitor’s visa. Some countries will allow extensions with a sponsor (person who guarantees to be responsible for you), where other countries do not. This extension application takes place after you have arrived. Usually, nobody within the club is willing to offer sponsorship until they know you will not cause them any headaches and have proven to be a person of good character.
  7. Does the club provide health insurance for the duration of my stay?
    • Note: If the club does not cover your health insurance, then you would be expected to get your own travel insurance from your home country, which would mean that any health costs occurred overseas will need to be paid upfront and reimbursed to a pre-determined percentage (usually 60-70%) when you return to your homeland. If on this plan, the good news is that the cost in countries overseas is very reasonable, but you should research the costs associated with hospital visits by foreigners in that country before agreeing to this. Bringing a credit card for emergencies abroad on such a plan is recommended.
  8. Will I be living on my own or with others? Do I have a private room? Is high-speed internet guaranteed throughout my stay? Are there on-site laundry facilities?
  9. What transportation is provided?
    • Note: Ask follow up questions if necessary to find out proximity to the ballpark, costs involved if a car is provided and who pays, what happens if there is an accident with the car, etc.
  10. Is my flight paid for upfront or am I expected to pay it upfront with reimbursement when I arrive?
    • Note: Follow up questions should draw out when you will be reimbursed.

“A student visa is the best option for playing in Europe as it will qualify you to stay for the entire season as well as for the local health insurance.”

Football Jobs Overseas tip

Speak with previous imports to the club and/or league

Getting the inside perspective from previous imports is always a good idea. You can ask the club to connect you with previous imports, but we also recommend researching online who else has played for them as the club will only introduce you to imports who they know enjoyed their stay.

Keep in mind, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so if one import didn’t like his stay, it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yours. Usually, an unhappy import skipped most of the steps in this article and there was a major communication breakdown that led to differences in expectations. How well an arrangement goes and the resulting satisfaction on both sides really does almost always boil down to the expectations going in and the amount of communication and clarity achieved prior to the signed agreement.

Utilize the knowledge of FBJO staff

We can answer the majority of your questions about leagues, clubs, cities, countries, and cultures. We are here to guide you and provide as much information that we have as possible about any given league or club so that you can make an informed decision. So make sure when any clubs reach out, to contact us as we may have some further insight that you may not have thought of, such as the cost of living in that particular country and how far a salary will stretch.

Schedule a video interview

Now you have asked all the questions and are at the point that you are ready to sign. One last recommended step is to have a more personal experience with who you have been communicating to get a feel for the club and the people running it before you move onto the signed agreement. This step is even more important when you have multiple offers on the table that you have gone through all the previous steps with and are still interested in.

Step 3: Getting it ALL on paper

If you have thoroughly completed the first two steps, this should already all be written down and answered in the email correspondence, and now it is as simple as organizing it all on paper along with a few “what if” scenarios and some specifics. Here are some questions you can ask and come to an agreement on to include in the contract.

“Make sure to use specifics instead of broad or general terms in the contract”

Football Jobs Overseas tip
  1. What if I am injured and sidelined for two, three, four or more weeks? Will I still receive my full pay and at what point would I be sent home? If sent home, will the club pay for the date change of my return flight?
  2. When will the visa extension take place (assuming this was the agreement) and what happens if we are unsuccessful in getting an extension on it?
  3. Approximately when would my contract end if we didn’t make the playoffs or made it to the championship series?
  4. Am I still compensated for the period of time between our last game and the date I fly out? 
  5. Can we add the following specifics to the contract with regards to the key aspects of the contract that will allow me to enjoy my time playing for your club?  I would like to stipulate that if these key aspects are not met, I am free to terminate the contract and explore other opportunities. 
  • My living situation is sorted prior to arrival with no temporary living arrangements 
  • My living quarters will have fully functional, high-speed internet, laundry facilities, etc.
  • Salary is paid on time on an agreed-upon a monthly schedule (or job is found within a certain time frame)
  • Reimbursement of flights is by a certain date
  • My means of transport is sorted prior to my arrival

In summary, communication is the key to every step. Spend some time on it, do your research and make sure to use specifics instead of broad or general terms in the contract in order to best set yourself up for a great time overseas!