App that gives released players new Routes after Academy football

Ansoumane Konde came up with the idea for the Routes App, which puts a scholar's development journey in their own hands

Ansoumane Konde came up with the idea for the Routes App, which puts a scholar's development journey in their own hands

DUBLIN, 2012.

Ansoumane Konde had just received the phone call he'd dreamt of: Manchester City wanted to take him for a six-month trial.

One of their scouts had watched him playing for Cork City Academy in a youth cup final and, although his side had lost in extra time, Konde had played well.

An image formed in the forward's mind, of becoming a Premier League footballer and household name. What transpired was quite different and typifies the story of most aspiring young players.

Konde wasn't offered a scholarship by City and went on to have trials for teams including Stalybridge Celtic, Macclesfield Town and Altrincham. By the age of 22, “I realised I wasn’t going to be the next Jamie Vardy."

At 22, Konde realised 'I wasn't going to be the next Jamie Vardy'

At 22, Konde realised 'I wasn't going to be the next Jamie Vardy'

He fired off dozens of letters and emails to clubs and agents asking for opportunities, but most went unanswered. When they did reply, they often asked for a football CV.

“If you have an agent, they speak to clubs on your behalf," Konde explains. "If not, you need a football CV. The problem was that none of us really knew what one was.”

Konde, who was born in Guinea in West Africa before moving to Ireland with his family at the age of 10, looked on the internet for examples, but nothing really came up. This is when he had his Eureka moment.

“I could see that young footballers like me needed help putting together all of their experiences and qualifications into a CV," says the 25-year-old. “I realised there was an opportunity here for me to put all the energy I had put into football into something new."

And it wouldn't just be a paper CV or one-page PDF, it would be digital and interactive, media-rich, and available in the palm of your hand.

While working as a security guard he also enrolled on a software engineering course at Salford University.

“I built a prototype for my app in Adobe xD,” he remembers, “but soon realised I needed some more help to get my idea off the ground.”

He researched potential investors online and sent off emails and direct messages on social media but, again, didn't get much job. This was when he had another brainwave. A friend of his was playing at Bury’s Academy, alongside the grandson of former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce.

Konde remembered reading that Big Sam was a big believer in the role of tech in football. After finding out where he lived and when he might be in, Konde knocked on Allardyce front door in December 2020.

The only problem was it was during the Covid lockdown and the manager had just accepted the West Brom job, so Konde had to wait until the following summer to come back. This time Allardyce invited him in and they sat at his kitchen table for a couple of hours.

“Sam was super nice,” Konde remembers. “He listened to my idea and he told me about the Clarke brothers, Andy and Phil, who were his friends and had set up and sold a company called the Sports Office.

“Sam phoned Andy and said, ‘I’ve got a young lad here with me and he’s got a brilliant idea. You need to see him.’”

ROUTES APP

Eighteen months on and Konde’s idea is reality. The Clarke brothers helped him to develop it and Allardyce came on board as an investor.

The Routes App is now available on mobile, for both Android and iOS, and on desktop too. It is described as ‘the CV for Gen Z’ and enables young footballers to record and showcase their development journeys within club Academies.

This is crucial whether they are trying to get trials with other clubs, or leaving the game altogether for new careers. The app was developed by Routes Project Lead Stuart Green and Konde says: “What he has managed to output from my idea and prototype is amazing. I am really happy with the outcome.

“Academy footballers get so much experience compared to normal civilians. The app showcases all of that brilliantly and it will be a powerful tool for them in their future careers.”

Green says: “Ansoumane explained that footballers were leaving Academies with ideas and experiences but had nothing tangible to show for it. The Routes app is a holistic development record of a scholar’s journey.

“We wanted to create a product that looked after the user and the user owned it.”

There are five main sections on the homepage of the app: profile, education, personal development, football and references.

Along the bottom edge there is a ‘control centre’, with five icons: profile home, progression overview, notifications, CV Central and a + button which enables users to add video, audio and text.

The app, which you can see in more detail HERE, automatically populates the CV using this content. By signing up for a subscription package, clubs will be able to give the app to their scholars, with assigned staff and mentors taking an overview.

Education and welfare officers, for example, will be able to oversee the progress of each scholar, check that they are doing what they need to and send notifications if they need to submit information or coursework.

Mike Hurn, the experienced Head of Education and Welfare at Wigan Athletic, has advised on the development of the app.

He tells TGG: “As soon as it was proposed, I could see this was something that was missing and needed within the game. I think the app will positively influence players who are taking that next step and stop those questions we get five years after they have left - ‘have you got that certificate or details of that course I did?’

“Now this will all be recorded in one place in an easily accessible format. Rather than seeing being released as a negative, the app allows players to celebrate all of the great things they have experienced and achieved within the Academy. There will be lots.

“Some of these young players have been in the game for 10 years and have had a unique journey and experiences.”

Simon Wilson, the Sporting Director at Stockport County, agrees that the Academy experience is something to be celebrated.

The app enables users to create an interactive and evolving CV

The app enables users to create an interactive and evolving CV

Stockport re-entered the Academy system this season after 11 years away, having been promoted back to the Football League.

“We want to make a promise to young people and their parents that their experiences with the club will be positive,” Wilson says. “When they come out of the system, it is important to be able to tell a story and evidence it with a clean tool. That’s exactly what Routes does.

“It is easy to use, easy to digitise and receive, yet powerful as well. It provides extra layers for prospective employers to understand more about the person and the player.”

Academy football was also passion and priority for Jonathan Jackson during his 10 years as Chief Executive of Wigan Athletic, from 2010 to 2020.

During that decade, Jackson experienced almost everything that football has to throw at you: three seasons in the Premier League, European football and a famous FA Cup triumph, yet also successive relegations to the Championship and then League One.

The club managed to achieve Category Two Academy status during that time and produced homegrown players like Joe Gelhardt, Alfie Devine and Kyle Joseph. Jackson knows there is the need to celebrate and support the journeys of those who have not made it as pros, which is the vast majority of scholars.

“I know that players in the Academy system have the dream of making it as pros, but the stats tell us that a lot of them don’t make it,” says Jackson, who is a consultant for Routes.

“It’s great to be able to provide them with an additional tool like this to help them move on from football or find another club. There are lots of routes out of football and we wanted to make sure that the players were prepared to take those opportunities.

An interactive infographic CV is a clever way of showcasing yourself as a footballer and also your transferable skills Jonathan Jackson, former Wigan CEO

“I think this is one way we can help the clubs to help the players to do that.”

The Routes App will initially be aimed at scholars (aged 16 to 18), but will also be valuable for those who are both younger and older in future.

“Coming out of football can be a big shock for pros aged 33, 34 as well,” Jackson explains. “Not all of them are millionaires and a lot of players in the EFL have to look at future careers, in or out of football.

“Building up an interactive infographic modern CV is a really clever way of showcasing yourself as both a pro footballer and also in terms of the transferable skills you have.”

After his first dream of becoming a professional football ended, Konde is now realising his second one, of becoming an entrepreneur. He is also helping young footballers who, like himself, are wondering what to do next at the end of their Academy careers.

“The Academy players I have spoken to about this have really related to my story,” the 25-year-old says. “As a young footballer, you have all of this energy and tunnel vision, but you don’t realise these skills can be used for whatever else you want to do in this world.

"You have resilience, networking skills and life experiences from your football career to be successful in anything else. Once I realised this, it gave me new confidence. I was determined to help other footballers to capture all of this experience and all of these qualities too.

"Hopefully Routes can help players to harness all of this. That is my new dream.”

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