Big interviews: Soccer adventures abroad
The spectacular rise to stardom of Preston's MLS ace Luke Mulholland should be an inspiration to every young, ambitious footballer.
That is the view of Soccer Smart Ltd managing director Elliot Livesey, whose company specialises in providing overseas opportunities for local players.
Twenty-eight-year-old Mulholland is an example of what can be achieved – even if your dream of ‘making it’ in English football does not materialise.
Snubbed by the professional game in his home country, the former Fulwood High School pupil decided to take up the opportunity of a four-year football scholarship in the United States of America after leaving Preston’s College.
It is a decision which he has never regretted and a decade later, he now plies his trade as a professional footballer for Real Salt Lake in US football’s top flight.
Having rose up steadily through the US collegiate system, Mulholland made his name in the North American Soccer League with NSC Minnesota Stars and later Tampa Bay Rowdies.
He hit the big time in 2014 when he was signed by the Royals and over the past three years, he has shared the same pitch as world renowned stars such as Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Kaka and his idol Steven Gerrard.
Livesey is well aware of Mulholland’s success across the pond – the pair were actually team-mates in the same Cadley Boys team, which played in the Central Lancashire Junior League.
They then later followed similar paths by embarking on scholarships in the States.
Livesey studied business and Spanish in Atlanta, while Mulholland completed a degree in sports management in North Carolina.
Although two serious knee injuries prevented Livesey – a former schoolboy striker with Burnley who played alongside current Southampton forward Jay Rodriguez at Turf Moor – from pursuing a career in the pro game like Mulholland, he returned home determined to help others experience the joys of playing overseas.
So far, Soccer Smart Ltd – which is based at Cotton Court, in Church Street, Preston – has helped place around 500 players from the UK into various universities and clubs across the world, including in countries such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.
Livesey set up his company in his final few months of university and has grown the firm in tandem with his business partner – fellow US university graduate – Chris Anderson, who studied at the University of Rio Grande, in Ohio.
“Luke is not a player we obviously helped, but we use him as a great example of somebody who has gone through the US system and has been hugely successful,” said Livesey.
“I actually played in the same team as Luke at Cadley Boys.
“At that time, I would probably say I was the better player.
“Luke was quite small but he was always technically very good.
“I think doing a US scholarship allowed him to develop physically and mentally to the level that he is today.
“I don’t think taking the non-league route in this country would have worked as well although you never know.
“Going over to the US certainly worked for Luke and he’s now playing at a standard which is probably the equivalent of League One and League Two, maybe even the Championship.
“Luke also came out with a degree and is currently studying for his Masters.”
Although very few players will reach the highest level like Mulholland has, both Livesey and Anderson believe an opportunity to play abroad as well as either study or work at the same time, offers a great life experience.
Having experienced it themselves, the pair have built up a huge wealth of contacts and knowledge and are able to use their expertise to guide players on their own journey.
They are strict on who they send out overseas and personally scout and watch every player.
They will hold trial days regularly during the year where hopefuls can showcase their talents.
In recent years, due to the rise in profile of the women’s game worldwide, there has also been a marked rise in the amount of girls wishing to embark on a football adventure overseas.
To facilitate this, Soccer Smart has recently appointed current Everton winger Amber Stobbs to their team.
One of the rising stars of the women’s game in this country, 22-year-old Stobbs also has inside knowledge of the US scholarship programme having studied for a psychology and sports science degree at Hoftsra University, based near New York City.
Attached to both Arsenal and Chelsea as a junior, Stobbs signed for Reading in the Women’s Super League in 2016 after starring for Washington Spirit in the US.
“I went to New York to study and played over in the US for five years,” Stobbs said.
“It was a great experience.”