Football is a truly global game. In fact, it's the world's number one sport, with an estimated 265 million people lacing up their boots for a kickabout at least once a week. What's more, an additional five million people take on the brave job of refereeing games at all levels, bringing the total amount of people active in the beautiful game to 270 million -- 4% of the entire global population.

As well as enjoying the thrill of scoring a last-minute winner, players of all abilities get so much more from the game. For many, football is a vital part of their social life, keeping them connected with friends and fostering a sense of belonging. Football is also a great way to stay fit, which has huge benefits for your overall sense of wellbeing and mental health. It's also one of the best ways to teach young people about teamwork and cooperation, as well as other important emotional skills such as commitment, resilience, and humility. 

Even more people enjoy watching the game, especially during high-profile events such as the FIFA World Cup. Audits from the 2018 World Cup in Russia show a record 3.572 billion people (nearly half of everyone on earth!) tuned in to the tournament, while 1.12 billion viewers worldwide watched France lift the trophy after their 4-2 victory in the final against Croatia.

One person who, fuelled by his lifelong passion for the game, is working for change in football is Gustavo Azevedo. The recent graduate from the Professional Master in Football Business at The Football Business Academy (FBA) says, “Since school, I always talked about football and I believed I wanted to do something related to football.”

“At The FBA, we are so many people from different countries,” he adds. “Thanks to The FBA, I had so many experiences here. We now have friends around the world and I’m sure they will help me and I will help them throughout our lives, no matter what.

“After joining The FBA in September of 2018, I was certain that I had chosen the right path to follow my dreams of working in the football industry. The reason I chose The FBA in the first place was mainly their internship module and thanks to them I had the opportunity to go to Latvia to work together with Virsliga.”

At Virsliga, in the Latvian Premier League, he was “immersed in the whole process of running a football league”, from marketing and social media to media rights and budgeting. He also worked on a project for Latvian football clubs’ development, where he met with a representative of ECA (European Club Association) to attempt to make clubs more professionalized. Aside from working to build the game in the relatively small European country, he made great connections and even created a podcast on social media where he interviewed football professionals in the Baltic nations, learning from what they have to say about football. 

“I think knowledge can be found anywhere and I had a great opportunity to learn from those people,” he adds. “I strongly believe that we can learn from exchanging experiences. My time at Virsliga was amazing. I was able to fully emerge myself into the “backstage” of football, network and get to know a country like Latvia which many people would be surprised to know how extraordinary it actually is. I strongly believe that I will leave Riga with the best learning I could have asked for and with the certainty of a great experience, all of this is because of The FBA and the people of Virsliga.” 

He concludes, “I believe everyone has a dream and they have to pursue it no matter what. Of course, I had to leave my family and my friends to go to another country with a very different culture but I got there and I saw so many people that do the same as me. It sounds hard at the beginning but [on graduation day] it is amazing to feel that despite leaving a lot of things we care about, we are here and we are pursuing and conquering our dream and the feeling is amazing!” 

The rise of women's football

One of the most significant changes in the modern game is the rise of women's football. Established media outlets such as the BBC now report on women’s games, while iconic football shows such as Match of the Day regularly include current or former female players as presenters. This new, inclusive approach to women's football has turned players such as Alex Scott, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe into household names and inspired young girls all around the world to play an active role in ‘the beautiful game’. 

Arianna Criscione is one such woman. She graduated from The FBA this year and recently landed a dual role in the sponsorship department of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and playing as a professional goalkeeper for the French club’s women’s side, PSG Féminine. 

She participated in classes dedicated to women's development in football at The FBA, which is pioneering in this regard (and many others), offering as it does the first women's development class. Arianna said, "Hopefully, we don't need a day where we have to have a women's development class; it's just natural for us to be in all the classes. But until that day comes, it's great to have a class on Women's Development."

Building a better world through football 

In addition to helping PSG on and off the pitch, Arianna is also working to help make the game better for everyone. She recently followed in the footsteps of Juan Mata, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Giorgio Chiellini, Jurgen Klopp, and many others by becoming a member of Common Goal. This organization is, through football, helping to develop better medical care for those living with HIV/AIDS, promoting gender equality, and providing vital resources to children in Haiti whose lives were devastated by years of internal conflict. The 500+ Common Goal members donate 1% of their earnings into a central fund which is then allocated to organizations committed to making the world a better place. 

“I’m really excited to announce that I have joined the team of Common Goal, together trying to make a difference and improve the lives of others around the world through football,” she said recently. “I’m excited to announce that I will be teaming up with GOALS For Haiti, and the reason I chose GOALS For Haiti is that a good friend of mine [fellow Football Business Academy graduate Marie Elise Obas] worked with them and explained to me what they are doing, how they are improving communities around Haiti and helping the lives of children through education, health, and in other ways through football. So I’m really excited to join with them and I hope more people join Common Goal.”

A football match can be more than just a game. It can be a special event which unites people from all over the world, transcending national, racial, and ethnic barriers, when locals cheer on players from across the globe or when third and second-generation immigrants can raise a World Cup trophy and be celebrated by an entire nation (as with, for example, France with their World Cup win last year).

But the beauty of football is that you don’t have to have a perfectly marked, grass pitch and 22 players; anyone can literally pick up the ball and play. This is the ethos of the World Freestyle Football Association. Founded just under three years ago, it already has 106 country members in its network, with goals including the promotion of women’s football, strengthening community spirit, and spreading enjoyment for people whatever their environment. 

“We are trying to take what is essentially a street demographic, a street sport, and make it more accessible as a sport and less scary on the street but more secure for the parents, schools and teachers but to retain the cool element for kids to pick it up anywhere. That is the biggest challenge!” its co-founder Daniel Wood, now a professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation with The FBA, says of his mission in football. Anyone can pick up a ball and juggle it and now they can live from it in a realistic context from competing against each other to the arts side of it where they can show off their skills as a job.”

Where you can kick off your career in football

Football business students are perfectly positioned to help drive such changes within football and society as a whole. And The Football Business Academy (FBA) is the perfect place for anyone who wants to do this! 

Dedicated to producing the next generation of industry leaders, The FBA's Professional Master’s in Football Business includes everything you need to know about the modern game, including fan engagement, ethics and professionalism, and financial strategy. 

The fourth and final module of the Master is an exciting two-month stay in beautiful Geneva, Switzerland, where FBA Candidates learn all about football governance and leadership in football; go on Field Trips to leading football bodies such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, the United Nations, and the International Olympic Committee; and conduct a Student Business Project. 

The Student Business Project allows FBA Candidates to dive deep into an aspect of football business which interests and motivates them. For example, recently graduated Gustavo Azevedo, Micael Da Costa, and Vipul Saraf worked on the mission ‘The Customer Journey in the 2020s: Challenges and Opportunities’, and, after two months of work, flew to Lisbon to deliver and present their project to top Portuguese club and FBA Partner, Benfica, showcasing that they were ready to join the football industry.

The Master’s program is supervised by a team of highly experienced football professionals, and The FBA has over 2,500 top-level industry contacts, as well as more than 20 partners offering guaranteed internships. FBA's illustrious partners include some of the biggest names in world football, such as worldwide football conference Soccerex (which FBA candidates participate in as part of the program), Common Goal, Street Football World, and football clubs Galatasaray, Benfica, and Olympique Lyonnais. Students get a chance to learn even more from a stellar line-up of 50 guest speakers from every area of the football industry. 

Programs start in September or March and run for 12 months. Students then graduate with a Professional Master’s in Football Business, setting them up for a long and successful career in their dream industry. In fact, 90% of FBA graduates find full-time employment within three months of graduating. 

Simon Vikoler also graduated from FBA earlier this year and has already landed a job at world-famous UEFA, where he works as an International Sales Consultant. He said, “Being able to contribute to the European football governing body is just a dream come true. It means so much to me to face all the challenges involved in the game and to make the game even better."

Simon puts his success down to the support he received from FBA, as well as something that's integral to every aspect of football -- passion!

"The best advice I can give to the people trying to pursue a career in football is to follow your heart," said Simon. "If you love the game, there will be a place for you in the industry, and you will be able to do great things. It comes down to passion!"

So if you're looking for a place to turn your passion for football into a career, kick off your career in football with The Football Business Academy.

Article written in association with The Football Business Academy.