A new football academy named after George Best has been opened on the 50th anniversary of the late star’s debut for Manchester United.
The George Best Foundation Academy, part of Belfast’s Metropolitan College, will work with 60 players aged between 16 and 18 and focus on both athletic and academic development.
Based in Best’s native city, students will undertake professional football training while studying for a Level 3 extended diploma in sport (performance and excellence).
At the launch of George Best Football Academy 50 years on from his debut match at Man United pic.twitter.com/2bWyDPdXgn— Clodagh Rice (@ClodaghLRice) September 13, 2013
The initiative, sponsored by the George Best Foundation, replaces the Belfast Met Football Academy, which was launched in 2011 as the first full-time football academy in Northern Ireland.
The opening was timed to coincide with a major anniversary in Best’s legendary footballing story.
Fifty years ago today, 17-year-old Best made his First Division debut for Manchester United against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in a 1-0 victory.
Best’s sister Barbara McNarry, patron of the foundation, said: “It is clear to see there is so much potential in the young players at Belfast Met, so we are delighted to support Northern Ireland’s future football talent by supporting the George Best Foundation Academy.
“Encouraging the young academy players to develop academic, life and leadership skills through the power of football and social inclusion is vitally important in order for them to fully develop and understand their individual talent.”
Marie-Therese McGivern, principal and chief executive of Belfast Met, said: “Belfast Metropolitan College is dedicated to playing an important role in providing a high quality educational environment alongside a structured training programme for our future athletes.
“Sponsorship from the George Best Foundation will benefit our young learners greatly as they continue to develop their academic potential whilst progressing their natural athletic talent.
“The evolution of the Football Academy to the George Best Foundation Academy at Belfast Met is testament to the tremendous achievements the players and coaches have achieved since starting just two years ago.
“With a number of our student players currently being monitored by professional clubs in the UK and others obtaining international recognition through their debuts for Northern Ireland youth teams, we are excited to see what the future holds for our newest recruits.”
Jim Magilton, elite performance director at the Irish Football Association, said: “The benefits of sport reach far beyond the impact on physical well-being of individuals, so the value of associated educational benefits should not be underestimated.
“It is a great advantage for players to take what they have learnt in the classroom on to the pitch as they will have a greater understanding of not only the game of football, but how they play as an individual and as part of a team.
“Academic learning as part of an athletic programme can have such a positive impact on young players and greatly help with their future career prospects.”
The George Best Foundation Academy will train at the state-of-the-art sports facilities at the University of Ulster’s Jordanstown Campus on the outskirts of Belfast.