Off The Ball

Leaving football behind

Guy Ritchie with cast members Vinnie Jones and Adam Fogerty at the premiere of 'Snatch'
© Getty Images

For the lucky ones amongst us, the decision of what to do when we retire is a big and daunting question that people spend years pondering.

Footballers face a slightly different proposition to most of us, with half of their working life still ahead of them by the time most have hung up their boots. As we all know, many choose to stay in the professional field of football, becoming coaches and pundits, but others decide to turn their back on the game entirely and find something new.

FIFA.comhas decided to take a look at those in the latter category, who decided to step away from what they knew and climb a completely different career ladder.

European Cup-winner and Australian icon Craig Johnston, who was something of a trailblazer for Aussies playing abroad, called time on his career at just 27-years-old but ended up still having some contact with football, though in quite an original way.

After being told by a group of young children he was coaching that swerving the ball in the rain was too difficult, Johnston went home and attached the rubber from a table tennis bat - after using it as an analogy for how to curl a ball - to his boot with an elastic band, to provide more grip. This gave birth to the first prototype of what would be known around the world as the adidas Predator boot.

He became an almost full-time designer, but was turned down by all the major sports brands after three years of development and 100 designs, so he turned to Bayern Munich for help. “I knocked on the door and Frank Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner were having a board meeting,” Johnston said. “I said 'guys you've got to help me, I'm a fellow footballer, please will you put this boot on, come out and kick the ball?'.”

After filming the three legends having a kickabout with the early design, Beckenbauer and Rummenigge filmed a message for the adidas executives. “[Adidas] put it on a big screen, and these guys who all laughed at me six months before, all got up and started clapping.” A deal was done right there and then. “Whatever they said on that tape was amazing, but I still don't know what it was!” the Aussie admits. It is now the best-selling boot of all time.

Former Chelsea and Newcastle United midfielder Gavin Peacock took a fairly familiar route out of the game, as a television pundit, but suddenly took a drastic turn away after UEFA EURO 2008, deciding to emigrate to Canada and study theology to become a church leader.

“I was in my study reading my Bible when it seemed someone had highlighted the words on the pages. I suddenly felt the calling to preach," the former Queens Park Rangers man said. “Not long after I was living in a small town in a strange country, getting up at seven in the morning to study Hebrew at eight, followed by ancient Greek at ten. And I wondered, 'What have I got myself into?”

World Cup-winning workers
Another who chose the business of life and death was 1966 FIFA World Cup™-winner Ray Wilson, who is still renowned as one of England's finest-ever left-backs, by becoming an undertaker until retiring from the profession in 1997.

The job was far from easy, being a one-man operation, with Wilson recalling: “I could be in bed three or four nights and the phone would ring at 3am. Up and out, get back here at 5am. The phone could ring again at 5.30am, and out again.

“Playing football is a lot easier than directing a funeral. Mind you, I suppose I was more gifted at the football.”

While Johnston created something tangibly football-related, former Aston Villa and Coventry City striker Dion Dublin has followed his entrepreneurial instincts to invent his own instrument. The Dube, a cubic multi-pitched drum, started to take shape as his career drew to a close.

“I started building prototypes a few years ago when I was enjoying my second spell at Norwich City to see if I could produce what was in my mind,” Dublin said, who is also a band manager and saxophonist. “I spent a lot of time in the local builders buying wood to make the fledgling Dubes and, little by little, I perfected my concept!”

Back in the spotlight
After a career at the top of football, relinquishing your position as centre of attention could be a tough prospect for some. But future retiring stars can fear not as French striker Eric Cantona and Wimbledon midfielder Vinnie Jones both have forged careers in the film industry.

With over 100 acting credits between them, they have certainly not been confined to just the occasional role. Both have famously played characters that maybe did not stretch particularly far from the persona's crafted in their previous careers, with Cantona playing a philosophising version of himself in 'Looking for Eric' and Jones playing a hard-man footballer in 'Mean Machine'.

Swedish striker Tomas Brolin found time to take a similar, if briefer return to the spotlight after drawing his career to a close with a cameo appearance in a music video – alongside tennis star Bjorn Borg. Pictured in a helicopter and limousine during fellow Swede Dr Alban's video for 'Friends in Need', the forward – who appeared at Italy 1990 and USA 1994 – added it to his list of post-football activities which include selling his own brand of shoes and vacuum cleaners.

An international team-mate at both of those World Cups, Klas Ingesson, could hardly have decided on a more opposing career choice, choosing to become a lumberjack. “I don't think there is a more manly profession than being a lumberjack,” said the ex-PSV and Marseille midfielder. “However, it was probably more so in the past. Now there are machines to everything and the job is not as heavy duty any more. Too bad in a way, as it is good for your health.”

Even though he hardly sought the limelight, his unusual career direction did see him enjoy spot in the public eye, with a presenting spot on Swedish TV show 'Dangerous Leisures'. As a result many a fan will recognise Ingesson, but fellow Scandinavian Harald Brattbakk will only be noticeable to the most knowledgeable of fans, seeing as only his voice is evident to most in his job.

This is because the former Norway international now flies planes for a living. “Being a pilot is much harder than being a footballer. You work hard physically as a footballer but the days are very short,” the ex-Celtic man told “Then again, being able to see the sunrise – getting up above the clouds – is always something special.

“Also, I can be flying anywhere across Europe really but I’m based in Trondheim and flying back here takes me over my old stadium with Rosenborg, which is always nice. I really can’t complain.”

Former football also accounts for its share of law-makers and enforcers. Ballon d'Or winner Andriy Shevchenko and FIFA World Player of the Year 1995 George Weah are both politicians, while Iceland's first ever professional Albert Gudmundsson – who played for Rangers, Arsenal and AC Milan – was Minster of Finance in his homeland, and even ran for president in 1980.

Another Icelander in Gudni Bergsson plies his trade as a lawyer, while former Dutch defender Arjan De Zeeuw has become a detective. “It was never my intention to put my feet up after playing – I like to use my brain a little bit," said the ex-Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic centre-back. Instead of being the last line of defence in the English Premier League, he is now on the front line in Alkmaar, in his homeland, fighting the likes of human trafficking and eradicating illegal drugs from the streets.

Recalling an interview where he was questioning a detained man, De Zeeuw recalled: “He said to me, 'I’m sure you look familiar, did you used to be a footballer?’ It seemed to help him open up a bit and it was one of those reminders to me that I’m not a footballer any more, I’m a copper.”

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