Professional football provides a unique career path that may be short but extremely rewarding. Becoming a professional footballer does not necessarily involve an academic qualification but talent, skill, and experience that could literally turn a good player into a millionaire overnight.
The career length is short due to the early diminishing physical fitness of sportspeople. Players usually sign their first professional contract around their early twenties, with the average length of their football career spanning 15 years. Most retire on average by the age of 35.
The question then becomes what to do upon retirement. Fortunately, there is a wide range of career options that ex-footballers have explored. Also, with their fame and popularity, their options are limitless.
Most football retirees find themselves in football management and coaching, in the media as football commentators or presenters, in business, in professional careers, etc. Some of those who had regular jobs before their football careers retire to own businesses in the industry they are passionate about.
Here are some well-known retired or ex-footballers now involved in different careers:
1. Manager or coach: Since the likes of ex-football great Johan Cryuff introduced dynamism and flair to football coaching, we have seen more and more footballers retire from the game only to join the coaching ranks.
Even in Nigeria, our own Christian Chukwu, and Augustine Egwuavoen were all ex-footballers who became successful as coaches.
Ex-Nigerian Super Eagles captain, the late Stephen Keshi has won the Nations Cup both as a player captain and coach. There are several other former players that have been successful coaches all over the world.
Whilst some coaches do not earn as much as they did when they played they still go on to have very successful careers. We also have ex-footballers who may not have had great careers as footballers but went on to have great careers as coaches. Notable examples are Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.
2. Business owners or serial entrepreneurs: Ex-footballers with a flair for business have built amazing businesses as entrepreneurs. Some of these guys achieved this while playing football or immediately after retirement. And it does make a lot of sense, especially if you consider how much they earn during their playing careers which as we all know is just for a 10-15 year period. Smart, players, take some of the money they made over the years they start new businesses. Here are some examples;
Kanu Nwankwo is a former Nigerian professional footballer who played as a forward in the Nigeria national team and foreign clubs like Dutch side Ajax, Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs- Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. He retired in 2010 and now runs a hotel in Lagos and other business ventures together with his NGO, Kanu Heart Foundation.
Oliver Kahn, a former German goalkeeper, has been commenting on games for German broadcaster ZDF since 2008. In January 2020, he became a board member of FC Bayern. Kahn also founded the company Goalplay, which offers a special coaching app and sells goalkeeper gloves and bags.
Gerard Piqué, a former FC Barcelona defender, now successfully participates in poker tournaments and invests with his company Kosmos Global Holding in various industries, including tennis and media. He also owns the Spanish third-division club FC Andorra.
Pirlo is not the only ex-football player to have retired as a winemaker — Andres Iniesta and Johan Micoud are also wine connoisseurs
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish former striker, who still plays at 40 years old, launched an app called “Zlatan Unplugged” and created a mobile game called “Zlatan Legends”. In 2016, he started a sports fashion brand called A-Z.
3. Employed in other sectors: Not everyone can be an entrepreneur and this also applies to footballers who might just prefer to go into employment. Here are some examples we can point to.
Stuart Ripley is an English former professional footballer who played as a winger from 1985 until 2002. Post-football, he studied at the University of Central Lancashire, graduating in 2007, with a first-class combined honours degree in Law and French. In 2010 Ripley became a qualified solicitor and is now a member of the FA’s Judicial Panel.
Jeffrey Whitley from Zambia is a former professional footballer who played in the Premier League for Manchester City and Sunderland. He now works for the Professional Footballers Association as a player well-being executive.
Arjan De Zeeuw is a former Dutch professional footballer who played as a center-back. Upon his retirement in 2009, De Zeeuw began working as an investigative detective in Alkmaar, specializing in forensics.
There are several others, especially in Nigeria who have adopted new careers other than football
4. Football club owners: Some ex-footballers don’t just leave football, they end up owning a franchise thereby employing footballers and people in football management. We do not have a lot of them in Africa or indeed the world, but we are seeing a growing number of ex-footballers owning football clubs. Here are some examples;
David Beckham, former star of Manchester United and Real Madrid, was one of the first footballers to make a name for himself outside of football. He is the current president and co-owner of Inter Miami CF and co-owner of Salford City.
Some former players have even gone on to buy a football club. Former Manchester United players: Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Nicky Butt bought semi-pro Northern Premier League side Salford City in 2014.
5. Pundits or Media personalities: We have in recent years seen more and more footballers veer into the world of entertainment and media. I mean, who would have thought that the likes of Victor Ikepba will be on the radio or TV discussing football as pundits? But it does make a lot of sense! These are people who have played at the highest level so they provide unique insights when discussing pre, during and post-match analysis. Here are some.
Austin ‘JJ’ Okocha played in the Bundesliga, Turkish Super Lig, French Super Lig, and others before his retirement in 2008. He is a pundit and runs a nightclub in Victoria Island, Lagos. He is a brand ambassador for BetKing and some consumer brands.
In other parts of Africa, ex-Ghanian footballer Asamoah Gyang is a notable pundit on Super Sports, providing unique insights into games.
On the foreign scene, the likes of Rio Ferdinand, and Michael Owen have also experienced football pundits.
We also have the likes of ex-Super Eagles player, Efan Ekoku who has made a remarkable career as a football commentator for some of the major sports networks in the UK.
What about the likes of Segun Odegbami who played for Shooting Stars of Ibadan from 1970 to 1984? In June 2022, he launched a radio station called Eagles 7 Sports Radio 103.7 FM in Nigeria.
Gary Neville of Manchester United, Jamie Carragher of Liverpool and Thierry Henry of Arsenal became television or radio pundits in the days of their retirement from football.
Gary Winston Lineker OBE is an English former professional footballer and current sports broadcaster. His media career began with the BBC, where he has presented the flagship football program Match of the Day since the late 1990s. He has also previously worked for Al Jazeera Sports, BR Sports and others.