Soccerex European Forum (Manchester): Life After the Final Whistle
Day 1 – Wednesday 10 April 2013
14:00 – 15:00 Life After the Final Whistle
– Gaizka Mendieta, Pundit, Sky Sports
– Ledley King, Ambassador, Tottenham Hotspur FC
– Edwin van der Sar, Marketing Director, Ajax FC
– Edu Gaspar, Director of Football, Corinthians FC
– Moderator: Guillem Balague, Sky Sports Presenter
Guillem Balague began this session by providing a brief introduction of the panel members to the audience and asking if the ex-players had reached a point know where they were no longer recognised in the street and how this made them feel. First up was Gaizka Mendieta who was one of the most expensive players in the world after his move from Valencia to Lazio. Mendieta said that he took a year out after retiring to decide what he wanted to do. Next on stage was Ledley King who said that he had not had time on dwell on it really as he went straight from retiring as a player into an Ambassadorial role at Tottenham. On his introduction to the audience, Edwin van der Sar said that he never went out to seek the limelight and was happy at not being recognised. He added that in England the press pretty much left you alone if you kept a low profile, unlike Italy. Finally, Balague introduced Edu, who was best known in this country for his time at Arsenal and was now Director of Football at current World Club Champions, Corinthians in Brazil. Edu said that being involved in football in Brazil meant you were always recognised.
With the panel introduced, Balague put to them all how they felt on that first morning when they realised they didn’t have to go training. Ledley King responded that he had retired prior to pre-season which had always been his favourite time in terms of training. He added it was the first time he had not had to attend since he was 15 or 16 years old and although he missed it, you simply have to get on with accepting it. Gaizka Mendieta said that he was ready to retire and had business interests even before he stopped playing, so had prepared for the end of his career. For Edwin van der Sar and reaching 40 years old he knew he had a decision to make. He continued that he could have played on at a lower level, but instead finished his career in a Champions League Final (albeit a losing appearance) and that it was his decision to stop playing. Edu said that he returned to Brazil to finish his career, but that last season didn’t go well as he wasn’t fit, so he knew it was time to finish.
Guillem Balague next asked the panel about what they were currently doing. Edu said that initially after retiring that he was going to work outside of football. However, when the chance came to work at Corinthians, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Edwin van der Sar responded that he had done his Coaching Badges in his final season at Manchester United and believed he could have gone on and been a goalkeeping coach. However, he returned to Holland and studied and then an opportunity arose at Ajax as Director of Marketing. Given the last two answers, Balague asked about the influence of clubs in assisting players after retirement. Ledley King replied that as a player he was solely focused on playing and had not really given much thought about his career after playing. He acknowledged that he had been fortunate at Spurs, as since retiring he was working with the Club in the Community and doing his Coaching Badges. King said he had been at Spurs for 17 years and it is a very privileged and structured ‘bubble’ that means it can take time to find yourself once you retire. Coaching was a possibility for him in the future and he had done some sessions in South Africa recently.
Gaizka Mendieta was asked by Guillem Balague if he was walking in a park and a ball rolled in front of him, would he want to join in the game. Mendieta said that as a player back then, the answer would be ‘No’, but now that he had retired the answer would be ‘Yes’. He continued that he knew it was the time to end his playing days and he needed a break. Mendieta continued that he had various options now, as he worked as a pundit for Sky, had his badges if he wanted to coach and had his hobby of being a DJ. He continued that he enjoyed life in England as his private life was respected and his opinions as a pundit were respected.
Guillem Balague then turned to Edu and asked about the injuries and pain that people don’t see or consider once players retire. The ex-Brazilian international replied that he still has to deal with it daily, but that his career was worth it. Edu added that in order to control the injuries and pain a certain level of fitness has to be maintained. Balague then asked if Edu could understand what others thought it was like to be in the ‘bubble’ of being a professional football. He answered that he explained to people that football was hard, as was life in and out of the game and hoped they respected and understood this.
Balague then put to the panel whether the ‘silence’ of home now that they were no longer playing was strange. Edwin van der Sar said that he didn’t miss all the noise, adulation and recognition that followed games and that home felt ‘normal’. He continued that he was now in a new phase of his life and that his working day was that of an office worker. Van der Sar admitted that he did miss the training sessions, but knew that he couldn’t physically do them to the required level nowadays.
Ledley King was asked by Guillem Balague whether he had dreams about playing. King replied that he had always had to do a great deal of mental preparation because he was unable to do the full physical training. Now obviously there was no need to go through that task.
Next up Balague asked if as a result of retiring, they realised who their friends were. Gaizka Mendieta acknowledged that since ending his playing days, his ‘real’ friends had remained. For Ledley King, he still had some people around him from his playing days, but recognised for other ex-players not to have some ‘attention’ could be difficult to handle. Edwin van der Sar joked that at last he didn’t have the hassle of sorting out tickets and pass outs for family and friends. He continued though that with a busy working and family life, time was limited and therefore friends had to be ‘planned in’. Edu agreed with the Dutchman that family time was important and that he was as busy now as he was in his playing days.
The panel was then asked if they felt like they were ‘kids’ now having to grow up and be adults now that their careers had finished. First to respond was Edu who said that your mind-set had to change as there were serious decisions to be made, which no one else could make for you. Balague additionally asked whether they changed according to whether they were surrounded by non-players. Gaizka Mendieta replied that personally he dealt with everyone in the same manner, but returning to Edu’s earlier answer acknowledged that once away from playing, some struggled with making their own arrangements. Ledley King reflected that as an apprentice at Spurs he working cleaning out the dressing and training rooms and cleaned players boots. He wished that this was still the case as he believed it gave young players a sense of pride and an idea of growing up. King continued that young players today now went from school to clubs without coming into contact with the ‘real world’. He added that he had no regrets about his career and that he had worked hard, but was now looking for a new passion. Edwin van der Sar added that since retiring he had thought about the loses, the Finals he played in, but was enjoying life and the responsibility of his new role. Guillem Balague asked the former Dutch International whether rumours of a comeback at Ajax were true. Van der Sar said that there had been a bit of a crisis recently with one keeper injured and another suspended, but that the third-choice goalkeeper had stepped-up. He continued that the pace would have been too great for any really chance of making a comeback.
Balague then asked Edu whether he would have done anything differently in his career. The Brazilian replied that he had played for his country and ‘big’ clubs in his homeland, England and Spain and that his dreams had come true.
Guillem Balague next asked the panel about the advice they would give to young players. Edu replied that they should focus on education, train hard for football, but ultimately be themselves. For young players, Edwin van der Sar said that it was important they enjoyed the experience and listened to their coaches. He also added that he lamented for the fact that children no longer played on the streets which he believed impacted on young players today. Ledley King reinforced that hard work and dedication was important, as was the ability to deal with the set-backs of rejection by clubs and things such as injuries. Gaizka Mendieta joked that the rest of the panel had not left him with anything to add, but said on a serious note that young players needed to understand there was more to life than football and therefore education was important. The former Spanish international added that they should listen to the right advice and respect the profession.
The session was concluded with Balague asking if the idea of football being more important than ‘life and death’ was different as a player as non-player. For Gaizka Mendieta it was no different as although he loved football, he could always switch ‘on and off’. Ledley King added that when playing of course the game was high on the list of priorities as was family and health, but the issue was trying to find the balance. For Edwin van der Sar, as a young player he was very focused and added that as an older player he was more relaxed as he understood the level required. Edu had the final word, saying that as a manager in Brazil, football is life and death.