Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What happens between a footballer and his agent when the player retires?

Posted on 13 August 2020 by Hal Fish

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Rob Moore is a football business manager who looked after the likes of Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar, two South Africans who graced the Premier League for many seasons.

His company managed them for the majority of their playing careers, providing a wide range of services relative to their needs both on and off the pitch.

It is not uncommon for an association between footballer and agent to last many years, but what happens to that relationship when the player stops playing?

Moore feels that all decent agents look out for their clients after they hang up their boots – even if that does mean they will no longer make any money from them.

He explains: “Quite frankly, the post-playing years are probably the years you are not going to earn anything off them. You do that as a loyalty for all the good years you’ve had and because of the relationship that you have built up with the player over time.

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He uses the example of McCarthy, who retired in 2013 but has since moved into the world of coaching.

“Benni McCarthy was single-minded, he knew he wanted to be a head coach and when he finished playing, he immediately went to do his coaching badges.

“He goes to the first managerial job. I help him and his lawyer with his contract, but I don’t ask for an agent’s fee. Don’t create any obstacles, let him get going and then once he’s proven himself, ok, then perhaps we look at things in a more commercial sense.

“But generally speaking, try and help them get into things like entry level coaching roles, media roles or as brand ambassadors.

“In some cases, if you want to charge a commission but it may cost them the opportunity, you don’t do it. Morally it’s not right. You’ve benefitted when they were high profile players, so now is your time to put a bit back.”

For those who know footballers, it comes as no surprise that all of Moore’s retired clients have stayed in the game – be it coaching or punditry or even following Moore into the agency world.

This lack of other interests can often be one of the biggest obstacles faced when looking to help his former players move into life after retirement.

“It is the exception, rather than the rule, that a player would have an outside interest that is so profound he then wants to think of a career in that field. The ones that don’t have a clear idea of what they want to do, that’s a really difficult situation.

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“Maybe he’s got a passion for music. He says, okay I wanna now become a DJ. Then you’ve got a starting off point. We can do this, we can do that. You’ve got a big name so we can probably get you some guest gigs because they like the fact that you are a footballer coming to spin music. But if they don’t have that, if they don’t have that passion, that hobby, or interest, it’s a really difficult job to guide them.”

These issues manifested when Pienaar retired in March 2018 aged 35. The South African didn’t have any kind of concrete plans for what his next step would be.

At that stage he didn’t have an interest in becoming a football coach so after talking with Pienaar, Moore decided it was best for the former Everton winger to dip his toe into broadcasting and commercial work.

“With Steven Pienaar, when he stopped playing, he just didn’t know what the next correct step would be for his career. At that stage he didn’t know if he wanted to coach, didn’t think he wanted to coach.

“I asked Steven, what do you want to do?

“I’m not sure.

“Ok Steve, you’ve done some guest TV work in South Africa, so let’s try get you to Premier League Productions in London and let’s try and see if we can integrate you into doing some media work with them.

“He goes and does it, but you can see that even though he had done well on South African television, his personality is very different to that of a Gary Neville or Jamie Redknapp or Ian Wright.

“Provided that he’s motivated to do so, you send the player on a media training course where simple things get addressed. The way you talk, your appearance, body language, all that kind of stuff. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’s gonna be able to kick on or that, ultimately, he’s necessarily going to want to travel down that road full-time.

“He’s not asking me to do his thinking for him, but I’m sitting there thinking I’ve got a responsibility to try as best I can to help and give my input. And it can be really difficult.

“Then your fall-back position is that he’s just got to go and do his coaching badges. Because he’s got to have something behind his name. So you try to encourage him to go down that route. Because that’s the only road that he knows for the previous 15 years.

Eventually, Pienaar did decide to give coaching a go. Moore says his client is now gaining great experience working with the young talents at Ajax Amsterdam.

The South African also had another option in retirement – one that he embraced enthusiastically.

“At around the time that Steven went to Premier League Productions, we held talks with Everton and they then approached us with the idea of appointing Steven as their first ever Global Ambassador.

“It was a great honour for him – he’s Everton through-and-through – and the way he handled the tasks of interacting with club sponsors, fans and the like, he was just perfect. You immediately had the sense that Steven felt at home.”

Despite now finding his feet, Pienaar clearly struggled with retirement initially. This inability to immediately and smoothly transition into life after football seems to be a reoccurring issue for many footballers.

Moore has seen it first-hand: “I think it is a difficult period for a lot of players. For a number of years, they have had their whole lives organised for them. They have been told from a young age where they’ve got to be and at what time.

“It’s funny, just having a blazer with a badge on your breast, it gives a player a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. When that whole thing goes, it’s quite an adjustment. A lot of players can just lose their way.”

Of course, the experience is different depending on the individual: “When Steven Pienaar announced his retirement, it was live on national television in South Africa. He was close to tears and it was a big issue for him.”

But for others, it can be an emotional release, liberating even, to finally feel the pressures of professional football being lifted off their shoulders.

Moore explains that most players immediately want to take 12 months off without too much responsibility. It’s a chance to escape with family and friends, an opportunity to relax away from the demands of the game. But after a little while, they all tend to get bored.

“They come back to the point where they go, ok what’s now? And then you get down to talking about their career post-playing. That’s assuming they haven’t had this discussion with you before they hang up their boots.

“Some of these players might not even know how to renew the Sky TV contract, something as basic as that.”

Moore feels that many players simply fail to adequately prepare for life after football, despite being given the opportunities to educate themselves.

“It’s just that for so many years, their head has been elsewhere: on the field trying to work out the trade that they know best, playing football.”

Pat Lally, director of the Education Charity at the PFA, explains how they try and advise players going into retirement.

“We go into the clubs on a number of occasions during the year. We give them a presentation about the PFA, and what we can provide on their behalf. Not only in terms of transition but also moving into retirement.

“For instance, anyone wishing to go to university, we provide them with £1250 a year as a bursary to enable them to purchase printers, computers, books and any other equipment they feel that they might need while they’re doing their degree.”

Moore agrees that they players are given the chance to prepare themselves for retirement, it’s just that the players often don’t listen.

“Personally, I think there is a lot of expertise out there, but so many players aren’t motivated to listen and to act upon what people are advising them.

“There is a saying, there’s none so deaf as those who will not hear. To be honest I think a fair amount of things that go wrong for players after playing are probably their own fault.

“The problem is not that the advice wasn’t available, it is that they choose to either ignore it, or listen to the wrong advice. And when I say wrong advice, I mean they listen to the immediate circle around them, which may be friends or family who are not qualified to be giving them any sort of investment advice. But they listen just because it’s their mates or it’s their family.”

The overriding feeling at the end of the day is that, whatever options are presented, it’s up to the players to make the most of them in retirement.

Moore sums it all up rather succinctly: “You can guide them up to a point but then they’ve got to start embracing what the new world is all about.”