Commentary

Be proactive in planning post-football career

Steven Gerrard gave an interview to The Times last week in which he said that he wished he had done his coaching badges in his 20s rather than sitting around watching box sets and playing computer games.

"I have regrets now that I didn't start my coaching badges at 21 or 22," he said. "All that time I have wasted in hotels being an England player in the afternoon when I have been bored and I have been watching The Office and The Sopranos. I wish I had done my C, B and A badges so I would be doing my Pro Licence now."

Notwithstanding that The Sopranos and The Office are two of the finest TV programmes, and should be a part of the education of any youngster, can there have been a more telling statement of the mindset that has become so dominant in football and beyond?

You see, Gerrard doesn't take personal responsibility for having vegetated in front of a television day after day rather than expanding his mind.

No, he seems to blame everyone else. It is the clubs who should have dragged him into the classroom and the FA (English football association) who should have provided the tuition. In short, Gerrard wanted himself and his team-mates to be spoon-fed.

As he put it: "I had a meeting with the FA and said... 'don't let (players) go away from the game, do more to keep them involved'. (Players) should be getting offers they cannot refuse. A player who has got 100 caps and 700 club games, how can a club and the FA just let them go?"

One of the underlying problems is that many players don't compute that their careers will one day end, and so don't feel the need to prepare for their futures. They delude themselves that fans will be singing their names forever, and that they will be earning fortunes indefinitely. This is why so many hit bankruptcy so soon after retirement: They have not learnt to calibrate their outgoings to their drastically reduced incomings, and still have not got their heads around the need to reskill.

I am not having a dig at Gerrard; I am merely highlighting the sense of entitlement contained within his world view.

He could quite easily have done the coaching badges under his own steam. Hell, he had enough money to pay for the tutors to come to his hotel room or, indeed, mansion. But, no. Unless it was laid out on a plate, he didn't see it as part of his responsibility. That was somebody else's job.

And it is not as if this attitude is unique. I have visited dozens of academies and noted a dispiriting lack of proactivity among the players. They train hard in the mornings, but when it comes to exercising their brains in the afternoons, many don't want to know.

One of the underlying problems is that many players don't compute that their careers will one day end, and so don't feel the need to prepare for their futures. They delude themselves that fans will be singing their names forever, and that they will be earning fortunes indefinitely.

This is why so many hit bankruptcy so soon after retirement: They have not learnt to calibrate their outgoings to their drastically reduced incomings, and still have not got their heads around the need to reskill.

The other problem is more subtle. Football in England is often positioned as a physical game. It is about strength and muscle, a good set of lungs, and a good pair of feet.

In Germany and Spain, however, this presumption is reversed. Football in these countries is considered a cerebral activity. It is about vision, intelligence, positioning, teamwork and understanding the complex patterns on the pitch to pick out the right pass.

And yet it is precisely because football is considered an intellectual pursuit in Spain and Germany that players do not regard coaching badges or studying as somehow alien to their day jobs, but as synonymous with them.

They actively seek out learning opportunities, they think of themselves as students on and off the pitch, and are more engaged in shaping their post-playing careers. This also makes them more responsible on the pitch, too.

And this is why I sincerely believe that English football needs a revolution in mindset. We need to conceive of the game in a new way, and players must be encouraged to develop a keener sense of responsibility.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Be proactive in planning post-football career'. Print Edition | Subscribe