Dishing out an education on the pitch is one thing; deciding to return to the classroom after you’ve hung up your boots is quite another. But for the modern footballer, the idea of swapping a ball for a ballpoint is no longer so far-fetched.
Still, as former Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey admits, the thought of going back to school did not come easily. “It was daunting because I left school at 16, but what’s interesting is that we’ve all taken to it fine. We’re all learning new skills and learning about ourselves at the same time.”
Heskey is enrolled on UEFA’s Executive Master for International Players (MIP) course, which is open to those who have represented their country at senior level or played in European club competitions. It’s a two-year course on business management and administration that includes seven week-long sessions in cities around the world. Graduates receive a master’s degree and the means to take on a new chapter of their career.
In fact, Heskey has wasted no time on that score: as well as acting as a part-time mentor and ambassador for the women’s team at another former club, Leicester City, he has also started a business with four MIP graduates: Michael Johnson, Gareth Farrelly, Stiliyan Petrov and Gaizka Mendieta. Player 4 Player will help current and former players with the likes of career management, financial planning, legal matters and education pathways. It’s a logical next step: involvement in a course designed to assist ex pros has led the quintet to a business idea designed to assist ex pros. They’re paying it forward.
“You get kind of lost, especially when you’re coming towards the end and you don’t know what you want to do,” says Heskey. “If you plan it better, it’s easier. A lot of things can be done while you’re still playing, alongside your playing career. Then you can have a seamless transition. If you’re lucky you’ll play till you’re 40 but you’ve still, potentially, got 40 years of your life left.”
Heskey’s fellow students on the MIP include Andrey Arshavin, John O’Shea, Didier Drogba and Kaká, a star-studded class of 2021 who are learning about topics such as strategic marketing and stadium management. The final module, pandemic allowing, will see the group travel to New York to learn how American sport operates. After that comes a final exam followed by a graduation ceremony at UEFA HQ in Nyon. Oh, there’s one other element too...
“The biggest challenge is the bloody thesis,” says Heskey. “It’s got to be 12,000 words – and that’s considering I’ve never written anything before in my life. Our tutors are helping us and have been brilliant, but the hardest thing is knowing where and how to start. I kind of know what I want to write about but it changes every five minutes.”
Those tutors that Heskey mentions come from the Centre for Sports Law and Economics (CDES), at France’s University of Limoges, and the Sport Business Centre at Birkbeck, University of London. Didier Primault is director general of CDES and co-director of two sessions on the course, as well as overseeing the entire thing.