Interview

Back to school

Time was that a retired player would open a garage or pub – nowadays ex-pros are setting the bar higher. Dan Poole grabs pen and paper to learn about a business course that’s a valuable step on the ladder

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.

“It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit. It’s something different”
By

“They are different,” he says of his MIP students. “They are high-level athletes with fantastic qualities to transfer to the business field, but they lack confidence. They don’t have a classical education, but they have the capacity to lead, to communicate, to accept defeat and be flexible. They are incredibly committed, and humble enough to start again in a position that’s difficult for them. For us, as teachers, it’s very rewarding.”

As a football fan, Primault does have to be conscious of keeping his passion in check. “When you are faced with someone like Kaká, a player who you’ve adored, it’s sometimes difficult at the beginning. But very quickly it’s just a relationship between two people. Not a teacher and a participant, but two people exchanging their knowledge.”

MIP students also hear from outside speakers, as well as graduates who return to discuss their experiences since gaining their qualification. One of those is Bianca Rech, the former Bayern München and Germany defender who completed the course in 2017 and became sporting director of women’s football at Bayern a year later. “It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit,” she says of her time in the classroom. “But on the football field you’re well known, people give you the red carpet. When you’re standing in front of the group and talking about marketing, it’s different. Every single one of us went through a personal journey to get a different kind of self-confidence.”

Rech is just one example of an MIP graduate who has gone on to take up a senior role at a football club. Juninho Pernambucano is sporting director at Olympique Lyonnais, Youri Djorkaeff is CEO of the FIFA Foundation, Simon Rolfes is director of sport at Bayer Leverkusen and Sebastian Kehl is head of professional football at Borussia Dortmund. Rech also points to a further benefit of the course. “If you’re spending time with all these people, these superstars, they trust you because they know how you work and it’s no longer a question of being male or female. We have the same passion: making this football world a better place.”

Heskey, meanwhile, cites a wider issue that figured in his thinking when applying for the MIP: the lack of black and minority ethnic ex-players in leadership roles within the game. “You’re not going to get a leg-up so you have to get everything ticked off,” he says. “I have to get my badges and qualifications or I won’t be in the same bracket as others when it comes to putting my CV in. We’re constantly told that there aren’t enough people with qualifications when it comes to representation. I’d be very surprised if that’s the case but now we’re just saying, ‘OK, let’s get the qualifications.’

“I would like to be in a leadership role. It’s been shown that diversity is good for business so we’re trying to push for that and you’ve got to keep pushing. For a long time we’ve been looking from the bottom up; we’re still no further forward. It’s got to be looked at in a different way: from the top down. That’s when change happens.”

Rech says there’s also capacity for altering attitudes in an environment everyone involved knows well, thanks to the students and tutors getting together to play futsal in their downtime. “The first moment you step onto the football field with the men, they realise, ‘Wow, these girls are really, really good!’ It’s part of the process of acceptance.”

Primault, who was an amateur player in his day, relishes the opportunity to get his boots on. “I’d prefer to be playing with them when I was 20 years old but they recognise that I used to play football. I’m proud of that when it’s coming from these kinds of guys.”

Heskey, however, sounds a note of caution: if a certain former Arsenal player is among the opposition, keep him sweet. “Arshavin, when he wants to, can just turn it on. And he does it when he gets upset.” Perhaps that thesis should be on man management, Emile?

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Interview

Back to school

Time was that a retired player would open a garage or pub – nowadays ex-pros are setting the bar higher. Dan Poole grabs pen and paper to learn about a business course that’s a valuable step on the ladder

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.

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“It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit. It’s something different”
By

“They are different,” he says of his MIP students. “They are high-level athletes with fantastic qualities to transfer to the business field, but they lack confidence. They don’t have a classical education, but they have the capacity to lead, to communicate, to accept defeat and be flexible. They are incredibly committed, and humble enough to start again in a position that’s difficult for them. For us, as teachers, it’s very rewarding.”

As a football fan, Primault does have to be conscious of keeping his passion in check. “When you are faced with someone like Kaká, a player who you’ve adored, it’s sometimes difficult at the beginning. But very quickly it’s just a relationship between two people. Not a teacher and a participant, but two people exchanging their knowledge.”

MIP students also hear from outside speakers, as well as graduates who return to discuss their experiences since gaining their qualification. One of those is Bianca Rech, the former Bayern München and Germany defender who completed the course in 2017 and became sporting director of women’s football at Bayern a year later. “It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit,” she says of her time in the classroom. “But on the football field you’re well known, people give you the red carpet. When you’re standing in front of the group and talking about marketing, it’s different. Every single one of us went through a personal journey to get a different kind of self-confidence.”

Rech is just one example of an MIP graduate who has gone on to take up a senior role at a football club. Juninho Pernambucano is sporting director at Olympique Lyonnais, Youri Djorkaeff is CEO of the FIFA Foundation, Simon Rolfes is director of sport at Bayer Leverkusen and Sebastian Kehl is head of professional football at Borussia Dortmund. Rech also points to a further benefit of the course. “If you’re spending time with all these people, these superstars, they trust you because they know how you work and it’s no longer a question of being male or female. We have the same passion: making this football world a better place.”

Heskey, meanwhile, cites a wider issue that figured in his thinking when applying for the MIP: the lack of black and minority ethnic ex-players in leadership roles within the game. “You’re not going to get a leg-up so you have to get everything ticked off,” he says. “I have to get my badges and qualifications or I won’t be in the same bracket as others when it comes to putting my CV in. We’re constantly told that there aren’t enough people with qualifications when it comes to representation. I’d be very surprised if that’s the case but now we’re just saying, ‘OK, let’s get the qualifications.’

“I would like to be in a leadership role. It’s been shown that diversity is good for business so we’re trying to push for that and you’ve got to keep pushing. For a long time we’ve been looking from the bottom up; we’re still no further forward. It’s got to be looked at in a different way: from the top down. That’s when change happens.”

Rech says there’s also capacity for altering attitudes in an environment everyone involved knows well, thanks to the students and tutors getting together to play futsal in their downtime. “The first moment you step onto the football field with the men, they realise, ‘Wow, these girls are really, really good!’ It’s part of the process of acceptance.”

Primault, who was an amateur player in his day, relishes the opportunity to get his boots on. “I’d prefer to be playing with them when I was 20 years old but they recognise that I used to play football. I’m proud of that when it’s coming from these kinds of guys.”

Heskey, however, sounds a note of caution: if a certain former Arsenal player is among the opposition, keep him sweet. “Arshavin, when he wants to, can just turn it on. And he does it when he gets upset.” Perhaps that thesis should be on man management, Emile?

Interview

Back to school

Time was that a retired player would open a garage or pub – nowadays ex-pros are setting the bar higher. Dan Poole grabs pen and paper to learn about a business course that’s a valuable step on the ladder

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.

“It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit. It’s something different”
By

“They are different,” he says of his MIP students. “They are high-level athletes with fantastic qualities to transfer to the business field, but they lack confidence. They don’t have a classical education, but they have the capacity to lead, to communicate, to accept defeat and be flexible. They are incredibly committed, and humble enough to start again in a position that’s difficult for them. For us, as teachers, it’s very rewarding.”

As a football fan, Primault does have to be conscious of keeping his passion in check. “When you are faced with someone like Kaká, a player who you’ve adored, it’s sometimes difficult at the beginning. But very quickly it’s just a relationship between two people. Not a teacher and a participant, but two people exchanging their knowledge.”

MIP students also hear from outside speakers, as well as graduates who return to discuss their experiences since gaining their qualification. One of those is Bianca Rech, the former Bayern München and Germany defender who completed the course in 2017 and became sporting director of women’s football at Bayern a year later. “It was a bit like being in a dressing room but wearing a suit,” she says of her time in the classroom. “But on the football field you’re well known, people give you the red carpet. When you’re standing in front of the group and talking about marketing, it’s different. Every single one of us went through a personal journey to get a different kind of self-confidence.”

Rech is just one example of an MIP graduate who has gone on to take up a senior role at a football club. Juninho Pernambucano is sporting director at Olympique Lyonnais, Youri Djorkaeff is CEO of the FIFA Foundation, Simon Rolfes is director of sport at Bayer Leverkusen and Sebastian Kehl is head of professional football at Borussia Dortmund. Rech also points to a further benefit of the course. “If you’re spending time with all these people, these superstars, they trust you because they know how you work and it’s no longer a question of being male or female. We have the same passion: making this football world a better place.”

Heskey, meanwhile, cites a wider issue that figured in his thinking when applying for the MIP: the lack of black and minority ethnic ex-players in leadership roles within the game. “You’re not going to get a leg-up so you have to get everything ticked off,” he says. “I have to get my badges and qualifications or I won’t be in the same bracket as others when it comes to putting my CV in. We’re constantly told that there aren’t enough people with qualifications when it comes to representation. I’d be very surprised if that’s the case but now we’re just saying, ‘OK, let’s get the qualifications.’

“I would like to be in a leadership role. It’s been shown that diversity is good for business so we’re trying to push for that and you’ve got to keep pushing. For a long time we’ve been looking from the bottom up; we’re still no further forward. It’s got to be looked at in a different way: from the top down. That’s when change happens.”

Rech says there’s also capacity for altering attitudes in an environment everyone involved knows well, thanks to the students and tutors getting together to play futsal in their downtime. “The first moment you step onto the football field with the men, they realise, ‘Wow, these girls are really, really good!’ It’s part of the process of acceptance.”

Primault, who was an amateur player in his day, relishes the opportunity to get his boots on. “I’d prefer to be playing with them when I was 20 years old but they recognise that I used to play football. I’m proud of that when it’s coming from these kinds of guys.”

Heskey, however, sounds a note of caution: if a certain former Arsenal player is among the opposition, keep him sweet. “Arshavin, when he wants to, can just turn it on. And he does it when he gets upset.” Perhaps that thesis should be on man management, Emile?

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