On the surface, being a footballer looks to be all glitz and glamour. Thousands of people fill the stands week in and week out to watch them do their job, often armed with witty tunes extolling the abilities and personal characteristics of those who represent the shirt. Children whip about the garden with a ball at their feet, picturing the feats of their hero and calling out his name before smashing a blistering strike into a key fixture of their parents’ landscaping efforts. Footballers captivate the press and people hang on their every word, lapping up every drop of verbal loyalty the newspapers can scribble down. Not to mention, a footballer’s salary isn’t too terrible either.
But underneath it all, footballers are people. Cut them and they bleed. They have hopes, dreams and fears, and their mothers probably remind them to pack underwear for trips too, even long after it’s ceased to be an age-appropriate suggestion. The life of a professional footballer is short and brutish in some regard, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes. Making it in the upper echelons of the game requires a dedicated childhood and an even more committed young adulthood – before a comparatively brief career is snuffed out by the prejudices of time.
And so, a relatively young man is then left to pick up the pieces of his life’s work and carry on. Some stay in the game in other capacities, others drift away from it and find new pursuits, fresh passions to focus their energies on. For others, moving on from the only thing they’ve known proves a tougher proposition. Away from the spotlight, there are original stories to be documented, often untold chapters to be written by the men that once dazzled the world with regularity in the blinding glare of center stage.
Following is a collection of accounts of where some of the greats of the game find themselves at present in the aftermath of their glittering careers.
15 Juan Sebastian Veron
Was Juan Sebastian Veron destined to be a footballer? Quite possibly. Both his father and uncle were professionals and briefly Argentina internationals. Each got their start at Estudiantes, with the latter going on to play for Sheffield United – the junior Veron would later famously admit he had yearned to one day represent the Blades. He too launched his career with hometown Estudiantes, going on to be a smashing success in Italy with Parma, Lazio and Inter, but finding his time in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea to be less fruitful. Veron later returned to Argentina to finish his career with the club of his heart. After initially taking up the post of sporting director at Estudiantes upon his retirement, the 39-year-old now serves as president of the La Plata outfit.
No, this isn’t the muscular Portuguese one who prefers to also go by his given name. Surely nobody has lost track of him yet anyway, given his Ballon d’Or screams and love for erecting rather flattering statues of himself. Ronaldo was the original phenomenon, an unstoppable force of nature who was larger than both life and the belly he would develop in the latter stages of his career. A two-time World Cup champion boasting a pair of Ballon d’Or prizes himself, Ronaldo was at his peak one of the deadliest strikers ever to lace up a pair of football boots. Forced out of the game by physical problems, the Brazilian has since spent his time playing in charity matches and battling weight problems – even taking part in a reality television series focused on slimming down celebrities. In December, he purchased a stake in the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and recently revealed he could return to playing with the second division American side should he build up the necessary fitness.
13 Diego Maradona
Controversial, questionable and brilliant, Maradona is the type of athlete who emerges only once every century. The Argentine was equally genius on the pitch and troubled off of it, during his intriguingly manic playing career, possessing a rare allure that is still unmatched in football. Rampant substance abuse, the ‘Hand of God’, the ‘Goal of the Century,’ and his dragging of Napoli to two Serie A titles are only a few of the exploits that made Maradona notorious. In the aftermath of his playing days, the press never stopped following the Argentine – who in 1998 courted controversy for shooting reporters with an air rifle. Following years of health issues related to chronic substance problems, Maradona spent a doomed two years as head coach of Argentina, a year at the helm of Emerati club Al Wasl and was brought in as a ‘spiritual coach’ by fifth-tier Argentine side Deportivo Riestra in 2013. The latest on El Diego is that he may be subject to a defamation trial in Italy, having made less than flattering remarks about the ex-head of the Mediterranean nation’s tax collection agency in 2012. Maradonna currently stands at the center of a long-running dispute with the Italian government over allegedly unpaid taxes from his time at Napoli.
12 Alessandro Nesta
Just after he had broken through to the first team of his beloved Lazio, Nesta thought he had blown his chance. Clearing the ball during training, Biancocelesti icon Paul Gascoigne dove in with a rather rash tackle on the young defender – and ended up with a shattered leg. The Italian’s initial shock wouldn’t last for long. Nesta went on to have a glittering career that saw him shine first for Lazio and later Milan after he was sold against his will. The center back was equally a pillar at the international level for Italy, winning the 2006 World Cup with the Azzurri, although an injury in the final match of the group stage ended the tournament for him. In 2012, he would leave Milan to see out his career with the Montreal Impact in Major League. Despite his retirement in 2013, however, the journey wouldn’t end there. Nesta was persuaded by former Italy teammate Marco Materazzi to join his Chennaiyin side for the remainder of the inaugural Indian Super League season in November, just missing winning the title the next month. He has since stated a desire to acquire his coaching badges and try his hand at taking charge of a team.
11 Gabriel Batistuta
Loved by fans and teammates, but feared by those who had the unenviable task of lining up across from him, Batistuta was one of the most natural finishers the game has ever known. To this day, his name reverberates wherever it is spoken. But since leaving behind football, the Argentine’s second life hasn’t been completely full of fond memories of his playing days. Six months ago Batistuta revealed he asked a doctor to amputate his legs after hanging up his boots, such was the debilitating pain in his right ankle. The Fiorentina and Roma legend would instead undergo surgery to mitigate issues caused by a lack of cartilage in his joints. Batistuta previously had a reputation for feeling no connection with football but would later refute the claim, all while noting that he had taken up polo and golf, unable to run anymore. He returned to the game in 2012 to take on a technical secretary position with Santa Fe outfit Club Atletico Colon, staying on in the role for a single season. In October, Batistuta was inducted into Fiorentina’s hall of fame, giving a tearful speech to the amassed Viola faithful in which he spoke of his commitment to the club.
10 Ruud van Nistelrooy
As the story goes, it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s son Darren who triggered van Nistelrooy’s famously delayed move to Manchester United. The younger Ferguson returned from a trial in the Netherlands raving about the Dutch striker and implored his father to sign him, which the Scot duly did. A year’s wait later due to an injury, van Nistelrooy was up and running at Old Trafford, putting his goal scoring prowess on display down the years and playing a central role in the Red Devils running battles with Arsenal. He would go on to fall out with both Sir Alex and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, moving on to Real Madrid and Hamburg before seeing out his career with Malaga. Since, the Dutchman has moved into coaching and punditry. Van Nistelrooy was a coaching intern with the youth sides at PSV Eindhoven and now is a member of Guus Hiddink’s Netherlands staff in the wake of Louis van Gaal’s departure to Manchester United. The 38-year-old appeared as an analyst on ESPN during the World Cup in Brazil alongside Santiago Solari and Michael Ballack.
9 Fabio Cannavaro
The Ballon d’Or is most often reserved for attacking players, but Cannavaro is the modern example who flew in the face of this convention. The Italian picked up the prize at the expense of countryman Gianluigi Buffon and Thierry Henry in 2006, having led the Azzurri to World Cup glory against the backdrop of the Calciopoli scandal. It was that same scandal that saw him play his trade at Real Madrid by the time the accolade was awarded, Cannavaro was among a number of stars to flee Turin after Juventus were forcibly relegated to Serie B and their two straight Scudetti stripped. Cannavaro would return after three seasons in Madrid but found himself unpopular with sections of the Old Lady’s supporters, perceived as a mercenary for ever having left. By July 2011, he had retired after a brief time playing in the United Arab Emerates, becoming a technical consultant for the side before taking over as first team coach. In November, Cannavaro was hired as head coach of Guangzhou Evergrande in China, replacing the outgoing Marcelo Lippi, under whom he won the World Cup in 2006. During the 2014 edition of the tournament in Brazil, the Italian worked as an analyst for British television outlet ITV.
8 Zinedine Zidane
Perhaps no sendoff from professional football is as infamous as that of Zidane. Head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest of the 2006 World Cup final would be the Frenchman’s last act on a professional football pitch, drawing to a close a career that had been defined by unmatched elegance with an act that continues to divide opinion. The reaction in France suggested that Zidane was quickly excused by his adoring masses, such was the incredible nature of his accomplishments and nearly unrivalled brilliance in between the lines. Zizou would become heavily involved with charitable pursuits in football upon hanging up his boots, waiting three years before taking up a new type of professional role in the game. He would get his start as an advisor to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez in 2009, a year later moving to field level from the boardroom as a special advisor to the first team under Jose Mourinho. Zidane would later become sporting director at the Santiago Bernebeu, drafted into service by Carlo Ancelotti in June 2013 as an assistant coach. He now serves as manager of Real Madrid Castilla – Los Merengues’ B team – though the 42-year-old’s lack of coaching badges has caused controversy in the past few months.
7 George Weah
He was a breathtaking talent, Weah, the type of player who created memorable moments of magic and became an icon not only in his homeland, but across an entire continent. Look no further than his stunning 1996 effort for AC Milan against Hellas Verona. The Liberian picked up the ball in his own penalty area, slalomed past seven defenders and calmly slotted past the opposing goalkeeper. To this day, it is considered one of the greatest goals ever scored. Starting out his development in Europe under the watchful eye of a young Arsene Wenger, Weah became a legend after starring for Paris Saint-Germain and Milan – with whom he won the Ballon d’Or in 1995, the first African footballer to do so. Upon retiring in 2003 after further spells in England and the UAE, Weah became heavily involved in humanitarian efforts in his native Liberia. This was followed up with a political career, losing the Liberian presidential election in 2005. Weah fell short once again in the 2011 elections as a candidate for vice president on Winston Tubman’s ticket. At last the 48-year-old gained political office in December, winning a seat in the Liberian Senate in a crushing victory with 78% of the vote.
6 Carlos Valderrama
Valderrama isn’t only a distinct footballer – he’s a distinct person. With his beautiful technique, wild curly hair and illustrious mustache, the Colombian is one of the most memorable figures to have ever played the game. A superbly talented midfielder, Valderrama was the flag bearer of the original golden era of Colombian football, masterful in possession and blessed with vision that was matched only by maybe a handful of his peers. Valderrama’s career took an interesting turn in 1996, when, in the later days of his career, he chose to take part in Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. In seven American campaigns, El Pibe would tally an incredible 114 assists. He would later take a job as assistant manager of Colombian side Atletico Junior, courting controversy by accusing a referee of corruption – by not-so-subtly waving a wad of cash in his general direction. Later, in 2013, Valderrama would agree to play in two friendly matches against Colombian guerilla army FARC, and was rumored to be a candidate in the 2014 Colombian elections – he later denied these reports. Recently Valderrama starred in film a called Un punado de Pelos – “A handful of hairs” – as the mayor of a town where the water supply causes the residents’ hair to grow in the manner of his legendary mane. Seriously.
5 Andreas Brehme
Former footballers are times can be victims of the hardest of falls, such is the nature of the business. In 1990, Andreas Brehme had the pleasure of achieving on of the game’s greatest accomplishments. The World Cup final in Rome pitted his West Germany against Argentina in a contest that resembled more of a pitched battle between two medieval armies than a football match. But in the 85th minute, Brehme ensured that immortality would go to his nation nonetheless, sweeping home the winning goal from the penalty spot to send Diego Maradona’s Albiceleste side home empty handed. That same year, he finished third in the Ballon d’Or race, going on to play eight more years of professional football for the likes of Inter, Real Zaragoza and Kaiserslautern. He’d manage the latter after calling time on his playing career, though would be let go due to poor results. At second division Unterhaching, Brehme would meet the same fate on the bench, before finding himself out of a job again after a few months as Giovanni Trapattoni’s assistant at Stuttgart. Rock bottom would come less than a decade later. Bankrupt with outstanding debts of €200,000, Brehme was offered work cleaning toilets in October by one of his former Unterhaching charges, who now operates a bathroom sanitation company. Fellow German legend Franz Beckenbauer responded by calling on the nation’s football community to come to Brehme’s aid.
4 Eric Cantona
Two images spring to mind when considering the controversial Cantona. First, his breathtaking impact on the pitch when at his best, and second his infamous flying kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons. The latter incident just saw its 20th anniversary on Sunday, a surreal moment that continues to be discussed to this day due to the shocking nature of it all. Cantona nearly left the English game altogether due to his frustration with sanctions from the FA, but would ultimately remain at Manchester United with some convincing by Sir Alex Ferguson. The Frenchman did choose to walk away from the game altogether at age 30, however, citing an unwillingness to maintain the lifestyle necessary to be an elite professional athlete. Instead, Cantona wanted to enter the movie and theater scene, acting alongside Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. Cantona also joined the French national beach football side, later becoming manager. For a time, the Marseille native left the game altogether to further his acting career, gaining roles in a number of movies and plays. In 2011, he’d return with a directorial role for the New York Cosmos, which Cantona has since vacated. Last March, Cantona was back in the eye of the wider public for a common assault arrest, while a few months later a film he played a prominent role in was screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The Frenchman has been outspoken about the difficulties a player faces upon leaving football, conceding that he sometimes regrets his choice to retire at a relatively young age.
3 Andriy Shevchenko
It’s a shame that Shevchenko’s tenure at Chelsea was as unflattering as it turned out to be, as the man the Blues brought to west London at a great price was perhaps one of the best pure finishers football has ever known. The Ukrainian became a sensation after signing with Milan as a 22-year-old in 1999, winning the Capocannoniere title in his term season in Serie A – at a time when Italian defences were at their dominant peak. In seven seasons, he smashed in 126 league goals for the Rossoneri, adding another 29 strikes in the Champions League. A Serie A title, Coppa Italia triumph and European crown all came along the way. When Chelsea pried him away in 2006, Shevchenko was expected to continue his dominance in England, but would never hit the highs again and even ended up spending a disheartening season back at Milan on loan. The striker would close out his career with the club of his youth, Dynamo Kiev, managing a brace in Ukraine’s Euro 2012 opener against Sweden in his home stadium. Shevchenko then moved on to political pursuits with the Ukraine – Forward! Party, but was unable to win a seat in the Ukrainian parliament in the October 2012 elections. He since has turned down an offer to manage the Ukraininan national side, taken up professional golf. and even showcased his pickpocketing skills when appearing on television as a football panelist.
2 Oliver Kahn
It’s said that one has to be slightly unhinged to be a goalkeeper. Oliver Kahn wouldn’t disagree. The German was a distinctive and fiery character in football, matching his social reputation with brilliance in between the pipes. Few were as fuelled by confrontation and relished a challenge as much as the former Bayern Munich man. Kahn was perhaps the predecessor to Luis Suarez in some sense, having famously nibbled on the neck of Dortmund’s Heiko Herrlich in 1999. In the same match, the German also attempted to take out Stephane Chapuisat with a Cantona-esque flying kick that failed to hit its intended Swiss target. After retiring in 2008, Kahn immediately entered the television scene as an analyst for the European Championship and followed this up with an appearance on a goalkeeper-themed Chinese reality show. Kahn completed his coaching license in 2010 but is still yet to move into management, continuing to work on other projects instead. The 45-year-old is an advocate for a Munich-based street football league designed to promote cultural understanding, supports a foundation that brings football to prisons as a positive outlet. and has been involved with an association with a mission to educate youngsters about the dangers of violence and substance abuse.
1 Roberto Carlos
One can safely say that Roberto Carlos made the full back position more fashionable than it had ever been, his marauding runs and cannon strikes capturing the imagination of observers. Such could be expected from a player who, like many others who have played the same position, started out his playing days as an attacker. Roberto Carlos grew so fond of the left back role that his departure from Inter after just one season was in large part due to then-Nerazzurri boss Roy Hodgson’s insistence at playing him as a winger. It was his performances for Real Madrid and Brazil that would make him an esteemed figure worldwide, finishing out his career with a few alternative journeys in Turkey and Russia, sandwiching a brief return to his homeland. After hanging up his boots, Roberto Carlos would take a assistant’s role under Guus Hiddink at Anzhi Makhachkala, only to resign after the club reconsidered an aggressive spending policy and sold off its stars. He would be hired as the manager of Turkish top flight outfit Sivasspor in the summer of 2013, departing his post last month after a series of poor results. Fellow Super Lig outfit Akhisar Belediyespor pounced and brought the Brazilian in just after the calendar flipped over to 2015, signing him as a technical director with managerial duties.