It can be tough for any pro sportsman to acclimate to life after their playing days. But in soccer, which is an industry worth billions of dollars, it can be even tougher. You’re earning possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars a week for reporting to training a few hours a day and then playing a one and a half hour match on the weekend; it’s a cushy life if you can get it – unlike the daily grind that most of us experience. That’s why when players are no longer on the pitch playing in front of thousands of screaming adoring fans and the millions watching on their TV sets, it can be a difficult transition to make. But there comes a time in every pro soccer player’s life when they have to call it quits.
Some take to retirement well, and can’t wait to put their feet up for a bit and embark on the next stage of their lives. Others can’t seem to adjust to life off the pitch, and if you’re a soccer fan, it can be difficult to see these much-loved figures fall apart – watch their lives unravel and slowly disintegrate before our very eyes.
These are 15 soccer players whose lives fell apart after they stopped playing.
15 Lee Hendrie
Lee Hendrie was a prominent Premier League player back in the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. He was a stalwart of Aston Villa’s midfield, appearing 251 times for his local Brummie club and putting in some impressive performances, which got him an international cap. However, when he left Villa in 2007, things began to go downhill for Hendrie; his fall from grace was fast, and towards the end of his career, the problems began to mount.
Now he’s retired – not officially – but judging from the way things are unraveling, there doesn’t seem to be any way back – he’s in some serious strife.
14 Chris Sutton
Like Hendrie, Sutton’s another one-cap wonder for England – although wonder might be stretching it a bit. From 1991 to 2012, he was thought of as a pretty prolific goalscorer; 148 goals in 409 club appearances – that’s better than a goal every four games – a decent goal scoring ratio during those times. He later got into management, managing Lincoln City for a season, but his management career was cut short due to family reasons.
13 Kenny Sansom
Left-back Kenny Sansom spent his entire career in the English leagues. He’ll be best known for his time at Crystal Palace and then Arsenal – he stayed with The Gunners until 1988. His performances and solid defensive skills led to him becoming the second most capped left-back for England.
But after his playing days were over, Sansom fell on hard times. His investments and business decisions weren’t paying off, and he lost the vast majority of the wealth he’d acquired from his days on the football field. His addictions didn’t help matters and only served to exacerbate his level of financial distress. Alcohol took a hold of him; he began drinking more and more, and began gambling. His entire life began to quickly unravel at the seams.
It’s all because of depression, something Sansom has struggled to address. His mother died a while back, which hit him hard, and he hasn’t yet been able to expel those demons from his head.
12 John Barnes
John Barnes played 586 times in the English leagues on the left wing and was capped 79 times for the English National team. He made a name for himself at Liverpool, which regards him to be one of their best ever players.
But for those of you who can’t recall back to 1999 – his retirement year – you’ll probably associate Barnes with management. That’s because he’s had three management stints – Celtic, Jamaica, and Tranmere Rovers. Each one was short-lived and nothing really noteworthy.
11 Diego Maradona
Maradona is considered by many to be the best player of all time. He mesmerized defenders with his dribbling skills; it was as if the ball was attached to his boot on a string when he went on one of his runs. He also possessed speed, vision, control and was a prolific goalscorer – the complete package, the likes of which we’ve only seen in his Argentinian predecessor, Lionel Messi.
Maradona – even during his playing days – has always been a controversial and cunning individual. We’d need another article to address all of these moments, but plenty also happened in his retirement years.
Maradona’s cocaine addiction became really serious during this time. He had been addicted during his playing days, but in 2000, his addiction almost cost him his life. He overdosed, suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care for two weeks. He’s also suffered from alcohol abuse and obesity, causing him to have gastric bypass surgery.
But the problems just kept on mounting. In 2009, the Italian government claimed he still owed the tax man €37 million in taxes – that’s 18 years after he made his last appearance with the only Italian club he ever played for, Napoli.
10 David James
Goalkeeper David James had a long and illustrious career between the sticks. He made 817 club appearances, and was England’s number one choice for many years before injuries got the better of him and his international career slowly fizzled out. He once held the record for the most number of clean sheets in the Premier League -- a dependable man and one we’d have probably seen a lot more of had his body not been so brittle.
After retiring from football following his stint as a player-manager with Indian Super League side, Kerala Blasters, in 2014, his life began to fall apart. He had money issues and was in serious debt. He had a ton of assets that he gradually began to sell off, including his cars, bikes, and footballing memorabilia.
9 John Carew
Big John Carew is a Norwegian striker who retired from the game in 2013. He rose to fame during his four year stint at Aston Villa. He scored 37 goals in 113 appearances for the club, teaming up with the likes of Heskey, Agbonlahor and Young to form a formidable attacking quartet going forward. He was also renowned on the international scene, playing 91 times for his country.
There’s something about the name Ronaldo. Two of the greatest players ever are named Ronaldo; Cristiano from Portugal is still playing, dominating world football, and Brazilian Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima did the same until he called it quits in 2011. Dubbed “The Phenomenon,” Ronaldo scored goals wherever he went; he netted for fun and also possessed great vision, crossing and passing ability.
Post-football, Ronaldo’s had his hands in many pies – literally. From the business side of things, he’s fine and looks to be set for life. However, his health has declined. He was never a lean mean goalscoring machine in his heyday, but now that he’s retired, he’s packed on an enormous amount of weight. As his career was winding to a close, he also began getting into a lot of trouble with the law. Numerous scandals came to light involving infidelity, sleeping with prostitutes and transvestites, and paying women off to keep them quiet.
7 Celestine Babayaro
Babayaro was a versatile footballer, playing wherever he was needed, at left-back or on the left side of midfield. He rose to fame during his eight years at Chelsea, for whom he made 132 appearances. He also gained 27 caps for Nigeria, and became known for his exuberant celebrations which involved several backflips.
Let’s face it, Babayaro wasn’t among the best defenders in the world, but he could be relied upon to do a decent, solid job.
6 Paul Merson
Ex-footballer Paul Merson spent the majority of his career on the wing for Arsenal. As a North London lad, it was only natural for him to join The Gunners. He flourished at Highbury Stadium and played 423 times for the club, helping them win numerous titles in the process.
5 Michel Platini
Platini could have become FIFA King, but now his career’s fallen apart and his life – footballing life anyway – seems to be over.
Once a former French international, Platini played as an attacking midfielder and was one of the best around. His goalscoring record of 224 in 432 senior club appearances is a pretty remarkable stat, especially when he played in the 70s and 80s. After calling time on his playing days, he’s gone on to hold a number of other posts in football, from manager to various administrative roles with football’s governing body, FIFA. That’s when things started to fall apart for Platini.
4 Paul Gascoigne
Gazza has had a tumultuous time since he hung up his boots and called time on his playing days in 2004. In his heyday, he was one of the best attacking midfielders, certainly the most gifted Englishmen in that role for a generation.
It can be tough walking away from the sport in which you were top dog. Gazza played at the top level for almost two decades, but when he left, he found adjusting to life away from football really tough. His life fell apart because it was dominated with addictions. His emotional instability, depression and his addition to alcohol meant that his short stint as a manager was cut short, and since then, he still hasn’t found his feet. Press intrusion hasn’t helped matters. Documenting his every move has meant that he’s found it tricky to get the help he needs away from the prying eyes of the media. Since retiring he’s battled bulimia, OCD, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, cocaine, smoking and gambling addictions, not to mention junk food and high-caffeine addictions. Unsurprisingly, due to all of this, his relationships have broken down, he’s been in trouble with the law and has committed numerous other offenses. Time’s running out for Gazza to get everything sorted once and for all.
3 Gerd Muller
Gerd began his career way back in 1963 as a striker playing for German side, TSV 1861 Nördlingen. He then enjoyed a stellar career with Bayern Munich, which is where he became known around the world as a formidable striker. His goal-scoring record at Bayern was astonishing – 398 goals in 453 appearances – as were his overall career stats – 487 goals in 555 club appearances. He also had one of the best international goal scoring records of all time – 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany. Looking at these stats, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why he’s regarded as one of the world’s best ever strikers.
After Gerd retired in 1981, things went downhill. He felt he no longer had any sense of purpose and consequently fell into a downwards spiral. Alcoholism ruined him for many years post-football, but thankfully he got help from his former Bayern teammates, and was rewarded with a stint as an Assistant Manager at his old club.
2 Ray Wilkins
Former England International Ray Wilkins is probably known today for being a pundit and for his stints in the commentator’s chair, but he also had a long and illustrious career, playing for many high-profile clubs over the course of his 24-year playing career.
After he hung up his boots, Wilkins was eager to impart his wisdom and try his hand at coaching. He’s managed an array of different teams, most recently as assistant coach of Aston Villa, but was sacked along with the rest of the coaching staff after a dire 2015 at Villa Park.
1 1.Djibril Cissé
Cissé should have a far better record than he does. He’s an iconic player, although perhaps more known for his brave and daring haircuts, style, tattoos and ripped physique than his goal-scoring prowess. Cissé was a decent striker, but that’s about it. To be fair to him, he did suffer from injuries. He suffered from two leg breaks within a couple of years of each other in the mid-2000s, which hampered him a great deal and was ultimately the reason he decided to hang up his boots in 2015.
His career and personal life were, at times, controversial, but the biggest scandal of his career came pretty much immediately after he retired. He was arrested in France, along with four others, for attempting to blackmail an international footballer. It was a sex tape extortion plot and a year later, prosecutors are still pressing for something to be done. Cissé’s life is therefore currently in limbo – he could go to prison for five years if found guilty.
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