Robert Pires on Life After Football: 'When it was Game Over, it Was Difficult to Accept'

Robert Pires says ‘football is my life and it’s in my blood’, so found it hard to adjust to retirement. Getty Images
Robert Pires says ‘football is my life and it’s in my blood’, so found it hard to adjust to retirement. Getty Images
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Robert Pires on Life After Football: 'When it was Game Over, it Was Difficult to Accept'

Robert Pires says ‘football is my life and it’s in my blood’, so found it hard to adjust to retirement. Getty Images
Robert Pires says ‘football is my life and it’s in my blood’, so found it hard to adjust to retirement. Getty Images

Robert Pires will never forget what it was like coming to terms with being a retired footballer. “You don’t want to say stop because I had been playing for 19 seasons and football meant everything to me,” says one of the stars of Arsenal’s Invincibles, who was part of the France team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. “Even now, football is my life and it’s in my blood, so that’s why when I said it was game over, it was very difficult to accept.”

Luckily for Pires, help was at hand. He first met Stéphane Ehrhart – a former player who is now Uefa’s career transition expert – in 2009 while playing for Villarreal, when the decision to hang up his boots had barely even crossed his mind.

“I always said: ‘I have time.’ But time goes very quickly,” Pires says. “When you are playing it’s the best job in the world. You are very focused on your club and you need to be very good every game, so you aren’t thinking about life after football. So that’s why when I met Stéphane it was very important for me – he made me think about what will happen when everything is over. He gave me good advice and explained to me in advance what the challenges were going to be. He helped prepare my brain.”

Ehrhart, having heard countless stories about how unprepared players felt as retirement loomed, has collated the advice he has dispensed over the years into a book, The Footballer’s Guide: Optimising your career on the pitch and beyond. It offers detailed information, educational tools and advice on practical ways to manage the transition.

“When I talked to Robert the first time I was quite surprised – this guy was at the top of his game and had played at the highest level in several countries but really had no clue what he wanted to do when he retired,” Ehrhart says. “I thought that if someone at the stage of his career doesn’t have any idea what to do next then there are definitely some holes in the system.

“Not every player is ready to receive it – at the start with Robert, he used to laugh about it and not take things seriously. But all my career I’ve had players asking me for that kind of advice and they didn’t really know where to find information. Some clubs and national associations do have some kind of support for their players but I thought it would be useful just to have one place where they can find some good tips.”

With chapters covering how to safely choose investments, developing a life plan and “the science of happiness”, its author hopes that professional players can be guided into making informed choices.

“Many players have spoken about how it feels like they have died when they stop playing,” he says. “We try to present them with the challenges that they will face. It’s like you’re driving on a motorcycle and there’s a wall at the end of a road but you don’t know that it’s there. We are explaining to them that there is a wall and you’re going to hit it, no matter what. There are different ways to go around the wall or over the wall but if you don’t do anything you’re going to hit it full speed.”

The statistics back that up. About 30% of former players end up getting divorced after retiring, and it has been estimated that 40% of former professionals are declared bankrupt after five years.

According to Ehrhart, three particular areas are an issue: declining physical health because they are no longer training every day, missing out on the network of friends provided by being in the dressing-room environment and the effect on family life.

“For many years you have been the family’s provider but now you’re at home with nothing to do and feeling a bit lost. You have to reinvent your social position. We’re trying to help players realise that it’s a bit more complicated than just trying to find a new job. For most, all three of these things are going to happen at the same time within six months of retiring so it’s not a good moment to think strategically about what they are going to do for the next 20 years. That’s why we explain to the players: ‘This is what is coming and why it’s so important to plan in advance.’”

Pires, who works as a pundit for French television and is an ambassador for Arsenal, admits his transition was helped by Arsène Wenger allowing him to train with the club’s first team after he had retired. “It was very difficult for me,” he says. “My contract with Aston Villa came to an end and the day after I said: ‘No, come on. I want to play football.’ I may have lost my speed but I still thought I could play, although that’s football. So I said to Wenger: ‘Boss, can I train with you every morning please?’ And he said: ‘Yes, of course.’

“It was very good for me but very hard to not be a real player any more. For me it was very special to be in the dressing room every day. But now I don’t have this every day and it feels like I’ve lost something.”

At 50, Pires remains a regular on the charity match circuit – “playing makes me feel alive,” he says – but believes more advice should be given to the current generation of players about life after football. “You have to be very careful because money goes very fast – you earn a lot when you’re playing but the second life is very long and you need to prepare for this,” he says. “That’s why it’s important that young players are given good advice about how to invest sensibly.”

As for Arsenal, Pires has been impressed with their progress and insists Mikel Arteta is building something special whatever happens in the title race. “I’m very positive and believe in Arteta. He’s a very good manager. To begin your career at Arsenal is a very tough place to start but I think he learned a lot from Arsène Wenger and especially Pep Guardiola. It was a very good idea to become his assistant because it has really helped his development. Now he is one of the best managers in the Premier League. He’s very passionate and sometimes a little bit stubborn, but I like that.”

- The Guardian Sport



Teenagers Yamal and Cubarsi Included in Young Spain Squad for European Championship 

Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
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Teenagers Yamal and Cubarsi Included in Young Spain Squad for European Championship 

Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)

Spain is set to take a young squad to the European Championship, with teenagers Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi among the players picked by coach Luis de la Fuente on Monday.

Fermín López, the 21-year-old Barcelona forward, also was included in the list of 29 players announced by the coach, who will have to cut three names from the squad for the tournament in Germany. López has yet to make his debut with the national team.

“They have talent and motivation,” De la Fuente said. “They are very versatile players. Fermín will take a leap forward with this call-up. I hope that they will benefit and show all the potential that they have.”

Ayoze Pérez was another of the few surprises on the list, with the 30-year-old Real Betis forward getting his first call-up to the senior squad.

Other strikers included Atletico Madrid’s Álvaro Morata and Real Madrid’s Joselu, as well as the 16-year-old Yamal of Barcelona and 21-year-old Nico Williams of Athletic Bilbao.

Along with Cubarsi, the 17-year-old Barcelona center back, other defenders included Madrid’s Nacho Fernández and 38-year-old veteran Jesús Navas of Sevilla.

Forwards Marco Asensio of Paris Saint-Germain, Pablo Sarabia of Wolverhampton, Brais Méndez of Real Sociedad and Gerard Moreno of Villarreal were left out.

Veteran Atletico midfielder Koke Resurrección also didn’t make the squad.

Spain will be aiming for a record fourth European Championship. It was drawn into Group B with Italy, Albania and Croatia.

“It’s a very difficult group but we are prepared,” De la Fuente said. “We will be fighting to be among the title contenders in the end.”

Spain will play warmups against Andorra and Northern Ireland before heading to Germany.