To retire or not to retire…
Over the last ten years or so or maybe a little more, an interesting phenomenon has been taking place in European soccer/football and it is one that is pretty unique compared to other professional sports. The phenomenon I am talking about is one in which top players who have dominated and played at the very highest of levels of soccer decide to extend their careers by chasing salaries in some very non-glamorous leagues and teams. Now for just a second, think about what I am describing! I am describing a process in which a top professional due to age or perhaps injury cannot perform at a certain high level but instead of retiring from the profession, said individual is given the chance to continue the profession somewhere else. Tell me, when most top NBA or NHL players retire, do they chase more $$ in lower level European leagues? Do NFL players join the Canadian Football League? Do bankers retire from one bank just to join another? The answer for most part is a big NO, but when it comes to european footballers this is just not the case as player after player have left big clubs from Europe to play in lower level leagues in countries such as America, India and China. The first player who I can remember to do this was David Beckham when he traded in the white jersey of Real Madrid for the white LA Galaxy shirt in the MLS. What I recall is that, Becks and the media tried to sell the move not as a money grab or last big pay cheque but as an overall effort to grow the sport in America. So keeping this in context, let’s consider the different reasons why soccer players way past their glory days seek greener($$er) grasses to apply their trade.
- $$$$: Without a doubt the biggest reasons is money and see this in the world of soccer makes sense. On average, the highest salaries of players for footballers are in Europe but for big name footballers, the salaries do not change too much wherever or whenever they play because of the globality of the sport. For example, the salaries of Beckham or Kaka in MLS is not as high as that they received in Real Madrid but the $6.6 million dollars per year salary is still comparable to many footballing salaries in Europe. Another example that comes to mind is Xavi leaving Barcelona to play in Qatar for over $13 million a year which again is very comparable to the salary he received as being one of the best midfielders at Camp Nou. In recent times, the attraction of big bucks is from China is another reason why so many quality players have left Europe to get above average pays in China. This just goes to show the money in world football/soccer is more than enough to be a nice retirement fund for some former top stars.
- Joy of the Sport:This reason for me is one that I feel is a very underrated and undervalued reason as to why players move to these no-named leagues. Lets consider this, most top players like Del Piero or Thierry Henry first reason to play the sport was not money but the instant of joy dribbling or shooting a ball. Now, professional soccer at the highest level for many can be more work than fun so the level of joy of the sport for these players diminishes. But, the chance of playing for a short time having the chance to play with less pressure , less physicality and against easier competition is the one last chance for many players to feel that joy again before their body says NO! This is where places like the Indian Premier League were ideal Del Piero, Elano and Edgar Davids because they could meg who they wanted and play with a level of comfort and freedom managers such as Fabio Capello and Luis Aragones would despise.
- Be the Man Again!: A lot of the former footballers who dominated European football and then went to smaller leagues in other continents did not exit European football on top. What I am saying is that, these players due to age, injury, fatigue or whatever reason had a significant dip first from the mantle of being one of their club’s best player to a squad player to a bench player while dealing media and fan scrutiny. So the opportunity of starting on a team somewhere you are still viewed as the best and given that special treatment from the manager and team has a special worth. For example, look at Marco Materazzi, the former World cup Winner and of course the most hated footballer of 2006–2007 became a player-coach for Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Premier League.
Truly some titans of the game have taken their talents for different reasons to different countries by choosing to retire from the European game but not the beatiful Game. However, there have been some greats of the European game as well who have chosen to go out on top and this list includes names such as; Zidane, Figo, Scholes, Giggs, Shearer and Maldini to name some.
As we see, the question of to retire or not to retire for a quality footballer is not as simple as that of a NBA baller or a Banker because the variables in place are different and more complex. The money, the joy and the fame are three things that can impact even the most pure hearted so the decision to play a couple of extra years at their not-so-best is perfectly fine with me. From a fan’s perspective, before we criticize these players for being money hungry, lets keep this in mind, not every footballer can end up speak like Gary Neville or coach like Diego Simeone or make great billion dollar deals like Flamini. For many of these players, the generational changing money they can generate comes from the god given and hard earned skill of their two feet, so if they decide not to retire WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE???
By Somran Roy