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Five footballers who went on to strange second careers

February 20, 2017 in News & Features

Former Liverpool and French international striker Djibril Cisse recently announced his retirement from professional football.

The decision, he explained, was in part due to failing to earn a contract at Auxerre but also so that he could put his “mind, body and soul” into DJing, alongside working as a producer, pundit and producing his own clothing line.

The 35-year-old, who scored 19 goals for Liverpool in two seasons and earned more than 40 caps for France, surprised many with his desire to be a DJ, but he isn’t the only professional footballer to follow an intriguing career path after his playing days. Since so many coming out of the game go down the roads of managing, coaching or punditry, it is always interesting to watch former stars who do something entirely different.

Here are five of the most unlikely post-football career choices.

5) Dion Dublin – Host of Homes under the Hammer and inventor

dion

Dion Dublin was one of the big names in Midlands football during the early days of the Premier League, playing 145 games for Coventry City from 1994 to 1998 and 155 games for Aston Villa from 1999 to 2004, where he scored 48 goals in the most successful spell of his playing career.

He also had a brief stint at Manchester United, which was ruined by a broken leg, and won four caps for England in 1998.

Since retiring from football in 2008 after two years with Norwich, Dublin, now aged 47, has dabbled in the world of inventing, creating a musical instrument; a type of Cajon (a box-shaped percussion instrument played by slapping the front and rear faces) that he called ‘the dube’.

Aside from creative exploits, he has taken the well-trodden ex-footballer route of television punditry, but also, less obviously, as a presenter in his own right, since joining Lucy Alexander and Martin Roberts as a presenter of the popular daytime property show Homes under the Hammer in 2015

Upon being selected for the role, Dublin retorted: “When they offered it to me I was overjoyed. The only shorter phone call I had was when United signed me from Cambridge.”

4) Tim Wiese – WWE wrestler

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 15: Tim Wiese celebrates with The Usos during WWE Live 2014 at Festhalle on November 15, 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Tim Wiese was an experienced goalkeeper, spending 13 seasons, from 2001 to 2014, in the top flight of German football, playing for both Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen.

However, heavy competition from the likes of Jens Lehmann, Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer meant he won just six caps for the national team, and after retiring from football in 2014 aged 33, Wiese traded in the football for weights, pursuing a career in bodybuilding.

It was this that led to his most recent unexpected career path – as a professional wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the world’s most high-profile wrestling organisation.

In 2015, Wiese took up an offer and began training for his new role. After receiving a personal invitation from Triple H (a former world champion, now WWE’s CEO) Weise was sent to WWE’s training facility in Florida and shortly afterwards, made his in-ring debut on WWE’s European tour in Munich, teaming up with the RAW Tag Team Champions Sheamus and Cesaro to defeat The Shining Stars and Bo Dallas.

As things stand, Wiese is yet to make his debut either in NXT or on the main roster (comprising of RAW on Monday night and SmackDown on Tuesday), and remains in full-time training.

3) Jerzy Dudek – Racing car driver

dudek

Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek was Liverpool’s number one between 2001 and 2005, and wrote his name in club folklore with his performance in the penalty shoot-out win over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.

He made 127 for the Reds appearances and won 60 caps for his country, seeing out the final years of his career as back-up to Iker Casillas at Real Madrid.  Following his retirement in 2011, Dudek opted for a new career behind the wheel of a racing car, and in 2014 completed his first full season in the Volkswagen Castrol Cup.

Interestingly, Dudek claims the two sports are very similar, telling FourFourTwo magazine: “My position in goal is about making quick decisions during the game.

“When you are racing in the car, you have to do the same, especially when you have to defend or attack, and control the car. This has helped me keep my focus and concentration, and maintain my physical ability to be a good driver.”

2) John Carew – Actor

hovdinger

John Carew remains one of the most prolific Norwegian footballers of all time, scoring 24 goals for his national side in 91 appearances.

He made his mark in European football in spells with clubs including Valencia, Roma, Lyon and Besiktas, but is best known to English fans for his four seasons with Aston Villa from 2007-2011, during which time he made 113 appearances notching 37 goals.

After being released following an unspectacular spell at West Ham in 2012, Carew has pursued a professional acting career, starring in 2015 gangster movie Hovdinger in which he played the character Ivan.

Carew told VGTV: “‘It’s a fun and interesting role. I would compare myself with Will Smith and “The Rock” perhaps.”

1) Arjan De Zeeuw – Police detective

de-zeeuw

Few ex-footballers have taken quite such an unlikely career path as former Barnsley, Wigan and Portsmouth defender Arjan De Zeeuw.

The centre back spent 17 years in English football, and was part of the Barnsley squad who reached the Premier League for the first time in their history in 1997, was named Portsmouth’s player of the Year in 2004, captained Wigan in the Carling Cup final 2006 and most bizarrely was named one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s favourite footballers.

Despite the high regard in which he was held in English football, the Dutchman never earned an international call-up, and following his retirement in 2009 at the age of 39, he returned home to complete his training as a doctor, he began work as a forensic scientist and is now a police detective based in Alkmaar.

“It was never my intention to put my feet up after playing – I like to use my brain a little bit,” De Zeeuw told BBC Sport, adding that after playing football, he needed to ‘look at the world a bit more’, and that he liked the idea of justice and of trying to make the world a better and more equal place.

Willock turns Gunners rejection into resurrection at United

February 14, 2017 in Interviews

Every season, many young footballers go through the dreaded experience of getting released by a professional club.

The realisation that they will not fulfill the dreams they have chased for years can be a hard blow to take and for many of them, the opportunity will have passed forever.

To rub salt into the wound, in some cases the judgment comes from the player’s favourite club, the one they will watch for the rest of their lives thinking ‘what if’.

Former Arsenal trainee and lifelong Gunners fan Matty Willock knows this scenario all too well.

After spending his formative years dreaming of emulating his hero Thierry Henry, at the age of 15 he was given the bombshell news that he would not be kept on as a scholar in the under 18s.

But it was not the end of the story, as amazingly he was offered a second chance – at Manchester United.

Contact

Despite the turn in events that got his career back on track again in Manchester, the pain of rejection by his first love was hard to take at first.

“I’m an Arsenal fan so I was dreaming of playing for them one day,” Willock said.

“But when I was 15 I got released. They told me they weren’t giving me a scholarship, so obviously I was without a club.

“Fortunately the head scout at Arsenal was in contact with United and he organised a trial for me to come up and play a couple of games. Luckily enough they said they wanted me, so I signed for United when I was 15.”

For many Premier League academy cast-offs, this type of career rescue act is unheard of. Some might drop down a division or two and have a mediocre career in the lower leagues; most will slip out of the professional game altogether.

Of course, grassroots football is where every player begins their journey to the top and the man from the capital’s East End was no different.

willock-city

Willock left his boyhood-club Arsenal at 15, but resurrected his career at Old Trafford

Connections

Recalling his pathway to Old Trafford, Willock said, “I started off in Sunday League when I was six or seven.

“I was at Ridgeway Rovers. David Beckham played for them and there are a few other players who have come through there. It was probably the best club around my area, Chingford, and they’ve got good connections with a few clubs like West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal.

“Then I got a trial with Arsenal when I was about 10 or 11 and I just went up through the age groups.

Now 20, and an important figure within United’s under 23’s, Willock’s career is on the up.

Having trained intermittently with the first team squad, he further proved his worth to the Red Devils’ hierarchy with a 93rd – minute winning goal in the Premier League 2 fixture away at rivals Liverpool.

The Londoner’s header deep into injury time secured a 1-0 victory at Anfield, and three vital points for his team.

Siblings

The next challenge for United’s match winner on Merseyside, is to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s reckoning and make his first senior appearance; something another member of the Willock family has already achieved this season.

willock-anfield

The midfielder grabbed a late winner at Anfield for United’s U23s

“I’ve got two brothers who still play for Arsenal; Chris and Joe,” said Willock, proudly.

“We used to play together as kids in the park, my dad used to take us every day. It was just something to do. It’s good going home and being able to watch my brothers and they’re both doing well, so that’s a good thing.

“Joe (17) is playing for the under 18’s at the minute and Chris (19) made his [first team] debut in the EFL cup [against Nottingham Forest] which was obviously a big moment for him because he’s a proper die-hard Arsenal fan, it was a dream come true.

“I wasn’t there and it wasn’t on TV so I didn’t get to watch it, but he told me he did well.”

Whilst his younger siblings continue their development in North London the older Willock brother knows he must bide his time for the opportunity to feature in Mourinho’s plans.

Furthermore, to be considered for a loan move away from Old Trafford in order to pick up valuable minutes in a first team environment, Willock concedes that he must listen to the instructions and wishes of his club.

“I’ve been with the first team a bit in training, hopefully I can push my way forward. Patience is key, really. Sometimes as a player you really want something but you have to remember the club always knows best.”

Barriers

Mourinho is famously a manager who tends to utilise experience, rather than youth, within his squad and therefore the path to the first team will not be straightforward for any young player at United.

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Willock’s older brother, Chris, has featured for Arsenal this season

Yet Willock, in pursuing his dreams, has proven that he is not adverse to overcoming barriers placed in his way.

Having bounced back from his early experience of rejection and the harsh realities of competitive football at the highest level, what message would Willock pass on to youngsters who, like him, have been left high and dry by their academy experience?

As you’d expect, old-fashioned hard work is high on the list. But so too is keeping a level head and realising there is still time for things to change.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he signs off.

“It’s easy to give up and start thinking you’re not good enough when people say it by releasing you, but you have to keep believing in yourself and keep working hard. If you’ve got the talent you’ll come through.”

Time for more clubs to take the FA Cup seriously again

January 24, 2017 in Opinion

Weakened teams, poor attendances, crazy kick-off times – all featured in the FA Cup third round earlier this month, and threaten to dent its status and traditions once again as we head into the fourth round. 

Perhaps this weekend’s ties will see more clubs deciding to take football’s oldest knockout competition a bit more seriously?

Yet the temptation is clearly there for many managers to rotate, giving fringe players a chance to show what they can do, and saving their stars from fatigue and injuries, whilst keeping their main focus on maintaining their league position.

This weekend presents opportunities for Brentford, Wolves, Wigan and Wycombe to produce major upsets as they face Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs respectively.

Championship side Wolves look to have a decent chance against Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp fielded a vastly changed team at home against Plymouth in the third round and paid the price as the League Two outfit earned themselves a replay, which they only lost 1-0.

Clear sign

Brentford will also be looking to spring a surprise against the Premier League’s pace-setters, and their players will be fired up to do well at Stamford Bridge.

Like Wolves, the Bees occupy the relative safety of mid-table, so if we don’t see anything from them apart from first-choice XIs giving 100% commitment to win their ties then it really will be a clear sign that the FA Cup is no longer what it was it was.

“Howe’s caution was understandable to some extent, but what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?”

Bournemouth did their best in the last round to prove this, making 11 changes for their trip to Millwall and failing to even register a shot on target as they went down 3-0 to the League One team.

With the Cherries not threatened by relegation from the top flight, boss Eddie Howe was widely criticised for not given the Cup his best shot. Surely it was worth taking a risk?

Howe admitted: “In hindsight with the result, yes, but though I haven’t been forced, my hands are tied a little bit. We are so stretched, the Premier League is such a demanding league, we feel we need our best players available for selection.”

Mediocre

His caution was, therefore, understandable to some extent. But what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?

Bournemouth have Jack Wilshere on loan from Arsenal for the season; why not use his abilities whilst you have him to push for success in the Cup?

Despite all the criticism Bournemouth received, it is a given that this weekend we will see another top-flight team make a similar amount of changes.

Perhaps it will lead to another upset. But what fans of smaller clubs really want to see is their team beating the best an opponent has to offer, not a mediocre second XI whose names are all greeted with a derisory ‘Who?’ when the line-ups are announced.

Maybe the FA should start handing out fines for clubs who make wholesale changes for Cup ties, though this would be tricky to regulate and enforce. Perhaps the prize money on offer should be boosted? It’s currently dwarfed by the riches available in the Premier League – even for finishing bottom of the table.

Financial benefits

But if the big clubs (or any club for that matter) want to field weakened teams in the Cup, they can, so perhaps when it happens the smaller ones should really go for it?

“Will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?”

Of course, no-one can blame Plymouth for seeing a draw at Anfield as the best-possible outcome; half the gate money, plus a full house and the TV cameras at Home Park for the replay. That’s serious money for a League Two club who flirted with going out of business not so long ago.

But part of me still thinks even the likes of Argyle could, in the circumstances, have really taken the game to Liverpool’s assortment of fringe players and kids.

Yes, they earned around £1m from the two ties, but it would have been good to see them muster more than a single shot on target at Anfield to add their admirable defensive display.

Plain unlucky

In the replay, an early goal from Lucas forced Plymouth to start playing, and start playing is exactly what they did, taking the game to the Reds and coming within inches of a stunning equaliser from Jake Jervis with a 12-yard scissor-kick.

Okay, so they still didn’t manage many attempts on goal, but still a lot more than they did at Anfield, where an inexperienced Liverpool side were there for the taking.

Again I don’t want to criticise them too much, and others will argue that they got their tactics spot on because Liverpool do struggle against defensive outfits as we’ve seen in the Premier League. At the end of the day, maybe they were just plain unlucky to lose out.

But let’s hope we see more clubs taking the FA Cup seriously this weekend. If they don’t, the ‘shock’ results will keep coming. But will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?

‘I’m certainly not going to call for Wenger to go’

November 8, 2016 in Interviews

Ranked amongst the top 10 stand-ups in Britain by The Independent, comedian Ian Stone has flourished to become one of the most talented topical acts in the country.

Currently presenting ‘The Football’s On’ for BT Sport, the north Londoner is a regular on shows like Mock the Week but his lifelong passion is Arsenal. Elephant Sport spoke to him about the highs and lows of being a Gooner, Arsene Wenger and much more.

How did you feel about the last weekend’s north London derby?  

Stone with Arsenal legend Brady

It was a fair result. They have some decent attacking players, they hit the post and I thought they played alright particularly in the first half an hour so 1-1 is probably fair.

We were kind of flat but we haven’t been brilliant in most games this season to be honest. We are muddling through.

It’s not the best but we are in it so I’ll take that.

Where do you think Arsenal will finish come the end of the season?

Genuinely – I’ve no idea. We could win it or we could finish third. The race will be between Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and us.

It will be tight. I would like us to be running away with the league but that’s not going to happen so I enjoy the big games.

Anyone can win it, even Spurs – I hate them but they’re a decent team. They have a good squad but ours is better.

Not having European football will benefit Liverpool and Chelsea but none of the teams are defensively good, apart from Spurs, so that’s why I think they are a threat.

Growing up what was the best thing you witnessed as an Arsenal fan? 

That’s not an easy question. But if you’re talking about the school years, then seeing Liam Brady for the first time and going ‘wow the way he plays is just beautiful’. I loved him and I still do.

How did you first become interested in Arsenal?

My dad. He just took me to Highbury and I thought ‘yeah this is it, I love this place’. That’s what happens to most of us, isn’t it?

Favourite all-time Arsenal player and why?

Hard to pick one. Brady first, I loved him, and Pat Jennings too. When it was a one on one with the keeper and Jennings was in goal, you thought they were never going to beat him. Tony Adams, because he loved the club as much as I do and Ian Wright for the same reason.

Dennis Bergkamp because he’s probably the best footballer I have ever seen, Thierry Henry because he’s a close second. There’s many, but those players are great players and they loved the club, and as a fan that’s what you want really.

Dennis Bergkamp was a great but comparisons have been made between Mesut Ozil and him – what is your opinion of the German?

Ozil. That goal against Ludogorets. I could watch that goal a million times and I wouldn’t get bored. That second dummy… the bloke is a genius and unlike any footballer I have ever seen. He has a lovely style about him.

When he first arrived, I was a bit disappointed. There were some moments but he didn’t really impose himself in games and you thought ‘you really could win this game on your own if you could be bothered’ but now he’s bulked up a bit and he’s scoring goals.

He’s an outstanding footballer and I’m glad we’ve got him. I love watching him.

Away at Villa last season, he brought the ball down right in front of me and you just thought ‘how did he even do that’?  That’s what I love about Ozil. He makes the incredibly difficult look incredibly easy.

Favourite current Arsenal player and why?

Alexis Sanchez. He just loves the game and he loves to play. Alexis is a great footballer. I’m so glad we have got him as it’s a pleasure to watch players like that.

Arsene Wenger is into his 20th season at Arsenal but what is your take on the boss?

Last season I was fed up, we had a great opportunity to win the title, and for all the romance of Leicester winning, we blew it and I blamed Wenger.

Sometimes when he’s signed players like Igor Stepanovs and Marouane Chamakh, I’ve sat there thinking ‘what on earth are you doing?’, but what can you say about the boss?

He creates beautiful football teams and will be remembered long after we’ve all gone as someone who created a style of football. He’s made some mistakes but we all have. He’ll go when he wants to go. I’m certainly not going to call for him to go.

What I would love more than anything is for him to win the Champions League and sign off with that. He deserves it but you know his legacy.

We all sit in the most beautiful of stadiums and that’s all down to him so I have the most positive of feelings towards him.

I’ve not had a 20-year relationship with anyone who hasn’t pissed me off though!

Who would you get as his replacement when he decides to leave?

I wanted Jurgen Klopp but he’s at the right club at Liverpool, they suit him. Anytime we ever talk about a possible replacement, it all goes wrong for them.

Ronald Koeman is a very good manager and we will see what happens despite losing 5-0 to Chelsea on the weekend!

There’s been talk of Diego Simeone but I don’t think he’s right for Arsenal. He needs the fans onside and I think our fans are a little bit different.

We can be aroused but I don’t think we are right for Simeone. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think Arsene is going away for a while yet.

Best goal you have ever witnessed as an Arsenal fan?

Against Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game at Highbury. Robert Pires was penned in in the corner by three defenders but somehow managed to play a 40-yard pass to Dennis Bergkamp in the centre of the pitch.

He killed it, exchanged passes with Patrick Vieira and he’s away. Bergkamp plays the ball inside the full back to Sylvain Wiltord, who lays it across to Thierry Henry, who’s sprinted 80-yards to side-foot it in.

From one end of the pitch to the other in six seconds – it was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen Arsenal ever do.

Worst moment as an Arsenal fan?

Losing the Champions League final to Barcelona was bad – I enjoyed the trip to Paris but not the game. Losing the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray on penalties was awful.

In the 1980 season, I went to 60 games out of 68, and we lost to West Ham in the FA Cup final, then Valencia in the Cup Winners Cup final and somehow managed to get hammered by Middlesbrough 5-0. That was pretty grim.

Best moment as an Arsenal fan?

Beating Barcelona at the Emirates a few years ago was pretty awesome, and Thierry Henry scoring on his comeback against Leeds United in the FA Cup was special too. I interviewed him for a radio thing and he loved talking about that moment.

How impressed have you been with Alexis Sanchez up front this season?

It’s working. I like the fact that there’s movement when Sanchez is up front. Olivier Giroud is a great sub and you can bring him on and play him in a two but I like the mobility of the team when Sanchez plays.

What have you made of the summer signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka?

Excellent. Two very good signings. We needed spine – we’ve got it now.

How do you feel about the progress that Laurent Koscielny has made over the years to become one of the world’s best defenders? 

I think most people realise how good Koscielny is. He’s got better as quite often defenders do so I’m pleased for him and he enjoys being at the club so let him stay as long as he wants!

Which player that left the club hurt you the most?

It killed me losing Patrick Vieira but he wanted to go. I remember him coming on as an 18 year old against Sheffield Wednesday – we were losing and he turned the game. He was a stunning footballer and a fighter and I loved him and Emmanuel Petit together.

How do you see Arsenal fairing throughout the season and could this be Wenger’s final season?

I think if he wins the Premier League or Champions League, I think he will stay. We can win the league but will we? If we get lucky with injuries, we will be there come May, but it’s very tight. Our position in the league is good at the moment – let’s see.

Lastly, how do you feel Arsenal will fair against Manchester United after the international break?

I want to beat them so badly. I’ve not seen Arsenal win many games at Old Trafford but I went to the FA Cup game there when we won 2-1 with Danny Welbeck scoring, and it was absolutely wicked – 9,000 of us there on a Monday night.

What I loved was weeks later, reading that the players had been so happy with the support and the difference it had made. That means a lot to the fans. I love winning at Old Trafford, so hopefully we will.

I’d love us to have a run in the Champions League too. I want us to finish first in the group and give ourselves a chance because if we do that, the second leg of the next round will be at home and that’s huge.

It’s a long time since we went far in Europe and if we got to the semis and do well in the League, Ozil and Sanchez will stay and we can continue to improve. We’re doing all right at the moment, I’m enjoying it so let’s continue!

Follow Ian Stone on Twitter @iandstone

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