Retirement terrifies sports stars. It is like Wile E. Coyote falling off the cliff in his ambitious chase of Road Runner in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. The thud at the end of the fall is proportionate to the length of the career. The longer it is the harder the end game seems to be.
It could be worse for a high profile player who acquired fame and status in the game while playing at the highest level, be it club or internationally. While some players prepare for that finality, most live in the dark and never see it coming. They play on and on until they can play no more and when it comes to the end they literally end too. But what if the retirement comes early, say due to injury? Or for other reasons, what is a player’s preparedness for life after football?
Allan Wanga’s story
Allan Wetende Wanga, a renowned striker who has had a stellar career since bursting to the top flight scene in 2007 with Tusker FC talks of the need to plan for life after football while still active on the pitch as a fall back to whatever eventuality may happen.
Wanga, who has graced some of the best leagues in Africa that include Kenya, Tanzania, Angola and Sudan, in Eastern Europe – Azerbaijan as well as Asia in Vietnam, says that other than planning for football thereafter, there is need to also plan for what is being earned.
“Football as a career has its span - however long it may be it will finally come to an end one day,"
“Football as a career has its span; however long it may be it will finally come to an end one day" - Allan Wanga
"A footballer therefore must understand that and prepare accordingly else they will find themselves in a bad place when it all ends,” he adds.
As a father of a young family, Wanga shudders at the thought of the day football will fail to take care of his bills and has worked around it accordingly over the years.
The former Lolwe FC player who arrived at Tusker in early 2007and became a household name in just his first season in the top flight, winning the league at his first time of asking, has carefully invested monies earned from football in the right places.
Having secured a home from his earnings over time, he has since gone into business and now runs an entertainment spot as well as a fitness centre in Rongai amongst several other investments.
“Over the years I followed and admired many players. Some of them took a turn for the worst when they stopped earning from playing and that scared me a little. From those examples I promised myself that whatever I earned will be put to good use to secure my life after I quit the game,” said the man who moved to Angola’s Petro de Luanda at the end of the 2007 season.
“End of playing does not mean end of earning,” he says before clarifying; “Anyone who wants to wait to retire first then plan what to do next is bound to get into serious trouble. Planning what to do next in good time makes the difference,” Said Wanga who helped Petro de Luanda to the Angolan league title in his first year in 2008 - the first since 2001, and a second straight title the year after.
“Anyone who wants to wait to retire first then plan what to do next is bound to get into serious trouble. Planning what to do next in good time makes the difference,”
“At your prime you get carried away because the earnings could be good. You easily assume it will be the same all the time and you spend freely. But that state could change any day and as much as we may want to play for as long as possible it will come to an end one day. Planning for life after football is important.” Added the Aberbijan Cup winner in the 2009/10 season while on a six month stint with FC Baku
Exactly what can footballers do after their playing career is over?
Obviously the options are diverse as they can be. While some recoil back to pursue professions dictated by what they schooled, others stay within the game to take up coaching, administrative, refereeing roles, in the media to become analyst and/or pundits, while many others will try their hands in the unknown.
Notwithstanding, as revealed in a recent report by FIFPRO - the World Players’ Union for all professional footballers, for the year ended 2016 as done in collaboration with The University of Manchester on Working Conditions in Professional Football, many players globally took an enormous risk in dropping education for football, and that risk never pays off for all.
Globally, the report that was aimed at providing a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the global football employment market, from the top leagues to the base of the professional pyramid, states that 72% of players never went beyond High school education with 10% not staying in education beyond primary school.
In Kenya, the report indicates that 23% of players are said to have gone past High school and vocational training.
Given the severe employment risks worldwide, Kenya included, the report says, missing out on education is decision that many players have regretted after their dream of furthering their playing career came to an end.
Missing out on education is a decision that many players have regretted after their dream of furthering their playing career came to an end - FIFPRO
With that the options of formal employment diminished, many will head the informal way. For some this becomes the beginning of struggles and frustrations and that path to the all too familiar path to the bottle for solace and to other societal vices. Many a retired Kenyan player can be identified in this corner.
Though he is calling on players to have the foresight, Wanga, whose lone goals earned Sudanese giants Al Merreikh the Kagame Cup in August 2014 and Tusker a domestic Cup in 2016 - their first after 23 years, admits the life of business has its own challenges.
Wanga, now 31, can relate to the life of football and that of business all too well. While he has achieved many successes on the pitch, he too had stumbles but that never deterred him.
A failed move to Georgian side in June 2010, Omani club Al Nasr in early 2013, Bidvest in South Africa in June 2015, plus a few others have all been part of his football journey.
At the end of 2013 he won the GOtv Shield with AFC Leopards and his two goals in a final against Sudan at Nyayo Stadium earned Kenya the 2013 CECAFA senior challenge cup final, the first in 19 years.
“I took to the direction of business early on and I must say each has its own challenges. But along the way I have learnt the dynamics of business and when I eventually call it a day from football I will be a lot wiser,” added Wanga who has been capped 47 times for Kenya since May 2007,” said the high achiever who wants to see Kenyan footballers make hay while the sun still shines.
“I took to the direction of business early on and I must say each has its own challenges.”
Notably, Wanga also owns a fleet of taxis and lives in his own 3-bedroom mansion in Ongata Rongai. His story should serve as motivation to the current crop of footballers and as former Liverpool captain said in his book, footballers nowadays get paid awfully well and they only have themselves to blame if they don’t invest for the future.