With the millions on offer for playing at the top level, footballers would be smart to look to the future and invest in businesses too, like these current and ex-pros
When they’re not making millions for their exploits on the pitch, footballers with one eye on the future could do worse than taking steps into the world of business.
If they’re lucky, professionals might enjoy careers lasting about 15 years in the sport – and taking up a job as a coach or media pundit after retirement isn’t for everyone.
From apps and blockchain to biosciences and property, no sector has been left unturned by players from across all levels of the game in their investments as they seek to set themselves up for life and regain focus after hanging up their boots.
Here’s some of the most prominent footballers to have made waves in business.
Footballers in business
Former Arsenal and AC Milan midfielder Mathieu Flamini is on a quest to save the planet after founding bioscience firm GF Biochemicals with business partner Pasquale Granata in 2008 – while he’s making some serious money, too.
Still a professional footballer – the Frenchman plied his trade at Spanish side Getafe in the 2018-19 season – the 35-year-old was recognised in 2018 as one of the 100 most promising business leaders on the planet in the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders.
That’s because GF Biochemicals has made great strides in the past ten years, becoming the first company to mass-produce levulinic acid, a sustainable oil substitute that can be used in plastics, solvents, fuels and the pharmaceutical industry.
In 2014, levulinic acid was named as one of the 12 biochemicals most likely to produce value in the future by the US Department of Energy.
The company, which was co-founded by Pasquale Granata and employs 400 people, is tipped to have enormous potential, with various estimates suggesting it could one day be valued at 20bn euros ($22.3bn).
Away from biosciences, Flamini also launched Unity, a natural-origin face, hair body and wellness brand that uses sustainable packaging, alongside former Arsenal teammate Mesut Ozil in November 2018.
Clarence Seedorf had fans salivating when he was tormenting defenders as one of the world’s most gifted playmakers during the 1990s and 2000s.
Now the 43-year-old former Dutch international is doing the same for diners at his Japanese restaurant group Finger’s.
Seedorf, who retired in 2014 after a decorated career that included stints at clubs including AC Milan and Real Madrid, set up the company in 2004.
As well as two restaurants in Milan, it has branches in Porto Cervo, the French Alps and Rome.
Brand Beckham has been one of the most successful to ever come out of football.
Even though he hung up his boots in 2013, old Golden Balls remains one of the most recognisable sportsmen on the planet, with endorsements in everything from Adidas and Armani to Samsung and H&M managed via his image rights company Footwork Productions.
But it’s not just other companies the former Manchester United and Real Madrid ace is promoting, as he has become something of an entrepreneur himself along with wife Victoria Beckham.
Through the 44-year-old’s company DB Ventures Limited, he and Victoria banked almost £30m in dividends over the two years leading to December 2018 – giving the couple a combined net worth of £355m, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2019 of the 1,000 wealthiest people in Britain, in which they ranked 372nd.
The business is involved in “licensing and other forms of commercialisation of the ‘David Beckham’ brand”, presumably including his David Beckham fragrance brand and his link-up with clothing brand Kent & Curwen for a range in his name.
“We all live in a Robbie Fowler house” – or so the oft-heard terrace chant went during Fowler’s successful on-pitch career.
He is a legend at hometown club Liverpool after winning five trophies and scoring 183 goals, but it was while playing for Manchester City in the mid-2000s when his burgeoning property empire became well-known.
Fowler, now 44, is believed to be one of the wealthiest footballers of all time after building a large portfolio, including apartments, small family homes and larger buildings.
In 2005, he featured on The Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £28m – while his net worth is now estimated to be about £31m.
He now provides tips to others through the Robbie Fowler Property Academy, which holds workshops across the UK.
It’s not just property he invests in, with other business interests in racehorses and sports promotions.
Fowler says the smartest move he ever made was getting a financial adviser as an 18-year-old following a recommendation by his first manager Graeme Souness.
After a somewhat journeyman career as a footballer, Marlon Harewood returned to where it all began to set up his business.
Nottingham Forest had been the first of 13 clubs for the powerful striker, who went on to play in the Premier League for the likes of West Ham United and Aston Villa.
The 40-year-old, who last played as a pro in 2016 for Nuneaton Town, now heads up AC13 Premier alongside business partner Andy Cole – not the footballer – in Nottingham.
The company gives him a ticket to continue dealing with top stars like Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Kyle Walker, Andy Carroll and Jack Butland on a regular basis, with the footballers now clients who want their sports cars customised and equipped with the latest modifications.
Thanks John Stones for choosing AC13 to customise your Mercedes SLS, it’s been a pleasure ?
•#ac13premier #johnstones #mancity #baller #premierleaguechampions pic.twitter.com/pgEDAPlNqL
— AC13 Premier (@AC13PREMIER) May 3, 2018
They include interior fit-outs, body styling kits, vehicle wrapping, privacy glass, bespoke wheel colouring and accident repairs.
Harewood also helps young players with freshly minted bank accounts to find the right luxury car for them.
His life outside football first came into the public eye in 2016 when he gave makeovers to some of the 19 BMW i8s that were gifted to Leicester City stars as a reward from the club’s owner for winning the Premier League.
Hardly the most famous player in this entrepreneurial football team, but Steve Howard’s post-football career is one relevant to everyone he ever shared a pitch with.
The former striker, who plied his trade in the English Football League for clubs including Luton Town, Leicester City and Derby County, set up a consultancy business in 2015 to help players with their money.
He decided Platinum Capital Investments – the company he runs with two partners in Chester-le-Street, County Durham – was the right move after giving advice to teammates through his career about smart investments.
Howard, acting upon word-of-mouth referrals, now travels around the country meeting players on a confidential basis, while he also works with high-net worth individuals outside the game.
In an interview with NS Business in 2018, the 43-year-old said: “I’d always wanted to go into business. Throughout my career I had properties so I knew I’d do alright because I’d prepared for retirement.
“It’s a massive thing when you come out and think ‘what do I do now?’ I was prepared and yet it was still a huge shock because of the routine I’d been used to for 22 years.
“So I’m trying to educate young players about how they need to set themselves up for retirement and make sure they have another income.
“If it worked for me then it can for others.”
Many youngsters fantasise about growing up to be a footballer, but former AC Milan star Gennaro Gattuso, 41, admitted it was a “dream come true” when he opened his fish shop in 2010.
Named Gattuso & Bianchi – also referencing his confectioner friend Andrea Bianchi – the store is based in the centre of Gallaratte, near Milan.
The likes of David Beckham and Ronaldinho were among the VIP guests to visit World Cup and two-time Champions League winner Gattuso’s shop when it launched.
Gattuso, who also managed AC Milan from 2017 to 2019 and recently took up the Napoli hotseat, said at the time: “Someone might even smile at it but this store is a dream come true for me.
“I wanted to become a fisherman when I was a child, but life’s events have later driven me in different directions.”
He was a member of England’s so-called “golden generation”, and now Rio Ferdinand will be counting up a few gold coins with so many business interests.
The 41-year-old, who won six Premier League titles and a Champions League medal as a defender at Manchester United, juggles a number of companies alongside his role as a TV pundit.
Ferdinand set up his record label White Chalk Music with an old school friend in 2005 and signed up musicians like Melody Johnson and Nia Jai.
He opened the swanky Italian restaurant Rosso, based inside a former bank in Manchester, in 2011.
Its name was a nod to his Man United colours – “rosso” means “red” in Italian – and the Grade II-listed venue was given a revamp in 2017.
Showbiz stars and footballers have been known to visit, while many of the club’s parties have been held there.
Ferdinand also ventured into the world of media by launching an online magazine named #5 – the number he wore during his playing days –in 2009.
It has featured the footballer interviewing stars including Boris Becker and Snoop Dogg, although no editions have been published since February 2017.
Also within the #5 brand is a clothing label, which was launched with a range of shoes and accessories in Selfridges in 2010.
A limited collection of men’s sweatshirts, pants, beanie hats, caps, hoodies, T-shirts and bags are now sold on the company’s Five Supply website – via Sports Direct.
It’s not just business that the ex-footballer is involved in, however, as the Rio Ferdinand Foundation provides education and employment pathways to young people by using role models.
During his playing career, Ramon Vega arguably went under the radar as a respected centre-back who played in the Premier League for an average Tottenham Hotspur between 1997 and 2001.
But the same can’t be said for the former Swiss international’s second career as a hedge fund manager with an office in Mayfair, London.
The 48-year-old is said to have made about £15m since hanging up his boots after founding Vega Swiss Asset Management, which reportedly had £635m of client funds under advisory management in 2015.
In an interview at the time, he talked about how he was going to work at Credit Suisse as a 16-year-old trainee.
He said: “Finance was always part of my football life, from the start at home in Switzerland.
“When I signed for Grasshopper Zurich as a boy, they were piloting an apprenticeship scheme so I did a degree in banking and finance.”
Another ex-Manchester United star who has made the transition from footballer to entrepreneur, Louis Saha is the man behind social media start-up Axis Stars.
The former France international striker, 41, launched the company in 2013, the same year he retired after 23 years in the game.
Clearly taking inspiration from his career in sport, Axis Stars provides financial advice for professional athletes, coaches and agents with the aim of preventing bankruptcy – something that has plagued many once-wealthy stars down the years.
Sportsmen who signed up have included Andy Murray, Didier Drogba, Phil Neville and Florent Malouda.
The network gives them a place to chat about lifestyle, insurance finance, physios, sponsorship and anything else related to their carteers.
The venture is part of Saha’s sporting consultancy business Axis 10.
Speaking when it launched, he said: “Now I’ve retired, I still have a huge role to play sharing my experience with young players.
“I wish I had a platform like this as a player – it would have helped me manage my career plan and plan for the future a lot better.”
The youngest in this enterprising team at 30, Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand may still have his best years ahead of him and no doubt harbours hopes of adding to his 19 England caps.
But the 2012 Champions League winner also wisely has an eye on the future after founding fintech brokerage firm Silicon Markets with entrepreneurs Louis Bell – a fellow Gillingham youth player – and Matthew Kirkham in May 2015.
Based within the Level 39 tech accelerator in London’s Canary Wharf business district, the company was set up with the aim of revolutionising retail trading with a bespoke offering of advanced machine learning and AI software.
Asked about the reason for his involvement in the business at the time of its launch, Bertrand said: “I kind of wanted to go against the grain – the traditional footballer who reached perhaps mid-30s, stops and then thinks ‘what am I going to do now?’”
Bertrand, who began dabbling in trading when he was 18, also owns Footiemoji with his former Chelsea captain John Terry. As the name suggests, the company produces football-related emojis.
For many, the jury remains out on the true benefits of blockchain – a distributed ledger technology that permanently records transactions to add security and transparency.
But former Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers striker Dexter Blackstock has put the money he made from a career in football behind it to set up the UK-based company MediConnect.
It claims to use the technology for social good in the pharmaceutical industry, which it intends to “revolutionise”.
By recording the distribution of medicine in a blockchain – all the way from manufacturers and wholesalers to pharmacies and patients – MediConnect claims it can prevent over-prescribing to patients from multiple pharmacies.
This could not only reduce addiction, it says, but also enable the removal of false medicines and the easy recall of drugs.
Blackstock, 33, has even won the backing of Uganda president Yoweri Musevini, who has expressed interest in using the MediConnect platform to combat the issues facing the country’s pharmaceutical industry, with 10% of the drugs prescribed in the country substandard or counterfeit versions of real medicine.
Sports sponsorship is a highly lucrative market and Christian Karembeu wants a slice of it.
The 49-year-old retired midfielder, who was part of the France squad that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and was capped 53 times by Les Bleus, was announced as an advisor and investor in Sponsor.Online in June 2019.
The Swiss company has created a platform that it claims can make it easier and quicker for football teams and major brands worldwide to connect and sign deals.
More than 150 professional football teams across mainland Europe are signed up and working with about 50 brands.
Speaking after joining the business, ex-Real Madrid and Olympiakos star Karembeu, who is an active investor in numerous sports-related technology companies, said: “Sponsor.Online will help the sports industry to take the financial streams to a completely new level by making the existing market more efficient, reducing transaction costs and even creating new market possibilities.
“There are plenty of new clubs and sponsors following every week; there are more and more sponsorship contracts being signed and the total value of inventory offered is growing every day.
“We have the potential to change the world here, and I would be more than happy to share my passion with other investors who want to join us on our journey.”
Much like an unconventional playing career in which he specialised as both a striker and centre-back, Dion Dublin has taken the less-travelled route into business.
Alongside television stints as a football pundit and guest on BBC One property auction show Homes Under the Hammer, he has also designed his own music instrument.
Named The Dube, it is described as a “stylish cube percussion instrument with four playable sides, each producing their own unique sound”.
Musicians can choose from either an acoustic or “pro dube” sound that is internally mic’d for amplifying sound, while it comes in various shapes and sizes.
While it may sound a bit like a mad idea, the likes of Stevie Wonder, One Direction’s drummer and the Official England Supporters Band reportedly own The Dube. It’s also promoted as a teaching instrument.
Dublin, who enjoyed a reasonably prolific career for teams including Coventry City, Aston Villa and Norwich City, has previously said he has always been a percussionist.
“One day I decided to go to a hardware store,” the 50-year-old said. “I picked up six pieces of wood, a hammer and nails, and built a box.
“It probably sounded useless at the time but it’s taken me to where I am today.”