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Lessons in post-retirement marketability

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Puyol and Okocha at the Heineken’s lush Lagos party, which wrapped up the UEFA Champions League tour

Last week, I was invited by StarTimes to a private chat with former Super Eagles captain Austin Okocha at the Southern Sun in Ikoyi. What I expected to be a one-on-one actually turned out to be six journalists meeting with the former Eintracht Frankfurt star during the Bundesliga Legend Tour to promote the German top flight in Nigeria.

Okocha, 45, wore a casual white shirt with a black baseball hat and sat on the lounge chair opposite the bar. We talked about his time playing in Germany where he started out on the European sojourn that took him to Turkey, France and England after a brief stint at Rangers International of Enugu. He played his role as an ambassador perfectly, by picking out the good memories and trying to avoid the bad. He spoke glowingly of the German experience as being a great opportunity for him to find his feet as a young African who only discovered his otherness in a new world of racial politics. He made good use of the chance he got to become a household name.

Eleven years after he last played top-flight professional football, Okocha still seems as busy as ever. The week prior, I watched him in Uyo where he led the Star Shine Shine Bobo Team in a novelty game against Carles Puyol’s Chairman Team during the UEFA Champions League Tour sponsored by Heineken. He was the main star ahead of his former Nigeria teammates Austin Eguavoen, Uche Okechukwu, Mutiu Adepoju and Daniel Amokachi during that game. His unequivocal talent was on display for all as he scored a brilliant free kick to great applause from the crowd inside the packed Uyo International Stadium.

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Like a select few of the top ex-footballers around the world who are able to connect with commercial partners to front consumer brand campaigns, Okocha has remained a huge draw in retirement. He fronts a key campaign with BetKing that runs currently. He was also on the Pepsi ‘Naija All the Way’ campaign alongside his nephew Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Shehu Abdullahi with music stars Davido, Wizkid, DJ Cuppy and others during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He has not seemed to lose any of the commercial magic that saw him front the LG Electronics campaign at the height of his fame in the early 2000s.

Life after professional football can be very difficult for many. The sudden loss of top-end income to living on saved funds limits the spending power of former athletes. Many footballers go broke five years after retirement with 35 per cent of them reporting anxiety and depression, according to a 2015 study published by FIFPro, the global association of professional footballers. While many footballers lack the education to change fields, others pick up coaching. Only a few ever thrive and remain buoyant.

But there is a lot more after professional sports than in it. An average pro career lasts between 10 to 15 years with many footballers retiring between ages 32 and 35. What they do with their new found freedom will determine the quality of life they live for the rest of their days. But remaining commercially marketable is a luxury that only a few will enjoy.

Another former Super Eagles captain that is enjoying some resurgence at the moment is Joseph Yobo. Having not really been a brand favourite during his career, he has since transformed himself into a fashion icon alongside his wife, Adaeze, who is a former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria winner. Yobo now headlines the Trophy Field of Honour five-a-side championship while also holding down a spot as an analyst on SuperSport’s UEFA Champions League broadcasts.

In athletics, former sprinter Enefiok Udo-Obong, a Gold medalist in the 4x400m from the Sydney 2000 Olympics, maintains investments in fitness gyms and lifestyle products. He was a television analyst for Kwese Free Sports during the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba.

There are a lot of opportunities that await athletes after a career in sports. With the right education and exposure, many former athletes can thrive and become leaders in the industry. Their level of commercial marketability may differ but they can find a niche and remain relevant.

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