(MENAFN - The Peninsula)
Why is education so important to you personally? What role has it played in your life since retiring?
I left school at 16 to pursue my dream of becoming a professional footballer. I read books to help educate myself throughout my career, but I never really appreciated just how important education was until the back end of my career when I started to educate myself on things like business, which really helped me when I started to set up my own companies or invested in others.
At the age of 39, I was lucky to get accepted on to the Harvard Business School in Boston to study the Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports with leaders from around the world, which was a great learning experience for me.
Even now, at 41, I'm still pushing myself on every level when it comes to education, for example, by completing my coaching badges, and through the Sports Management Diploma at Josoor Institute. I recently finished block one of my diploma and it was great because it covered the commercial management of sport and areas such as advertising, sponsorship and commercialisation.
Despite being involved in football my whole life, I didn't fully appreciate the whole ecosystem and the level of detail that goes into managing everything to do with a major sports club or institution.
I've also recently taken on the role of Chief Sporting Officer at Aspire Academy. I'm still finding my feet in this new position, but I think it is a role that really complements the life skills I have gained from being a professional footballer for over 20 years and working in so many different countries and playing in big tournaments.
I'm still learning a lot every day which I think is important at every stage of life, but it is an exciting time for me professionally. I'm really enjoying these new challenges I'm facing in my post-playing career.
Do you think football clubs do enough to prepare players for life after football? What was your experience like in this regard? Is there anything you would like to see introduced to help current players?
I would like to see football clubs and federations put more emphasis on helping players prepare for life after football. I think these days, a lot of them are doing great things but there is plenty of scope to do more and improve.
I think being quite an independent person and someone who tries to think outside the box, I created my own company to help assist with my life decisions for commercial stuff, business and education, so I approached retirement in my own way.
The support from federations is also there but I still think more can be done. It is something that I would like to be involved in personally and would be happy to give my views on as ultimately, I think it is important to give back and help the current generation of players if I can on an educational level.
The level of support available to players also differs from region to region and club to club. Not every football club has the same level of resources available as the top European clubs for example. I was lucky enough to have the experience of playing in several different leagues across the world including in India, China and the US, so I know that not all professional footballers earn enough to give them lifelong financial security.
So, I would encourage all active footballers, especially those from my own country and region, to learn new skills and technologies while they are still playing so they are prepared for life after football.
I'd also like to play a role in helping empower others in their post-footballing lives by sharing with them my experiences of education and how signing up to courses like the one I am currently doing at the Josoor Institute has really helped me in my post-playing career.
Can you tell us more about the course you are doing at Josoor Institute?
The Josoor Institute Sports Management Diploma has helped me to understand the importance of having the correct processes in place when it comes to the management of a major sports institution or club, so it has really helped me in my new role at Aspire Academy. I'm on block two of the diploma now and it extends beyond the pitch, focusing on various professional management aspects of the business side of sport.
There are six blocks to the diploma in total. It covers everything from sports communications and marketing, digital transformation in sports, sports strategy and finance, sports venue and event management, sports law, etc.
I'm loving it so far. It's intense and challenging but it complements my new lifestyle and the things that I'm working towards educationally and professionally.
How does education fit into the overall legacy of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar?
When you think about the World Cup you don't necessarily think of education, but when you take a deeper look at the 2022 project, education is central to almost everything.
One great example is Generation Amazing, the human and social legacy programme aiming to positively impact one million lives through football for development outreach and education by 2022. I've done a huge amount of work with Generation Amazing, and the programme is all about using the power of football to teach kids key life skills, such as teamwork, leadership and communication. This isn't only in Qatar but countries in need all over the world, which is amazing.
As mentioned, Josoor Institute is also doing amazing work when it comes to education in Qatar and will be a great legacy of the tournament as one of its goals is to ensure the knowledge gained from hosting such a major event is passed on to the next generation of sports and events professionals.
But also, when you think about the overall strategy of the World Cup and its legacy educationally, I think one of the biggest things is the sustainability aspect of the project. From the infrastructure put in place on the ground, to the stadiums, to committing to hosting a carbon-neutral tournament. This has never been done before on such a large scale, so I think by committing to this, the 2022 World Cup will be a great opportunity to help educate people all over the world on the importance of sustainability and how we all need to make changes to improve things environmentally.
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