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Prepping footballers for life after sport

Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini recently completed a master's degree -- part of FIFPro's new scheme for pros after their career is over, "Mind the Gap."

Posted: Oct 18, 2018 9:06 AM
Updated: Oct 18, 2018 9:37 AM

While strikers celebrate scoring goals, nobody celebrates a defensive challenge or block quite like Giorgio Chiellini.

That devotion to the art of defending has proved key to Italian club Juventus winning seven successive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2018.

But he's not only a student of defensive disciplines -- the 34-year-old recently graduated from the University of Turin with a Master's Degree in Business Administration.

"We have to encourage more football players to study and increase the number with university degrees. Because life is long," Chiellini told world players' union FIFPro, to help promote their "Mind the Gap" campaign.

"Life will be beautiful after the end of a player's career. But you have to prepare first or there is a risk you will get to 35-years-old and not know what to do with your life. Only a few players manage to find a job in football."

Risk of depression

Only 13% of current professional male football players in Europe have post-school vocational education -- that's compared to about 53% of the male population in the EU.

In addition, 45% of players earn less than $1,000 a month during their careers, according to a FIFPro report in 2016.

That combination means many former players are left struggling to pay the bills with no education or relevant work experience to fall back on.

"There's also the risk of depression, and there are many former players with financial problems because they have not thought about what they are going to do, they have not opened their minds by studying," warned Chiellini.

"You then have the rest of your life in front of you and just being able to play football is not enough."

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'I missed out'

Former Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and now Crystal Palace defender Mamadou Sakho is a footballer eager to get back to school once he hangs up his boots.

"I would love to start to study again," Sakho told CNN Sport. "I started professional football at 16. I think I missed out on something because I am really open-minded and I would love to see how the world is working, how business works, and how politicians are thinking.

"I know with football, we are an example in sports. But I think we are in a closed world and I would like to open my mind with different work."

Manchester City and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany has also studied for a Master's in Business Administration, graduating after four years of part-time study at the Alliance Manchester Business School.

"I've always felt education is very important and this was instilled into me by my late mother from an early age. It felt like a fitting tribute to my mother to pursue my academic career," he said.

Responsibility on families

Chiellini, who has 99 caps for Italy, believes a player's support network can help in preparing a youngster for a life away from football.

"The family has the responsibility more than anyone to encourage and educate children to get on with their studies," he said.

"I remember when I was in primary school, between six and 10 years old, sometimes I would say 'Mum, I am not well, I don't want to go to school.'

"She always said: 'If you don't go to school, you don't go to football.' I always got better straight away. I managed to get up and go to school."

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'From being fundamentally needed to obsolete'

Retiring from professional football without a contingency plan in place can leave many struggling to fill the void.

A 2015 study from FIFPro found that 35% of former footballers reported feelings of depression and anxiety.

In addition, 25% of former players reported adverse alcohol behavior.

CNN Sport recently spoke with Clarke Carlisle, a former English Premier League player who struggled with depression during and after his playing career.

The former defender believes the sport needs to do more to prevent players suffering a downward trajectory after retirement.

"You go from being fundamentally needed to obsolete, which in football usually happens at the age of 33 or 35," Carlisle told CNN.

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"There are many, many things that can contribute to a player's downward spiral in football and we need to be able to mitigate the impact."

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