Life after football when injury ends it all

For some professional footballers, a career-ending injury is just that, the end. However, for some, a break (both figuratively and physically) can be the start of a new chapter. Stories of former stars falling from grace after being forced out the game are plentiful, but so too are the number of players who’ve gone on the achieve success in other arenas.

For example, Bolton’s Icelandic star, Gudni Bergsson, went on to complete his law degree and become a practising legal eagle in his native Iceland.

Another arena into which a number of former footballers have entered in recent years is the poker world. The high stakes card game has long been played by teams in between matches on away days and that seems to have translated into a culture of migration for a host a players.

Success in a New Arena

By far one of the most successful examples of players transitioning from football to poker in recent years is former Tottenham and Manchester United striker, Teddy Sheringham. After hanging up his boots, the Champions League winner began mixing it with professional players in the UK before jetting off around the world to compete in events such as the World Series of Poker. Since taking up the game professionally back in 2005, Sheringham has banked more than £250,000 playing poker against some of the best in the game.

However, while many regard Sheringham as the best football-to-poker convert, there is a new kid on the block. Denmark’s Jan Vang Sorensen was once a solid player for teams such as Odense. But after suffering a knee injury he was forced to retire at the age of 30. Although he could have enjoyed a prosperous career as a coach or a trainer, Sorensen decided to focus his attention elsewhere. Still with a burning desire to compete, the Dane took to the poker table and began honing his skills.

Although he may not have been one of the leading footballers in Europe, Sorensen still possessed all the attributes any player needs to make it into the professional ranks and it’s these skills he’s managed to parlay into a lucrative new career. Since becoming a professional poker player, Sorensen has not only banked more than £1.5 million in prize money, but he’s also won the game’s equivalent of the World Cup.

Each year the World Series of Poker attracts the world’s best poker players to Las Vegas and if a player is able to win one of the 50+ events on offer they are given a champion’s bracelet. Sorensen has managed to win two of these prestigious titles as well as countless other tournaments across the world, including the Masters Classics of Poker and the Danish Poker Championships. While it would be easy to say a single victory is a fluke, winning multiple titles as well as vast sums of money certainly isn’t lucky. So, what’s given Sorensen the ability to become as tough on the felt as he was on the pitch?

Although there’s no secret formula for why some footballers have managed to do so well in poker, there are a few traits that make them more likely to succeed than the average Joe:

Competition: All footballers, regardless of the level they reached in the sport, are competitive. In fact, it’s that competitive nature that allowed them to make it in one of the toughest sports in the world. An injury can’t kill this competitive spirit and that’s a fuel many footballers have been able to use to ignite their passion for poker.

Time: Another trait injured footballers have that allows them to do well in poker is time. To learn the subtleties of poker and become a top player takes a considerable amount of studying and that’s only possible if you have time. Footballers often need time to recuperate (for example, Jose Enrique needed four months to recover from his knee injury) after a career-ending injury and one of the best ways to take their mind off things is to learn a new skill. Combine that with the financial security that usually comes from being a footballer and it provides a great breeding ground for aspiring poker pros.

Old Clock

Form: Another thing footballers will understand better than the average person is form and long-term expectation. Like the best footballers, poker players will go through periods of ups and downs but it’s the very best pros who maintain their discipline throughout. Being able to focus on the fundamentals and block out the present is something footballers do extremely well and this is something that helps them overcome the bad times they may suffer at the poker table.

Strength: All former footballers have certain attributes that made them strong enough to become a professional. Some were lean, nimble and able to skip past players on the wing with some silky skills; while others were broad, muscular players that could boss the backline through sheer physicality. Knowing where their strengths lie and how to best utilise them is something footballers are fantastic at and that serves them well in poker.

Although Texas Hold’em might the game everyone knows and loves, some players don’t have the skills required to be a top player in this variant. In fact, Sorensen is known for his ability to play Stud poker. This game requires a lot more subtlety and appreciation of small changes in odds, rather than the all-out warfare of Hold’em. This pace suits certain skill sets better than others and recognising this is crucial if you want to become a champion. Fortunately, Sorensen was able to find his niche and use his attributes to good effect.

Movement: The final skills footballers seem to possess that helps them in poker is a kinaesthetic awareness of movement. Reading players and spotting tells is a great way to decipher whether someone is weak or strong at the poker table, but this isn’t easy. Noticing subtle movements is the key to this and footballers will have a natural affinity thanks to years of watching opponents feint, switch and turn on the pitch.

Although it may not seem like a natural career move for the injured footballer, pros such as Sorensen have shown that poker is a viable option for the sports star. Through a combination of physical and mental attributes, footballers with time on their hands and money in the bank can become a real force in the poker world.

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Lee Hurley

Writer specialising in good football and bad relationships. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.