By Doug Reed
5 Former Players Now Top Football Execs
Retiring players have an in-depth understanding of the football industry that is both unique and invaluable. If the game took advantage of this knowledge the rewards would be huge, but it has frequently been overlooked and underutilised in the past.
A professional player is at the heart of football every day for up to twenty years or more. This gives them the privileged position to witness, compare and understand what determines success and failure across football organisations.
To add to this, they gain a diverse education in managing organisations as they have become mini businesses due to the growth of the sport.
They are effectively doing marketing and PR through their social media platforms and media commitments, applying commercial acumen when negotiating playing and sponsorship contracts, conducting financial administration when managing their wealth and demonstrating human resource management through overseeing the personnel that work for them.
This complements all the attributes being an elite athlete develops such as leadership, teamwork, determination, goal setting, resilience, performing under pressure, relationship building, adaptability and communication.
And no-one has a better understanding of dealing with fans and their expectations which is so crucial, and often lacking, in football leadership roles.
An objective evaluation of players’ experiences confirms the immense value they offer in the executive management of football.
This is something UEFA has recognised. They launched their Executive Masters for International Players programme programme, which several of our founders graduated from, to encourage players into this area, realising the significant positive impact they offer to the game.
This endorsement was needed as historically players have not been given opportunities in this area, especially in the UK, with football and its organisations failing to take advantage of all the knowledge and insights they offer.
However, it is slowly starting to change, and we have provided examples of 5 players leading football organisations across the world.
Edwin Van de Sar (Ajax CEO)
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Van de Sar became the Marketing Director in 2012 at Dutch club Ajax where he won his first Champions League trophy as a player. His success in this role resulted in being promoted to CEO four years later.
One of Europe’s historic clubs, Ajax had struggled to compete in recent times, but under his leadership they have risen again. They won their first title in four years, reached a Champions League semi-final and re-established their youth academy as one of the world’s finest.
Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Juniors President)
In the 2019 presidential elections at Argentina’s Boca Juniors former midfield maestro Riquelme defeated two other former players, Gabriel Batistuta and the late Maradona, for the top job. He got off to a good start with the team lifting the Championship title a few months later.
"Sabrina Buljubašić, FK Sarajevo CEO"
Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich CEO)
Former Bayern captain Kahn will succeed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who spent a decade at the club as a player, as Bayern Munich CEO in 2022. The current Bayern President and another former player of the club, said “Oliver Kahn knows football, he knows business, and he carries the DNA of FC Bayern.” The approach of heavily relying on former players in their administration has helped the current European Champions become one of the world's most successful sporting institutions.
Luis Rubiales (Spanish FA President)
Rubiales played in La Liga and even had a very short spell in Scotland with Hamilton Academical before become President of the Players’ Union in Spain after retirement. He is in his second term as President of the Spanish Football Federation after winning re-election. Iker Casillas was also a candidate and the former goalkeeper has since been appointed CEO of Real Madrid’s Foundation.
Sabrina Buljubašić (FK Sarajevo CEO)
Buljubašić played for the Bosnian National team and participated in the UEFA Women’s Champions League before retiring at 26 years old. Just over a year later she was appointed CEO of men’s club FK Sarajevo in Bosnia after working in the club’s legal department. Buljubašić is widely considered as a precocious football executive with a big future ahead.
Player4Player is committed to improving the football industry and helping retired players have satisfying and rewarding 2nd careers. This is why we are working with both organisations and players to facilitate more former players gaining opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge in executive roles across the game.