By Doug Reed
Gary Neville is one of the most high-profile former footballers due to his thriving media career and business empire. But it hasn’t all been success since he hung up his boots.
The former Manchester United and England defender began preparing for life after playing at 21 by buying property, “I started in business in my early twenties whilst playing for United and since then it’s played a huge role in my life.”
Starting early in his career gave him nearly 15 years to build the groundwork for overcoming the challenging transition every player faces coming out of the game. The highly visible success he is having today is the result of those foundations being put in place behind the scenes over a sustained period.
On retiring he wasn’t sure in what direction he wanted to go long-term but his preparation gave him options and flexibility, and he sampled different areas to find out where he would be most happy.
"I said to myself I’ve got these 3 areas and I am going to pursue the business and set them up, I’m going to get my Pro License [coaching qualification] and I’m going to do the punditry because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I had these 3 areas of attack and in the 3, 4 and 5 years I’ll decide what I want to do.”
Neville experimented in his three interests of media, coaching and business. This is in contrast to many players who fail to build opportunities for themselves and are forced to go down the one route open to them, usually coaching or media. If they discover they are not suited to it, it is tougher to change course at that stage. When you're accustomed to doing something you love after so many years, playing football, it is especially difficult to tolerate an unsatisfying career.
In the media, the 2-time Champions League winner was thrown directly in the deep end, unexpectedly taking over one of TV’s most popular football shows, Monday Night Football, after the previous hosts left. It would take him nearly a year of practise and mistakes before he felt comfortable on screen.
“The big moments in my life are probably my driving test, my first game for the youth team, my first game for the first team and my first game in a World Cup. And I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever been as nervous in my life as I was for that first Monday Night Football.”
He has developed into the pre-eminent football pundit, being credited for evolving the profession. He is also a presenter and his Overlap series interviewing the biggest football and sports personalities has become a huge hit with 700k YouTube subscribers.
The serial Premier League winner’s coaching career got off to a good start joining the England National Team setup, supporting the team at Euro 2012 and 2014 World Cup. From there he was surprisingly appointed Head Coach of Valencia in Spain. It went disastrously, winning only 10 of his 28 games in charge before he was sacked, lasting fewer than 4 months.
It led to a huge loss of confidence and in one moment he looked in the mirror and asked himself ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ An ex-coach sent his support with a phrase ‘Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo ‘ that has since become his mantra and he is reminded of every time he uses his IPad.
It was a turning point for him in his post-playing career. “Failure is a part of life. You do get things wrong . You are going to lose confidence. You are going to have bad days. But they’re not permanent and you can bounce back from them and resurrect your status, performance and reset yourself.”
After several years coaching he realised it was not for him. The wise decisions he made whilst still playing meant he wasn’t trapped and had other avenues he could pursue. In fact, he credits the Valencia experience for clarifying where he needed to focus. “[the time at Valencia] actually gives me strength and is one of my biggest learnings. To say no to things you shouldn’t be doing and to be selective in what you do.”
After discarding the coaching route, he concentrated on returning to punditry and expanding his businesses, launching his investment company Relentless later that year.
He said “I want a role in sport and business when I’m 50. I need to prove myself as a business owner, who could drive profits and who could employ and manage people. I needed to prove myself in that walk of life.”
Alongside his partners, he has slowly built a varied business portfolio which includes a hotel opposite Old Trafford, a university with aims to cater for 6,500 students and a League Two football club.
It hasn’t all been successes but that is why diversity in his investments, just like in his career options, has been crucial. Failures include closing a nightclub he setup within less than a year of opening, as well as a sports bar in London, due to poor performance.
Property is an area he has found he has really taken to since that first purchase at the age of 21 and he is currently heavily involved in a £400 million pound project in Manchester City Centre.
His success in business has been such that he will appear in the latest BBC series of Dragon’s Den alongside some of Britain’s most well-known entrepreneurs, highlighting the possibilities for former players.
Looking back, the key to Neville’s post-playing career is not that he has had unfaltering success but that he has prepared so that the inevitable failures have only fueled his subsequent successes, allowing him to continue to have a rewarding and stimulating life after playing.
“I didn’t want to only be known as a former Man United player and I didn't want to think that my days of success, achieving things, were over." The 47-year-old's strategic and proactive approach has ensured this hasn’t come to pass.
Player4Player is here to support players in identifying what areas they might enjoy getting involved in using our in-house expertise to begin preparations for building careers and businesses that can provide a sustainable and engaging future.
Get in touch now using the contact details on our website and we can have a chat about how we might be able to help.