By Kalusha Bwalya
I remember the first thing I bought when I received my first professional pay cheque in Belgium – it was a shiny black Golf GTI (Big deal in those days!).
I spent every cent I earned every month. The last of my worries was my tomorrow.
In fact during the three and a half years I spent in Belgium, I did not save a cent and I did not study anything. I thought the school of life, was enough.
As players we are used to instant results, we play a game; we win, draw or lose. The results are there for all to see after the game. Salaries are high, we live for the moment, and thinking of the future is for the future. Problem is that football careers do not last forever. Our window of earning opportunity is short.
I knew that after football I wanted to still be involved in football and as such, I made sure I took coaching to the highest possible level by achieving a UEFA ‘A’ license to enable me to understand the technical side of football. Because of my qualifications, I went home to Zambia to be Technical Director of the Chipolopolo in September 2003, then won elections as Vice President in March 2004. Thereafter I became President of the Football Association of Zambia, FIFA coaching instructor, FIFA committees, FIFA task teams, understanding the administration side of football.
My climb to football administration was gradual. But all the while my business ventures continued. If you want to go far in football administration, you best have other business interests, since the administration is not a money-making profession. One does this for the love of the game. Very few players continue to make a living from football after their final whistle blows, unless they become a ‘successful’ professional coach. But even coaching, requires study and qualification. A former player does not automatically make a good coach. Those days are gone. With today’s game, you need to be qualified to understand the technical elements of the game.
It, therefore, becomes important to think about one’s future on the 1st day of professional football. In Belgium retirement annuities are compulsory, the club paid for the full amount as part of your salary.
In the Dutch Eredivisie, Retirement funds which are tax-deductible are compulsory, and as such after 20years, I am still enjoying regular payments from my time in Holland.
We hope that the clubs in Africa can follow the European model. There should be mandatory pension schemes for footballers in Africa. Clubs should seriously look into this for both the well-being of their players as well as their own good reputation.
Today players have football agents who should be guiding them better. So many former players are faced with difficult times, you read and hear about this all the time, which makes me very sad and it is a question of lack of knowledge. Perhaps upbringing, education, and lack of the culture of thinking about the future. When I was growing up you thought that you would play forever, the limitations were non-existent. Retirement is not even in your mind. You live a day at a time and you want to have the best gadgets the best car the best clothes (material things) and those become your key priorities.
You have too much time on your hands, you’re too young and you’re earning way too much money. Temptations are all around you and you become greedy for the now and it is difficult to see an end in sight. The last thing on your mind is that one day your career will end. Medical insurance – it’s not easy to determine when one is going to stop playing because you can sustain a career-ending injury and without medical insurance, your job is over.
On our continent for example, in the early 80’s, it was common to see a very good talent sustain a small injury like a meniscus problem, a ligament injury, or an ankle injury and end their career after a year. Instead of getting the appropriate medical attention which was hard to come by, you would find that their career would be short lived because the problem would persist for longer than it should and they ended up not being the potential player that they should’ve been.
In my school team in the 70’s, when I was just trying to make the team, the important players would not come to class in the day but attend school in the afternoon just so they could play the match.
Unfortunately today’s society tends to encourage the talent you have on the field rather than couple that with academic skills and qualifications. If you look at the American model with scholarships for top athletes, this is hugely successful. Education is encouraged and even in Zambia, you hear most of the professional parents discourage their kids to practice too much sport, saying that they want their kids to concentrate more on education. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword as this often deprives a talented player of much-needed practice time. The key is a balance of the two. It is imperative for young players to ensure they attain their education goals whilst living their sporting dreams on the other.
My advice to current professional players is twofold; career planning, and studying during your spare time.
In Belgium, I spent 3 and half years not knowing Flemish, and not doing anything about it because you could get by as everyone tried to speak to me in English, so I just got by. Yet the first day I arrived in PSV Eindhoven in Holland, they assigned a teacher to me to study Dutch twice a week. Within 6 months I was fluent. The day I arrived in Mexico as a player for one of the biggest teams in Mexico, Club America, I made it a priority to find a tutor to teach me Spanish. By the end of the first year, I was fluent in Spanish. These talents are of immense value to me today. Besides my mother tongue Bemba, I also studied French at high school for 4 years and can converse in the language comfortably. I used to be the official translator when the team traveled to West Africa during my National Team playing days. My Italian improves on a daily basis thanks to my wife and mom-in-law, so all in all, I can say I am a poly-linguist. A talent that comes in handy in the International football environment.
I did a Technical Directorship badge in Mexico from 1996 – 1998, which effectively make me a qualified Technical Director. By the time I ended my professional career I walked away from football with two professional qualifications and 4 extra languages.
My advice to young career footballers is to be wise, and not to get caught up in the self-importance of the ‘now, but rather to picture yourself where you want to be in the future. Don’t only train your body, but train the brain at the same time. Unfortunately, you cannot be a player forever and when the final whistle blows you better have a new game plan.