So You Want to Be a Professional Football Player?: 3 Strong Reasons to Have a Backup Profession

It’s not often that a striker with a career that officially spanned 14 years and over 300 career goals is considered a football tragedy, but Marco van Basten is an exception to the general rule.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Van Basten’s accolades included three Ballon d’Or wins, FIFA World Player of the Year honors in 1992, to go with multiple titles and European Cups.

Heading into the 1992-1993 season, and coming off of several incredible scoring seasons including an impressive goal every game and a half with AC Milan, nobody imagined that Van Basten would play his last professional game at the age of 28.

What Happened?

Going back to the late 80s, Van Basten had been troubled with an ankle injury that was serious enough to keep him sidelined for most of the season. However, as fate would have it, the same ankle injury flared up again in 1993 this time requiring surgical treatment and keeping Van Basten off the field until he retired two years later.

As Sky Sports later explained it, Van Basten “probably could have had at least five more years at the top were it not for his ankle injury”.

For Aspiring Football Players

Between the roar of the crowd, the celebrity, and the contracts awarded to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, the life of a professional football player is undoubtedly glamorous.

If your goal is to play football someday, don’t give up and keep training!

However, despite his well-earned accolades, the story of Van Basten’s career is a type of cautionery tale for young players.

There are at least 3 reasons why it’s a good idea to work hard at football but to also have a second profession in mind.

1. There’s No Accounting For Injuries

When Van Basten was dominating the pitch at AJAX, nobody predicted that his career would be derailed by a single injury. But even then, his is a tale of setbacks building up to the point where he couldn’t play anymore.

There are also players whose careers ended abruptly such as Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed from cardiac arrest during a game, and Dean Ashton, who sustained a broken ankle mid-game.

None of these guys planned their injuries, but football is a fast-paced sport that takes a toll on an athlete’s body.

If you do make it into professional football, another profession gives you insurance in the event of an injury.

2. Not Everyone Makes It

Compared to the likes of the NBA, football appears to have a lot of roster space. Even so, a lot of people who love the game never make a professional club.

Even more tragic, many of the players who don’t make it are still very talented.

To take some numbers from the United States, according to Elite Daily only “1 in 5,355 high school players gets drafted to the MLS” while “1 in 447 college players” can expect to be drafted.

In Europe, the odds can be even steeper.

If later on you’re unable to break into a professional league, you don’t want to be homeless or stuck in a dead-end job that doesn’t pay you enough, right?

This is why credentials in an alternative profession, even one that’s related to football, like sports administration or kinesiology, is a powerful option to have.

3. You Need a Plan For Life After Football

Unless you’re making mega-star money, even when you do make it, the income you make from playing football might not be enough to live off of indefinitely.

In 2013 Bleacher Report cited XPro research which indicated that “three out of five Premier League players declare bankruptcy after retirement”.

Van Basten, shortly after his retirement, took a management course through the Royal Dutch Football Association, worked as an assistant manager, and eventually became a manager.

Many professional footballers aren’t able to pivot like that so soon after retirement.

A second profession allows you to live comfortably while enjoying the spoils of your football career.


By all accounts, Van Basten had several more seasons of exceptional football ahead of him. Although he was eventually inducted to the Italian Football Hall of Fame, among numerous other honors, there’s still a wistful air of “What Could Have Been” surrounding the end of his career.

So you want to be a professional football player.

You want to overcome the odds and be one of the best to ever do it.

Reach for the stars! There’s nothing wrong with having big dreams.

Just remember that you never know where life can take you and that’s what makes it so important to always have a backup plan in mind.

written by Karen Foster on Sept 20th 2017

photo by Kuan Fang from

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