Some of the former stars enrolled in the UEFA Academy’s master for international players (MIP) share their motivations for going back to school.
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Do you remember your first day at school? Or starting a new job? That’s the experience 29 former and current stars have been living this week as they embark on the UEFA Academy’s popular MIP course, which prepares players for a second career in football administration.
Gathered together at UEFA HQ in Switzerland, the group has been busy getting acquainted and down to work under the watchful eye of educational and industry experts, who over the next 20 months will equip them with the tools required to transfer their playing strengths into effective management skills off the pitch.
Over the course of the week, we caught up with a few of the participants to understand their motivations for joining the course, previously undertaken by stars such as Kaká, Didier Drogba, Youri Djorkaeff and UEFA’s own chief of football development, Maxwell Scherrer.
What made you choose the UEFA MIP course?
Sami Khedira, ex-Germany international
"I am always looking for new challenges, new adventures and for sure to start a second career is maybe one of the biggest challenges.
"I knew as a young kid I would like to become a football player and now I stopped my career, I had some phone calls with other colleagues and they told me that the MIP is the right decision, because it helps you a lot to find what you want to do in the future."
Nigel de Jong, ex-Netherlands international
"It gives you an insight into what kind role you want to get into. that’s one of the reasons why I am here and I’m really looking forward to this programme.
"I heard about the course from Rene Adler, the former goalkeeper, who did the course as well. He’s a great guy and recommended it to me. He knew the kind of person I was, looking to set up my own business, and another one was Maxwell who of course is now chief of football development at UEFA, and he also gave me an update about the course and told me I really have to do it in order to develop myself – so two great former colleagues of mine told me about the course and I am happy to be here."
Diana Matheson, ex-Canada international
"I joined FIFPRO’s global player council and Sarah Gregorius, who has been a great resource for me there, told me about the programme. It’s attractive because it helps a lot with networking - just being connected to footballers and the game in Europe, and more about the business of football over here.
"I think once you’re out in the real world is the time you see what skills you can transfer. Leadership, decision-making, the ability to work within a team, that mindset to always be learning and growing and getting the best out of your team, the high-performance mentality, they are all key to success."
Benedikt Höwedes, ex-Germany international
"I am working in the area of team management, and to get the knowledge of how it works, it can help me a lot and I can benefit from all the insights I can get here.
"I was almost 15 years a professional player and the next step is coming. I want to give something back to football. What I have gained over the years, I have to be grateful for the experience and it's time to give something back. The skills I can learn here I can put into a new job and make the sport a bit better.
"I was speaking with Simon Rolfes and Rene Adler, who both did the course. They said it's fantastic to be part of the group, to interact with people who are living in other countries and are in the same position, who want to open a new chapter. We are all facing the same problems and having the same conversations, so it's super helpful to share all the impressions, all the experience we have, with the knowledge of the teachers here."
Verónica Boquete, ex-Spain international
"I know that I cannot play forever, so I have to start to think about my next step and my future off the field and this MIP course is just a great place to be, to get all the knowledge I can from things that I didn’t see when I was playing. I am just trying to make myself better and in the future help football in the best way that I can.
"I am a person that is really interested in education and as soon as I knew about the UEFA Academy and the courses that they were doing, I got in touch with them. I knew about the MIP course and I knew straight away that this was something that I wanted to get involved in."
Demba Ba, ex-Senegal international
"Over the last two years, when COVID struck the world back in 2020, I really focused deeper into what I wanted to do but I always thought when I was playing about what I would do next.
"For me, the MIP gives you an overall aspect and idea about the business of football - the overall aspect of the game - communication, marketing, the sporting side, so it’s interesting to be able to learn about all those aspects. Without forgetting the most important reason I am here, which is to learn about the managerial side."
What are your first impressions of the course?
Sami Khedira: "I was a bit nervous because I had no idea what would happen but the guys are amazing and here at UEFA headquarters it’s a super nice welcome and I really can’t wait for the next days and the next months.
"We already have a WhatsApp group, it’s interesting because we have 30 people, plus the staff, different cultures, different languages and backgrounds, based all over the world, so conversations are a big challenge but it’s nice."
Nigel de Jong: "It’s like going back to school again, the only thing missing is my school bag! It’s a great way for us to see insight off the pitch and I am looking forward to it.
"I’m looking forward to learning [about leadership] and being set up for a new role, but it needs time, effort and focus."
Verónica Boquete: "There is so much experience and so many titles! It is so great to have this diversity with people coming from everywhere and so many successful people. It is going to be great to be part of this group and to get to know each other and to learn things from them as they have so much to share."
Demba Ba: "It’s been like the first day at school – you’re excited but you don’t know people, so when you’re [working] in little groups you’re trying to talk to people to get to know them and it’s getting easier and easier."