This season the 30-year-old defender played a crucial part in his club’s first Superliga title in 16 years and maintains that his education has improved his game rather than distracted him from it.
He spoke to FIFPRO about how studying for an international marketing and business degree has given him a new perspective, and why he would encourage every player to invest in their own development outside of football.
“These are the best years of my life, and I’m lucky enough to have spent a big chunk of them playing football – but I also want to have something else to show for them. I don’t want to retire and then just sit on my couch and wonder where the time has gone – I want to be ready for the next thing. I’m not saying that I will simply walk into a high-powered business career, but I want to be confident that I have the education to put my foot on the ladder when the time comes.
“Exams can be stressful, but it’s nice to have something other than Sunday’s game to concentrate on”
I’ve already seen so many benefits in my life since I’ve started taking classes with Aarhus University. The conversations I have with people outside of football are so much more interesting and varied, and the way I communicate with those close to me has improved – I feel like a more rounded person with a better idea of how “normal life” works. I even think my studies have given me a fresh confidence to approach the game. I’ve altered the way I analyse matches or my own performance.
At 30 years old I’ve already had my fair share of injuries, and I guess this is what got me thinking about expanding my skillset – just in case my football career was cut short. Danish player union Spillerforeningen were great at helping me work out what I wanted to do, and they opened the door to further education for me. Since then they’ve been great at checking in, but I’ve really just got on with it and taken my degree into my own hands – and it’s changed everything for me.
I soon realised that my happiness was far too dependent on football – and as my injuries taught me, sometimes you just have no control over what’s around the corner. Now I have other things to focus on, such as studying or an assignment, and it really helps to gain some perspective. Don’t get me wrong – exams can be stressful, but it’s nice to have something other than Sunday’s game to concentrate on and this balance of time has taught me valuable skills on self-discipline that I think every footballer could benefit from.
I play football because I love the game and those four hours of training each day - I am there 100% - but it’s only one part of me. As players we get a lot of downtime, and I split mine between being a student and a father – not a resting footballer. The responsibility of allocating my time to different parts of my life has taught me how to be a grown-up; if I just defined myself as a player, I could while away hours just playing PlayStation – but I now know that my time is just as valuable off the field as it is on it.
I’m not saying that it’s easy, and of course life in football doesn’t always stick to a schedule, so you do need equal support from your coach and your teachers to get the balance. For example, I had an exam at the end of May but we had really reached crunch-time in the season, and with the title so close I had to give football my undivided attention. So, I postponed my exam until August, and during the break you can bet I will be hitting the books to be prepared for it, but it was never a case of choosing between football and my studies – I just needed a little bit of structured flexibility.
There are always going to be excuses for not taking on new challenges and educating yourself, but I think the trick is that you need to learn to see past them. Have confidence in your abilities to be more than just a player, and you’ll open yourself up to a world of new experiences.
You are developing your identity and your outlook on life and that’s going to be a different journey for everyone - but just remember this time is yours, so make sure you invest it back into yourself.”