In March last year, I had an anterior cruciate ligament operation. I didn’t know whether I would be able to play again. I have a lot of joint wear and tear, which made me very doubtful about my recovery.
Facing the prospect of having to retire from football at only 30 made me think a lot. I was suffering from pain and constantly thinking to myself: what am I going to do now? That question was eventually the trigger that made me do something I wanted to do very much and had been putting off.
Studying has always been important to me. Fortunately, until I was 20 I had a coach who always encouraged us to study. I did all that stage of my training in the Universidad Central de Venezuela team. Naturally, one of the things they promoted was education.
But when I left to play abroad, when I turned professional and was selected to play for my country, it became very difficult for me to carry on studying. In fact, I abandoned my degree in international studies in the fifth semester because my dream was to be a professional footballer and I went to play in Colombia.
We think football is going to last a long time, so we say to ourselves that we’ll do it later. But actually, we tend to forget about studying – until something happens to us as players, like what happened to me. I began to regret not having finished my university degree, not having studied for a bit longer. I thought that if I had done a bit more to prepare myself, I would have had more opportunities if I had to retire.
Luckily, I got the chance to start working as a women’s football coordinator in the Venezuelan player union, AUFPV. It was there that I found out about the education programme organised by the South America Division of FIFPRO. I was immediately interested in the university diploma in sports management.
I couldn’t believe it was free. I thought to myself: what’s the catch? I had looked for courses on the internet and they were expensive. Women’s football in South America has improved a lot, but salaries are mostly very low. If you do a coaching or sports management course in Europe it can cost you 2,000 euros. The same goes for employment law or finance. We can’t afford it. So, when I saw this opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
I finished it at the end of last year and I couldn’t be happier. I felt so good when I finally received my diploma. I wasn’t expecting to find myself with people as highly qualified as Nicolas Burdisso and the other teachers. They are there to teach us, and since we have classes, we can get them to help us with things we’re not sure about. It’s not one of those courses that you download and study on your own.
We normally see and experience a club on a daily basis, but only as players. There are aspects of the management side that we’re not even aware of. I found it important and rewarding to explore that; it taught me about loads of things that I had no idea how to do.
For example, how to develop a project, where to start, how to carry it out, the fact that you also have to keep a check on things. Sometimes you have a lot of ideas, a lot of things in your head that you want to do, and you don’t know how to put them on paper or how to begin a project.
If you were called upon to be the sporting director of a club without having the proper training, you wouldn’t know where to start. You might know that there are a lot of problems, but not how to tackle them. I feel I can stand face to face with a club owner, a president, and say, “Look, what I’m going to do is this, this and this”. They gave us tools to do that, but also to apply them in other areas.
One of my projects for the future is also to have my own football academy. This also helped me enormously to understand how it should operate, because I didn’t know, I only had the idea. Now I’m doing the CONMEBOL sports management course and there are lots of things that I’m finding very easy, because I already have the experience of this course.
“We normally see and experience a club on a daily basis, but only as players. There are aspects of the management side that we’re not even aware of. I found it important and rewarding to explore that; it taught me about loads of things that I had no idea how to do.”— by Karla Torres
In my role as women’s football coordinator in the AUFPV I had many conversations with women’s players. One of my goals was for the girls to prepare themselves so that they would have opportunities, and I talked to them a lot about taking courses, encouraging them to prepare, because they don’t know when all this might come to an end.
At first the girls were hesitant, sceptical. But as I gave more and more talks in all the clubs, they trusted me. Footballers believe footballers; we understand each other. The fact that a fellow player comes and tells you, “Do it because I did it, I liked it and it worked for me.”
I also made the tools from the FIFPRO South America courses available to them and I followed up on them. Unfortunately, in our countries, Venezuela for example, women’s football is not a career from which you can make a living. So, you have to have other tools and options; you can’t just depend on football.
Besides, if we want women’s football to grow, we must start to take charge of the situation. And to do that we have to be prepared. We are the ones who have suffered, the ones who have kept it going all this time, the ones who have built up women’s football, but when the time comes to retire, we must take the lead in advancing women’s football even more.
But to get to that point, to be able to reach a decision-making position in a federation or a club, we have to be prepared, because there are a lot of women now in the football world, but few in the positions where the decisions are really made. I think that if we want women’s football to improve, we have to be in those positions. But we must prepare ourselves; we’re not going to get there by waving a magic wand.