By their mid-30s, most professional sportspeople are reaching the end of their career. While it isn’t necessarily unusual to see a player continue into their 40s, these are generally seen as the exception, rather than the rule. What is even less common, however, is to see a prominent household name, such as Petr Čech, in the fledgling stage of a brand-new career in a completely new sport.
By retiring from professional soccer in 2019, Čech brought an illustrious career in the beautiful game to an end. He had turned 37 years old just nine days before his final appearance for Arsenal, a 4-1 defeat at the hands of his former club, Chelsea, in that year’s Europa League final. While it was not the fairy-tale ending to a career that had seen him win four Premier League titles, five FA Cups, the 2011-12 Champions League trophy and a plethora of individual records, accolades and awards, it was fitting that he ended his career on the big stage.
Just under five months later on October 13, 2019, Čech was being presented with the man of the match award for his match-winning performance as Guildford Phoenix beat Swindon Wildcats in a penalty shootout.
There was nothing unusual about seeing the giant Czech being given such an award; he had won plenty before. There was nothing unusual about seeing him winning a shootout; he had famously done so in Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, on the German team’s own turf. There wasn’t even anything strange about seeing him wearing a helmet. What was strange, was that this was in an entirely different sport…ice hockey.
**PETR CECH SIGNS WITH THE PHOENIX**— Guildford Phoenix (@gford_phoenix) October 9, 2019
The ex professional footballer will begin his ice hockey career this Sunday when he makes his debut for the Phoenix!
Full story here: https://t.co/DdpOdLz6yb pic.twitter.com/kyQuERVBHa
Some might have caught wind of the story at the time, perhaps likening it to when Michael Jordan swapped out his glistening career in the NBA to attempt a career in baseball. That particular dream lasted just 13 months before Jordan decided he would return to the sport he had made his own.
Fast forward from that debut performance for Guildford, however, and Čech is still tending the net for the Guildford Phoenix in the NIHL South Division 2. They won the league in 2021/22, winning 20 of their 22 regular season games and a 10-0 win in the final. Čech himself finished the season with the third-best save percentage in the league, stopping an astonishing 93 percent of shots on goal, which went up to 95.5 percent in the playoffs.
Another soccer player to watch is Mesut Ozil. Formerly an assist machine in soccer, the 33-year-old ex-Arsenal FC star had been on the fringes at Turkish club Fenerbahce since leaving the Gunners in 2021, so much so that he was released by the club in July. He promptly signed for rivals Istanbul Basaksehir the very same day.
None of that has stopped the German midfielder preparing for his future in the unlikely setting of eSports. He set up his own eSports team, M10 Esports, with a roster of players, a gaming house in Germany and is, according to his agent Dr Erkut Sogut, a talented eSports player himself.
Speaking to the Telegraph in the UK in June, his agent waxed lyrical about the future for Ozil in the gaming space: “He’s really good, to be honest…I think one day I wouldn’t be surprised if he was competing.”
His time may be running down on the field, as his agent suggested: “He will go more into eSports, play himself and maybe become an eSports athlete.”
It would be a big move, and while he has had huge success as a soccer player, notably winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, his career has also come with controversy. He has been released from his contract early from his last two clubs, Fenerbahce and Arsenal, with his split from the Gunners particularly galling for some of the fanbase given he was something of a cult hero at the club.
Should he find success in eSports, it would not surprise those around him and perhaps pave the way for more soccer players to make their downtime passion for gaming and eSports a career option going forward.
eSports has captured the sports betting imagination of many online betting jurisdictions. Tournaments are massive, prize money is huge and the attraction is clear to see as home game favourites like Fortnite and FIFA take on a competitive edge with money on the line at betting apps.
Čech isn’t the only prominent soccer man in London to have made a move to another sport in recent years. Former Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas announced in 2017 that he would be leaving his post as coach of Shanghai SIPG to compete in the 2018 Dakar Rally, an annual endurance race that now takes place in South America each year. His uncle, Pedro Villas-Boas had competed in the same event in the 1980s.
Unfortunately for André, he was unable to complete the 2018 event because of a back injury, having crashed into a sand dune on the fourth stage. The injury didn’t dampen his appetite for motorsports, however, as he has since competed in the third tier of the World Rally Championship, WRC3, finishing 12th of 13 finishers in the 2021 Rally de Portugal, and Villas-Boas has his sights set on returning to complete the Dakar Rally in the future.
Unlike Čech and Villas-Boas, not all sports crossovers stem from a passion or love for a particular sport. The motorsports stalwart, Alex Zanardi, had 41 races in Formula 1 in the 1990s, as well as back-to-back CART Championship Series victories in 1998 and 1999. However, he had both legs amputated following a massive accident in September 2001. Not only did Zanardi manage to design and build his own prosthetic legs, he also used them to begin to rebuild his racing career, competing in a modified car in the European Touring Car Championship until 2009.
It wasn’t only in motorsports that Zanardi continued to excel following his accident. In 2007, after just four weeks of training, he finished fourth in the handcycling class at the New York City marathon. He went on to win several marathons in this class, including in New York in 2011.
The following year, Zanardi won two gold medals and one silver at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, before a gold and a silver at the 2016 Rio Games. The Italian also went on to win 13 World Championship gold medals in his late 40s and early 50s. In yet another awful turn of events, Zanardi was involved in a traumatic accident while competing in an Italian road race in June 2020. In December 2021, he was cleared to return home from hospital, where he continues his recovery today.
The 2022 Australian Open saw Ashleigh Barty become the first home winner of the tournament in some 43 years, as the Queensland native went through the entire tournament without dropping a single set. It was Barty’s third Grand Slam singles victory, having previously won on clay at the 2019 French Open and on grass at Wimbledon in 2021.
It was on grass, too, that Barty had shown her full range of skills, as she had previously taken a break from tennis in 2014 to try her hand at cricket. After a chance meeting with the Australian women’s team in 2015, Barty decided to give the sport a proper go. She joined the Western Suburbs District Cricket Club, competing in the Brisbane Premier T20 league, where she played 13 games and was top scorer as the team won the grand final, scoring 37 from 39 balls in that game.
Not content with playing at the local level, Barty also signed with the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, the national T20 league in Australia. On her debut, she hit 39 runs off 27 balls, and she remained on the team for the full 2015 season. In early 2016, she returned to her first sport of tennis, where she became the top ranked player in the world by the middle of 2019.
Perhaps the most fascinating of all the sports crossover stories is that of the multi-talented Bo Jackson. As a running back at Auburn University, Jackson was the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner, an award given to the most talented performer in college football. From there, he was selected as the first overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft, though he refused to sign for the Bucs over a dispute that cost him much of his senior baseball season in college. The deal he turned down was worth $7.6 million over five years.
Jackson was initially drafted in the second round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees in 1982, but he instead chose to go to college to play both football and baseball.
He was then also drafted in the fourth round of the 1986 amateur MLB draft, opening the path for a professional baseball career. Jackson signed for the Kansas City Royals and worked his way to the majors, becoming an All-Star in 1989.
Remarkably, Jackson was once again drafted to the NFL in 1987, by the Los Angeles Raiders. While it was expected that Jackson would once again refuse any contract that was offered, a deal was struck that would allow Jackson to fulfil his baseball contract and play football in the NFL outside of the MLB season.
Jackson went on to play four fruitful seasons in the NFL, all during the baseball offseason, and he was named a Pro Bowler in 1990. His 221-yard rushing performance on November 30 1987 remains a Monday Night Football record to this day. Jackson is the only sportsperson to have been named an All-Star in both football and baseball.
The tongue-in-cheek “Bo Knows” advertising campaign that was conceived by Nike in the late 1980s displayed Jackson’s attempts to conquer several other sports, such as basketball, tennis, athletics, ice hockey and cycling. While nobody has managed to quite perfect that many sports just yet, there doesn’t seem to be any imminent end to the crossover athlete.
Six athletes have won medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, with four of those achievements being sealed since 1988. Perhaps the most unique and unusual of the six athletes was Eddie Eagan of the United States, who won the light heavyweight gold medal in Boxing at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp.
A whole 12 years later, Eagan achieved gold once more, this time in the four-man Bobsleigh event at the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. He later became, among many other things, the world record holder for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by scheduled airlines, when he travelled around the world in 147 hours and 15 minutes. He found time on his journey to stop at a boxing club in South East London that had been blitzed during the war, donating gifts of boxing gloves to help their recovery.
It is probably safe to assume that nobody will be replicating the feats of Eagan any time soon.
However, Gareth Bale could be a soccer player-turned-golfer given his clear ability for it and huge affection for the sport. Harry Kane could switch his career to kicking in the NFL and has already teased this Stateside with his connections. There is precedent for dual sports stars, as we have explained, and as careers are elongated through better body and health management, the options are open to go on beyond the original success in a chosen discipline.
Here at Bookmakers, we predict the future is bright for a less traditional route to the next career move for sports stars in the future rather than just settling for the comfort of a microphone and punditry or commentary.