Michael Owen and nine more footballers who lost interest

Matt Stead
NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 10: Michael Owen and Alan Shearer of Newcastle look dejected after the Fulham scored during the Barclaycard Premiership match between Newcastle United and Fulham at St James' Park on 10 September 2005, in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Michael Owen;Alan Shearer

Over the weekend, Gianfranco Zola revealed Chelsea players got bored with the repetitive nature of Maurizio Sarri’s training methods. Even Eden Hazard lost the pleasure. While Sarriball drove many fans and players to distraction, some players have fallen out of love with the game altogether over the years. Like these ten…


Michael Owen
The former teenage wonderkid detested the final years of his career because of constant injuries. “I admire people who can play for the love of the game. They may lose a yard of pace and they can go down a division or play against lesser teams – but, for me, it was turmoil….I couldn’t wait to retire.” His former England striking buddy and Newcastle manager Alan Shearer had a brutal take on that via Twitter:

Ouch. Safe to say, they don’t play golf together anymore.


Espen Baardsen
The multi-coloured goalkeeping tops of the late 90s looked garish on the popular Spurs keeper , who was often second choice behind floppy-haired boy band looker Ian Walker. After moving to Watford in 2000, Baardsen became disillusioned with the game and retired at 25, feeling “unsatisfied intellectually” by football. He became a financial analyst for a London-based hedge fund instead. The Norwegian said: “Rather than play PlayStation in my spare time, I would read bizarre books, The History of Interest Rates and Tomorrow’s Gold.”

Perhaps he can give some financial advice to Daniel Levy.


David Bentley
Bentley was the first man to score a Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United in 2006. Some, like Arsenal player turned pundit Alan Smith, saw him as the natural heir to David Beckham.

Smith was certain of one thing: “He just loves playing football. You can see it in his face. The cynical side of the profession has yet to impinge on his boyish enthusiasm.”

But a £15million move to Tottenham from Blackburn in 2008 turned ugly, especially when the midfielder helped pour iced water over Harry Redknapp in celebration at clinching a Champions League spot in 2010. He was frozen out thereafter by a seething and soaking ‘Arry.

“People looked at the way I gelled my hair and thought I wanted the attention. It was the actual opposite, I didn’t enjoy it.”

After retiring at 29, the boy from the Posh invested in a Spanish ‘fine dining and entertainment’ restaurant in East London along with Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He seems happy.


Curtis Woodhouse
Woodhouse was 26 when he swapped the pitch for the boxing ring. After moving from Sheffield United to Premiership Birmingham for a fee of £1million in 2001, he pined for his youth: “The best years of my life were 10 to 17. That was when I desperately wanted to be John Barnes and to play for Liverpool and England. Once I became a pro, I felt it was over. I loved the journey; I despised the destination.”

Boxing had always been the midfielder’s first love and Neil Warnock often saw his charge turn up for training with a black eye and fat lip. The Driffield Destroyer eventually became British light-welterweight champion. Woodhouse is currently manager of Gainsborough Trinity in the Northern Premier League, having had his desire reawakened by picking up the cones for his football-mad son.

He doesn’t rate Ryan Giggs; you might have heard.


David Batty
The gritty defensive midfielder possessed a hangdog look that seemed to suit a chilly day on the cricket field rather than the hustle and bustle of professional football. In his autobiography, the late Gary Speed wrote about Batty’s indifference to the game and sure enough, the former Leeds, Blackburn and Newcastle player opened up about his feelings:

“The national game is boring. And I’ve not been to watch any match since I finished playing. I can never understand anybody paying to watch it, never mind going all the way across the world to see it. You want to be entertained.”

Don’t worry, David. That penalty miss in France ‘98 against Argentina in the last 16 was not as entertaining as the ITV commentary. When Brian Moore turned to Kevin Keegan he gave him the biggest hospital pass in broadcasting. “Quickly, Kevin – you know him best, will he score…?” To which Keegan replied: “Yes!”

Cue anguished noise.


Benoit Assou-Ekotto
The former Spurs defender has always been candid, expressing in public what he says that many of his peers privately felt about the seediness and the hangers-on that infect the professional side of the game. Football was his job but not his passion. The left-back was called a mercenary by his former President at Lens for moving to Tottenham. “(Gervais) Martel said I go to England for the money but why do players come to his club? Because they look nice? All people, everyone, when they go to a job, it’s for the money.”

During the 2011 London riots, Assou-Ekotto suggested his colleagues put their hands in their pocket for local causes and made a significant contribution to the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund. Which is interesting, but not quite as interesting as Harry Redknapp saying he was only interested in being a porn star.


Taribo West
The ex-Derby defender became a born-again Christian, founding his own church called The Shelter From The Storm Ministry in Milan where he played for both San Siro clubs. West had previously described himself as “an arrogant football star who lived life through rose-tinted glasses”. After he left Italy in 2000, “Pastor” – as he became known – frequently returned there to preach, which created problems when he was transferred to Kaiserslautern. The German club sacked him for travelling to his 400-strong birthday ‘party’ congregation, after supposedly pulling out of a Bundesliga game with gastroenteritis. Taribo responded: “The Lord is more important to me than a football club.”


Stephen Ireland
Before Manchester City became the noisy neighbours, Stephen Ireland was excelling under Mark Hughes. Then Roberto Mancini came along and told him to get his head sorted. He continued to be a Premier League footballer up until 2018 during a scratchy, injury-laden five-year stay at Stoke. Not bad for someone who once wrote on his social media page, ‘Football Is SH*T Why Did I get Stuck Doin It’.

Ireland never actually enjoyed playing for his country, although that ceased to become a problem after the infamous Grannygate episode in 2007. Before a crunch match against the Czech Republic, he effectively fabricated both his grandmothers’ deaths during a personal crisis to gain compassionate leave. The whole sorry episode left him wanting to retire at 21 years old. Ireland recalls: “I texted my accountant and said: ‘Do I have enough money to retire? ‘ And he said: ‘Yeah you do, but it depends how much is enough…”


Hidetoshi Nakata
The ‘David Beckham of Asia’ had style and substance on and off the pitch, first coming to prominence in the 1998 World Cup. He helped Roma win the Scudetto, but actually wound up his club playing days at Bolton Wanderers in 2006. His subsequent retirement at 29 years of age from football was, thankfully, unconnected to Big Sam’s direct tactics. “Day after day I realised that football had just become a big business,” Nakata recalled. “I could feel that the team were playing just for money and not for the sake of having fun.” He is now a cultural ambassador for Japan and owns a Sake company.


Marvin Sordell
Sordell appeared in last week’s BBC programme Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health where he spoke very eloquently about his depression. What was ultimately disturbing within his football bubble was the idea that he wasn’t in an environment that was sympathetic to changing lanes. Football, it seemed, demanded his passion when he had much to give elsewhere.

After retiring last summer at 28, Sordell has set up a production company and is a writer and poet. The former Watford and Bolton striker said: “I made a decision to hold onto my pleasure as opposed to continuing to take the cash. I chose pleasure in a way.”


Tim Ellis – follow him on the Twitter