We learn about the experience of Dorus de Vries, a former professional footballer with a successful 20-year career who, after graduating from his Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, became a sports consultant at a Dutch representation agency
Dorus de Vries tiptoed over the abyss that many professional football players, and elite sportsmen in general, find themselves in when they add the word ‘former’ to their profession. In December he will be 41 years old, having dedicated 20 of those years to football, including 14 years at clubs outside the Netherlands. Dorus, who retired as Celtic goalkeeper at the end of 2019, started to plan for visualized his future in his last active season and decided to prepare for his return to the Netherlands by taking more than just memories with him. He enrolled in the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam and today he is not only a former professional footballer, but also a sports consultant at Euro Soccer Advice The Next Generation. “I would have liked to resume my studies a little earlier, but the transition after my retirement as a sportsman has been very pleasant,” says the Dutchman.
Dorus accepted our invitation to participate in an exclusive interview for Soccerex. There, he explained the importance of investing in oneself and looking for new paths beyond football, his experience as a master‘s student and the future he has ahead of him now that that ‘former’ label will last forever.
You retired in 2019 after 20 years of a successful career as a professional football player. How is life so far?
Very nice. You know, I enjoyed my career for over 20 years and I have been abroad for 14 years, and now I am coming back home, of course in strange times with Covid, but yet again it’s very nice because it opened up a new world for me after retirement. So life has been good to me.
You are now working as a consultant for Euro Soccer Advice The Next Generation. What is your role in the company?
Purely consultant advisor, and that’s it at the moment, working together with the agency owner, Dick van Burik. He is a very knowledgeable guy and he has been an agent for a very long time. He took over the company from his father, who was actually one of the first agents in Holland. It’s been very nice, the transition for me since retirement, studying the master at Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam, which was a fantastic experience for myself as well, and then, stepping into the role of a consultant as an advisor at Euro Soccer Advice has been a great step.
How did the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute help you to find your place in the sports industry?
I actually think it has been fantastic, to be honest. I have been a professional football player for 20 years, which is a very long time that I have not studied. After studying, I went straight into the professional game. I kind of wish that I would have picked up my studies a little bit earlier, even before I retired, which would have made the transition maybe a bit easier as well. But at Johan Cruyff Institute, I learned so much. As a professional football player, you learn how to cope with the demands—physical and mentally—on the pitch, and the circumstances around it, with the media attention, etc. This is always what I wanted to achieve myself, to become the best version of myself, and if I wanted to make a good transition off the pitch I needed to make sure to educate myself and Johan Cruyff Institute was a fantastic fit for me.
“If I wanted to make a good transition off the pitch I needed to make sure to educate myself and Johan Cruyff Institute was a fantastic fit for me”
How do you remember your days as a student?
I handled it very well, I thought. But then, yet again there was so much new information for me and I was very grateful for the help that I received from all my fellow students, from all the people that worked at Johan Cruyff Institute at the time because they were very knowledgeable and they really were open just to make sure that you received the information that they gave very well. Like I said earlier, the transition made it very nice for me just to absorb all the information they gave me. There were definitely some tough tasks but I was able to roll into that quite easily because of all the help that I received at the institute, which was fantastic.
How did you decide to go back to study?
The last couple of years of my professional career I started thinking about the future more and more, and like I said earlier, I wanted to become the best version of myself, so even if I wanted to perform outside the pitch, because I always had to focus on my career which was on the pitch, and you train daily, you train very hard, and invest a lot of time of yourself to make sure that you perform on the pitch. But then as you grow older and you look forward towards the end of your career, you start thinking a bit ahead and say, you know, “there’s a time that I have got to prepare for life after football”, which was very good, I already started with some coaching badges in the last two seasons of my career, which I was very grateful for the help of my club at that time as well. And this also was very good, despite not being on the pitch active as a coach, but it was still very nice to have the experience to see which direction am I going to get involved in. Do I want to become a coach? Do I want to become a manager? Do I want to become whatever role I see myself? And this was actually part of the education as well for myself and I had seen an advertisement regarding Johan Cruyff Institute, for the Master in Sport Management, and I thought “this may be a really good fit for me, to look further ahead and see what is happening behind the scenes in professional sport organizations”. Johan Cruyff Institute has so many knowledgeable people, who have worked in the industry for a very long time and I thought it was a perfect fit for me. I was very grateful that I was able to enter the course and study, and pick up a lot of knowledge.
“Johan Cruyff Institute has so many knowledgeable people, who have worked in the industry for a very long time and I thought it was a perfect fit for me. I was very grateful that I was able to enter the course and study, and pick up a lot of knowledge”
It is a fact that very few professional football players decide to study in order to secure their future after retirement. Why is it so unusual to see a footballer with studies?
That is a very good question, I think it mainly has to do with the focus of just investing in yourself and the time on the pitch so you can be the best you can and perform on a daily basis, and that is on the pitch. That is where you get judged upon and that is where you make your career and it is very short-term minded in that perspective. So, I think a lot of guys, they do not think 10, 15 years ahead, and say “I might have to educate myself”. Then yet again, I hope there might be a phase where players might be enthusiastic about picking up a certain degree later on in their career, and that is when you see the player is mature and feels that responsibility of “what am I going to do after my career?”, and that is picking up coaching badges or doing a master’s and luckily we have more and more possibilities nowadays as well, which is very important for professional football players. I know the English PFA is currently working with a lot of courses, so preparing football players or ex-professional football players for a job after their career. And I think that is a very good situation to create awareness amongst professional football players that there are more possibilities of what you can learn.
“Young players do not think 10, 15 years ahead, but I hope there might be a phase where players might be enthusiastic about picking up a certain degree later on in their career, and that is when you see the player is mature and feels that responsibility of “what am I going to do after my career?”
From your own experience, what would be your advice for future generations of young talents?
First of all, just make sure that you invest as much as possible in yourself and that you can be the best ‘self’. Don’t take anything for granted in your professional career, that is key. Try visualizing into the future, especially later on. I can understand while you are 18, 19, that you don’t really think about it, you are making your first steps in the professional game, your vision is not really into 15 years after your retirement. But there are plenty of possibilities to make sure that you can study, long-distance, everything through the internet is possible as well, even with Johan Cruyff Institute, which was very enjoyable. Even throughout the Covid period, I prefer to be in a class interacting with my classmates, but it wasn’t possible for a short period of time and we had to do everything on the mobile or desktop and it was very good as well, the transition was very good. So it is quite easy nowadays to long-distance learn and pick up some knowledge along the way. Just so you know as a professional player what happens on the pitch, but also to have that mindset of what is actually happening behind the scenes at a football club. How sports organizations are being run nowadays. Hopefully younger generations start to realize a little bit sooner now and it makes the transition easier for a lot of players that actually finished the game or their career as a professional player, I think it will benefit their situation in terms of transitioning.
“It is quite easy nowadays to long-distance learn and pick up some knowledge along the way. Just so you know as a professional player what happens on the pitch, but also to have that mindset of what is actually happening behind the scenes at a football club”
Do you think the football business is well managed in general?
That is a very difficult question, to be honest, because it is so hard to look behind the scenes at the majority of clubs, institutions and government bodies. Yet again, I think that there are very good examples in the professional game where you could see clubs making a really good effort in terms of the financial side of things, and making it work, and working with talent. There is more and more development coming in every day, so I think there is a lot of positive developments going towards that, and I think the good thing as well is that a lot of clubs would be in communication with other clubs, and saying “maybe look at this stuff and how can you improve certain things within the academy of towards the first team, financially, sponsorship deals, marketing, etc.
I think there’s a lot of room for growth, but it is very difficult to say because I don’t know a lot of clubs from the inside out, but there are some very good examples, like Bayern Munich or Ajax back home, who have done a tremendous job throughout the years.
Is it a good formula for industry professionals to work with former football players?
I think you can learn from both really, there’s an interaction there. If I look at myself, I’ve grown as a professional player, as a human being as well on the pitch. I gained the knowledge that I needed through Johan Cruyff Institute because I needed to expand my knowledge of how a business or an organization is run, and without this knowledge, you cannot just enter a job like a technical director. Maybe you can learn from somebody who has had the experience within that job but it will always be nice to educate yourself with some of the modules, especially at Johan Cruyff Institute, which came in very handy for me. And it was quite an eye-opener at times.
If you look at Ajax in the past as well, and this was a situation with Edwin van der Sar, who is the director now at the club. And he kind of grew into that role with the professional manager at the time next to him, basically learning the ropes. I think this is a good transition as well because there are a lot of people out there with a lot of experience within their job, within their management functions, which we all can learn from. And that makes the transition a little bit easier as well.
“Your experience as a player combined with lacking knowledge in terms of how I need to do certain stuff behind the scenes of running a professional organization in a management function, is a very good combination and that can help lift the bar for a lot of sport organizations, definitely”
Johan Cruyff used to say that athletes with an academic background are the best to lead sport organizations. What do you have to offer and what other professionals in the industry can learn from you?
You need to learn the knowledge, how to run that organization. Still, there is the education and the willingness to be open for the education as well, to learn from people who have been in that industry, and, you know, being an ex-professional football player, you learn the side on the pitch with the demands, physical, mentally, and the emotions within the dressing room. That’s a very good learning school, and also with the media attention, etc. Combining that with Johan Cruyff Institute, with lacking knowledge in terms of how I need to do certain stuff behind the scenes of running a professional organization in a management function, I think this is a very good combination and that can help lift the bar for a lot of sport organizations, definitely.