Paolo Maldini’s tennis debut: How ex-players fare away from football

Life after football can have its downsides. Some players move into management, while some have a crack at punditry to stay in the game. For others, there’s a whole other world out there to explore, and some even chance their arm at a different sport altogether.

Italian football legend Paolo Maldini raised a few eyebrows when he did just that – appearing in a professional tennis tournament in Milan on Monday.

He took part in the Aspria Tennis Cup, part of the Challenger Tour, where he and doubles partner Stefano Landonio had won a qualifier to take part in the contest.

But there was to be no Dodgeball-esque underdog fairy-tale story for the duo, who were comprehensively beaten 6-1, 6-1 in Maldini’s pro tennis debut.

And despite a football career spanning nearly 25 years, the legendary defender looks set to call time on his tennis adventure after just 42 minutes on court.

“I want it to be clear, it’s only for fun, because I’m a member of this club and Stefano works here.”

Paolo Maldini (Daily Mirror)

Poor Paolo. He wouldn’t be the first footballer to try their hand at a different sport, and neither would he be the first to struggle to find success off the pitch.

Why do they do it, then? Well, footballers often retire in their mid-30s, and filling the void of football is important for some, especially while they are still relatively fit and healthy enough to compete in alternative sports.

So that should mean there’s still plenty of time for Gianluigi Buffon to take up taekwondo in the near future – you know bonkers these ‘keepers are.

Speaking of bonkers goalies, ex-Manchester United stopper Fabien Barthez has enjoyed success away from the beautiful game in motorsport, no less. In fact, he won the French GT Championship back in 2013, and recently competed in his third 24-hour race in Le Mans.

But that may not be as much of a career change as former Hoffenheim goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who retired at the age of 32 to take up professional wrestling, where he was nicknamed ‘The Machine’. Right.

His wrestling exploits were short-lived, however, and recently resurfaced in German football’s eighth tier back in April. And with that, perhaps the hope of seeing Triple H in the Ryman League sometime soon may not be as far-fetched as first thought.

Of course, taking a new direction after football is not exclusive to goalkeepers, as World Cup-winning defender Bixente Lizarazu has proven. If you thought Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s taekwondo black belt was special, he’d be a decent match for the former French full-back, who is a European champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

But out there to prove it’s not all about adrenaline junkies and violence post-football, there’s the more sensible Michael Owen, who has taken a keen interest in the world of horse racing since retiring – he even owns his own stables.

An interest so keen, that he is set to ride as a jockey at Ascot in a charity race this November, where he should be a safe bet to usurp all he has achieved in the world of punditry since his retirement.

So it seems footballers have mixed success when venturing into other sporting realms. But what is clear is that footballers not only have the luxury to earn vast sums of money before they retire, but they can also follow their true dreams once their illustrious careers come to an end.

Who will be next to pursue their childhood dream outside of football? Adebayo Akinfenwa in WWE? Peter Crouch in basketball? Alexis Sanchez at Crufts? An exciting future awaits…