Rio Ferdinand was in Belfast today as a top UK football agency made a commitment to nurture the Province’s emerging talent.
The former Manchester United and England star is signed to New Era along with the likes of Robbie Savage, Harry Redknapp and Mick McCarthy.
He helped launch their new office at Innovation Factory on the Springfield Road in west Belfast – the agency’s first office outside London which will be run by former professional footballer Lee Mudd from Belfast.
Mr Ferdinand said: “There’s a talent pool in Ireland that has been well documented over the years. I’ve played with many top Irish players – Robbie Keane, Roy Keane, Jonny Evans, Sheasy (John O’Shea), Corry (Evans), Craig Cathcart, Robbie Brady, I could go on and on.
“There’ll be more here coming out, it’s about helping to nurture them and create a pathway for them to come over and get the right opportunity.”
The 40-year-old, whose wife Rebecca Ellison died of breast cancer in 2015, added: “The ethos of New Era is that when the times are good we’ll be there to help, standing in the shadows, when the times are bad, that’s when we come out of the shadows to stand by your side, holding your hand.
“I’m a prime example of that given what has happened to me in the last few years. You see when times aren’t good who your real friends are.”
Of enlisting the services of New Era’s Jamie Moralee as his agent, Rio said: “I trusted him. We got on as friends. I said to him, if you’re going to look after me just make sure when I retire that the transition from playing to retiring is smooth and I’ve got opportunities in business to go into.”
In terms of 24/7 care of players on their books, Mr Moralee said New Era keeps tabs on mental health as well as helping players with addictions.
Mr Moralee said: “In my day you retired and you owned a sports shop, you became a cab driver, you bought a bar.”
He said there are far more opportunities for footballers to prolong their career nowadays, particularly in punditry.
“As an agency we want to be looking after players’ interests going into the 40s,” he said.
Of the pitfalls of being a professional footballer, Mr Ferdinand said: “There’s so many distractions for modern players. There’s even more ways to get caught out. You have to be very mindful of your actions.”
Of his former boss at Old Trafford he said: “There was always a fear factor with Sir Alex (Ferguson). You wanted to run through brick walls for him. If you did something wrong you knew he’d be coming for you.”