Letting go. For the finest and rarest talents, it’s hard. The void of self-worth and lack of applause and adulation. The off-season that never ends. The world’s finest sporting talents, unflappable in their poise and decision making on the court or field, appear stunned, ill-prepared and completely incapable of engaging with the concept of becoming average joes, or in most instances, below average pundits.
In 2015, once the decision to go is made, the scrutiny doesn’t end anymore. Where once it was considered ill manners to speak poorly of the walking dead, media happily deconstruct and dissect a player’s exit as much as their apex. The retirement is as much a legacy preserving exercise as a functional, necessary termination of employment. Sure, the Kobe love might be a little bit louder than the Kobe hate right now, but it’s close… certainly closer than you would expect it to be for someone who is essentially a dead man walking.
So what are your options? How do you maximize your ROI and make yourself immortal through your final actions? The modern athlete appears to have trended toward a few clearcut styles of departure.
The Farewell Tour
The most ego beneficial an increasingly popular approach for US Athletes, the Farewell Tour involves announcing your retirement with a full or semi full season of play ahead of you. Certainly the best option for those who love both themselves, media backlash and the constant hum of Facebook likes and chatter on their heavily curated social media presence, the farewell tour is the wet dream of agents, sponsors and 24 hour sports networks. But what are the real benefits?
Firstly, the gifts are exceptional. If you love gifts and clutter, this option is an exceptional approach. If the latest BB8 Sphero toy is not enough to sate your desire for must have items, perhaps a rocking chair made out of broken bats will suffice?
Largely however, this is the approach when the cult of personality infringes on David Koresh territory. If you stay too long and have too long a farewell lap, only your most die-hard and ardent fans will really give a shit come the end of the season.
Notable Adherents: Kobe, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Sir Alex Ferguson
Special Mention: Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar had one of the greatest farewell tours ever – BY NOT ANNOUNCING HIS RETIREMENT. Speculation about the Little Master’s last test match here and there was rife for about 5 years, but he kept on playing. Tendulkar’s farewell tour remains the most enigmatic, only reaching official capacity after he’d visiting most test match playing countries three times and announced his retirement officially with a fraction of a year to go.
The Back Door
AKA The Australian Cricketer’s retirement special, the Back Door is a fast snap decision which usually occurs on day 2 or day 3 of a test match. The back door has a lot of benefits. Firstly, if you’re about to get dropped or kicked out, you save face – as important in getting a gig bowling wrong-uns at Ian Healy on the cricket show as it is in many Asian cultures. Gone are your faults, your declining batting average or strike rate and instead is a rose-coloured tribute where even the most hardened of critics will concede you were “a good bloke”.
You get pissed in the sheds, you don the polo and front the media and you’re done. A full year’s paycheck in the mail and an IPL auction on the horizon. What you miss out on with a year’s full of glory and adulation, you gain in understated grace and a drawing minimal attention to your declining skill.
The only real risk is if your Captain insists you take a trip on Packer’s Yacht to celebrate. But now that dickhead has himself retired, so you’re pretty much set to knock back tins with the boys and book your upcoming corporate motivational speeches.
Notable Adherents: Mitch Johnson, Adam Gilchrist, Mike Hussey
The European Super Fund
Sometimes the best way to let go is to not let go at all! This method, popularized by the leading lights of European Football, has seen some of the biggest stars of a few years ago leave the old continent for the new world.
Some of these guys have spent their entire lives living in North East England, hardly the best place to blow a career’s fortune. When you’re a boring man who has lived their entire life in the grey, dreary top end clubs of Europe, living for a post-match piece of Liverpudlian flange and a possible kebab, the allure of leaving all of that drear behind and trying to find some alternative late-night cuisine and a sustained level of celebrity must be exceptional
Sure, people might scoff and laugh at how good you once were. They might compare you to your past self and comment on how far you’ve fallen. But gosh darn it, you get to be the man again. You get to smash opponents at 0.5 speed while also (if you’re Dwight Yorke or similar) picking off unsuspecting antipodean dolly birds who have no real sense of who you are, but a strong understanding that you are someone famous.
Notable Adherents: Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard
Tough to achieve, easy to attempt, The Mogul requires a seamless transition from the field/court/pitch to off-field ventures. We’re not talking commentary, we’re talking about the business of business. Athletes are obsessed at playing business. It’s quite cute (hi Melo) but difficult to achieve.
This week saw basketball’s Steve Nash join The Mogul category (after a cheeky head-fake toward the backdoor approach at the end of last year). He purchased a controlling interest in the Mallorca football club along with his former owner at the Suns, Robert Sarver. But this is just the tip of The Mogul Iceberg. Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler has a property portfolio worth millions, reportedly attained thanks to a notorious thriftiness during his playing days. Magic Johnson owns the Dodgers!
Notable Adherents: Steve Nash, The Rock, Magic Johnson, Robbie Fowler
To truly Mogul, you’ve got to move right away from the game and into something else. A clean break. It’s tough but doable, and the final verdict has to be that The Mogul is the best approach to calling it quits on a career well spent.
James Wright is an editor at New Albion.