Louis Saha, played at the highest level for the likes of Manchester United, Fulham, Everton and France. He told Professional Player about the hardships of hanging up his boots and also how his new venture, AxisStars, is helping players throughout their career and into their next move after retirement.
Louis, you retired from playing in 2013. Just describe how hard that was to deal with…
It’s the hardest thing about being a professional footballer – a process that’s very hard to deal with mentally as well as physically. When you’re playing you think that everything’s going to be fine and it will last a lifetime, so when it does come to an end it’s like suffering a bereavement. You’re a competitor, playing for points and winning trophies, so to not have that competitive edge, not to have that opponent on the pitch anymore, is very tough to deal with. From my perspective, I knew the time was coming with the injuries I started to pick up in my latter years and while it doesn’t make it easier when the time comes to retire, I’m just thankful for the career I had.
‘Looking back on my career, and realising that this absence of opportunities to educate yourself is common across sport and entertainment, was how I developed the idea for AxisStars’
You famously played for Manchester United so try and explain what the feeling’s like to have scored in front of 75,000 fans and to then have that feeling taken from you…
You soon realise that you will experience nothing like that again in your life. It’s hard to speak to friends and family about it as while they might feel the pressure when they’re watching you on the pitch, as they want the best for you, you simply can’t describe that feeling because they haven’t experienced it. Like I said before, it’s like you’re dying in some way. I am talking about the sportsman, not the person, in that respect. If you are not strong enough to detach that part of your life from what you are now as a man, you are going to struggle. You have to evolve, to improve, as there is still much of your life to live.
Some struggle because the daily routine they’ve had since they were young is also taken away, right?
Everything is arranged for you: training, games, the routine that’s put in place to help you become the best you can be on the pitch. You also have to be an ambassador for your club at all times, so have that extra responsibility in the hours you spend off the pitch too, where you are in the public eye much more. When that’s all gone, your structure disappears too. You don’t have as much support in place as you did before and while this change is all happening in your life, for the first two or three years there’s also the frustration because you still think you can play, you think you can still do it.
You don’t seem to have slowed down since retiring and have set up your own business, AxisStars, so were you always thinking ahead?
I’ve always been someone who wants to develop personally so on the pitch at 30 or 35, I was finding different ways to help my game. However, in terms of education, it’s really hard to put those processes in place because there’s no platform to do it – everyone around you says you should just be focusing on your football. The injury helped me start the process, but even that was too late; I should have already been educating myself on the things I have a passion for outside of football. Sadly, the system makes you lazy; you are not given the tools and the strengths to believe you can do something else. I can understand it to a degree because if you channel too much energy into something else you can lose focus, but there’s no reason why you can’t find the balance. You have the free time, you don’t have to spend four hours on the PlayStation every afternoon or evening. Looking back on my career, and realising that this absence of opportunities to educate yourself is common across sport and entertainment, was how I developed the idea for AxisStars.
So tell us more about it…
AxisStars is a private community for professional sportspeople and entertainers. It enables them to build a network of connections throughout their career, find accurate information, learn useful skills and secure revenue-generating opportunities – as well as getting great deals from trusted brands and service providers. I set it up with my business partner, Kate Hamer, who was there to bridge the gap between our members and the business world, to help them manage and sustain their careers and brands in the most relevant way. We also hold our members to account by enabling them to give an ‘AxisRating’ for their experiences and transactions within the platform. With this community, this strength in like-minded numbers, it sets new standards of trust. Our members find themselves in a stable environment, where they can access the right knowledge and advice, and then confidently make a positive move forward.
So the community aspect is important?
What we think really helps is the community aspect, getting those specific profiles together as one; sharing experiences and also sharing difficult moments to highlight. Then, when you want to make the transition to another career, you have equipped yourself significantly to have more choice at your disposal. This community and environment are extremely secure, and you will only find partners that have been validated following a process of due diligence. AxisStars is a concrete tool that is with you 24/7, during those key moments when you need to make the next decision.
‘They are not here to make a hit or a big deal and move on, they have a reputation built because our members also rate their services. It’s, therefore, a win-win for the member and the company in question’
Are you therefore an extension of what an agent or a business adviser might do?
You have a support team already such as an agent or adviser, but you may need more awareness about the market you now want to enter. We provide that environment as a result of the community we have built. You have a better outcome when things are shared; it helps to reduce the risk as we have the data. We’re not going to say that from day one you are going to get everything you want; it’s an ongoing project, but we partner with a lot of companies to help us with the data and analysis, to ensure the hub is as efficient as possible. We have people on the inside who are genuine, who want to help, to guide our members to make fewer mistakes on their journey.
So can AxisStars help in whatever you want to do?
You create your profile and put in whatever interests you: fashion, art, real estate, gaming, sponsorship, business, career development, media work, anything you are interested in. Depending on what you select, you will see a different version of the app tailored to you. You can find deals, sponsorship opportunities or connect with a range of experts. We can assure the aspect of security because we have been through that necessary due diligence process with the companies we work with. They are not here to make a hit or a big deal and move on, they have a reputation built because our members also rate their services. It’s therefore a win-win for the member and the company in question – and we are simply the facilitators of the connection.
How successful have you been to date?
We have 300-star members and it’s a process we want to grow organically. We want to make sure that the Stars are getting the service they need and that the companies who join have opportunities to do business. We really appreciate the trust our members have in us, and we have some big names/influencers from the Premier League, world champions, but also smaller names from other sports – but this is all good as we want to help professional sportspeople across the range. You can see with movements like Black Lives Matter, Marcus Rashford’s great work on food poverty and the more recent #Enough campaign in women’s rugby, that sportspeople have huge potential to make a difference by using their own platforms. At AxisStars we want to support them in their initiatives by bringing strength in numbers – whether that’s to help them get better deals for themselves, their career or the wider community. We have big targets for this global community and I am excited about its growth!
To find out more visit axisstars.com | Twitter/Instagram @axisstars