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Preparing players for life after football should begin before the final whistle | Sid Lowe

David Villa is ready to retire but many players battle with financial and emotional problems once they have stopped playing

“I prefer to leave football before football leaves me,” David Villa said this week. Spain’s all-time top scorer once claimed he would play until he was 55 if he could. In the end he will make it to 38. For the past six seasons Villa has signed annual deals, delaying the inevitable, competitive as ever, but no more: he has announced his retirement. Over 19 years he has scored 390 goals and played 716 games; he has four left. Five, if Vissel Kobe reach the Japanese cup final. And then he will lead a new football club, founded in Queens, New York.

Villa has prepared for retirement. “There are things I couldn’t give time to before; I can now,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, that’s the most important thing.” He has things to do for sure. And that, the former player, coach and director Jorge Valdano tells the Observer, is vital. “If I gave one piece of advice to a player retiring tomorrow, I’d say: ‘When you wake up, have something to do,’” he says. “Something, anything. It doesn’t matter what. Anything that helps you feel useful. Because the worst thing is the void.”

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