But when injury forced Ledley King to hang up his boots unexpectedly five years ago, the 31-year-old was left feeling as helpless as a wet-behind-the-ears teenager.
Such is the closeted world of modern football.
“When you come out of school at 16 and go straight into football, you don’t really have any life skills,” says King, who is now an ambassador for Tottenham.
“For the first couple of years it was like being on work experience – learning to deal with people differently and come out of myself in a different way. It’s something I’ve been growing into ever since.
“You can be quite selfish when you’re a player because of the levels you’re playing at. A lot of players will tell you they can be quite distant because they’re so focused.
Ledley King admitted life after retirement from football was tough
King hung up his boots in 2012 at the age of 31
“That element is better now I’ve come away from the game. I don’t have to be so one-dimensional and live with my blinkers on just for football. It helps you evolve.”
Tottenham trained King in his new role to overcome that initial trepidation, just as they helped him 13 years earlier after an inauspicious start as a player.
This Saturday, Spurs travel back to Anfield, scene of King’s 1999 debut.
Still only a teenager, he came on at left-back at half-time only for Liverpool to claw back a two-goal deficit and beat 10-man Tottenham 3-2.
“I ended up feeling a little bit guilty,” said King, “almost as though it were my fault. I’d made my debut when we were 2-0 up and as soon as I had come on it had all gone wrong!
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“I know I wasn’t involved directly for any of the goals but I didn’t bother to watch it back on Match of the Day. I’ve done that throughout my career. If I was unhappy with my game, I would never watch it.”
He quickly established himself as one of the best young centre-backs in the country but over the next 13 years, surgeries, pain-killing injections and playing through the pain left a toll on his body, so now he feels the after-effects of even the tamest kick-around for days.
But he says: “It’s quite nice not to have to deal with the knees on a day-to-day basis. For the last five years of my career every day was about ‘The Knee’ – how it felt, how I was dealing with the swelling. Even nowadays I don’t do too much because of the knee and it gets uncomfortable if I have it bent too long.
“I can still do the basics. I can kick a ball from time to time and it will play up after but in two or three days’ time I can do it again. It’s uncomfortable. At least I can still teach people without having to do it myself.”
King was initially reluctant to rush into coaching after hanging up his boots but with wheels in motion on his UEFA B licence he seems more up for a new chapter in his life.
King made 21 appearances for his country
“I came into the game and had George Graham who was a tough disciplinarian type of manager,” said King. “Then there was Glenn Hoddle who was a terrific player and I enjoyed my time under him in terms of the way we played football.
“But communication with your players is key – and I’ve not always had that throughout my career. You have to find the right mixture. On one hand, when things are there to be said and you have to be tough, then be tough.
“But there’s no reason why the next day you cannot come in and put an arm around somebody. Like Mauricio Pochettino does. That’s the sort of coach I would like to be one day.
“Coaching is something that intrigues me. Until I really give it a proper go I will not be able to rest or walk away from the game.”