Richard Wood column: The Rotherham United defender wants to play for as many years as he can
The world's oldest professional footballer, Japanese striker Kazuyoshi Miura, has just signed a new 12-month deal that will see him play into his 50s. The 49-year-old will now enter his 32nd year as a pro, which is quite staggering in this day and age.
I’ve been in the professional game a long time now and, when I speak to people outside of football, I seem to be getting asked “how long have you got left playing?” a lot at the moment.
My answer is: “Hey, don’t be cheeky, I’m only 31, I’ve got a good few years left yet!”
In England, the average football career spans just eight years and the standard retirement age of a footballer is 35.
Every player is different and has varying reasons for hanging up their boots. Some players don’t have a choice, due to injury, others just fall out of love with the game and for some they just know that it’s the end.
Although I won’t follow in Miura’s footsteps and play into my 50s, I do want to stay in the game as long as I can. I want to be able to look back at my career and have no regrets about retiring too early. Of course, I realise that it’s not all my decision, as professional clubs have to employ you and give you a contract.
Even though we are struggling at the bottom of the league, I can’t see myself doing anything other than football. Training every day, banter in the dressing room with the lads, and the buzz of playing in front of thousands every week are things that can’t be replicated. Ex- players who have recently retired say to me: ‘Enjoy your playing career while you can becase you won’t half miss it afterwards.’
I’d play has long as I could even if I won the Lottery and had all the money in the world. I’ve got many years of my life left to live but not that many where I play professional football. Why throw them away? If I’m fit enough to play and be out on that pitch, I will be.
The physical demands of football have increased over the years and the game is now played a lot quicker. This is why it is so important to look after yourself and do all the right things to maintain a career in football.
As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve realised I can’t spend hours and hours on the training ground as well as playing games. If I’m playing regularly then my fitness levels will be good, and recovery between games is vitally important. I know what my body needs to be 100 per cent ready for matches. Although I do, and will continue to do, everything with the rest of the squad, I understand I will have to manage my training as time goes on.
I have already incorporated swimming into my regime. It’s a great workout and has no stress on your joints. Another activity that really benefits me is Bikram Yoga. It consists of performing yoga in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius over a 90-minute class.
I’ve done this form of yoga for four years, although not as often as I’d like. I go regularly in the off-season to maintain fitness and flexibility. My grandad swears by yoga and does it every morning - granted, not in the heat - and at 80 years old is still as fit as a fiddle. He played football with his grandchildren in the garden only last week!
Over the coming years, I will probably look to go more consistently. If it helps me to play as long as Paul Warne, our current manager, did, then I’ll be very happy.