Sheffield United fan column: Ex-Blade Olivier Tebily matures like a fine wine – or Cognac

Ex-Blade Olivier Tebily
Ex-Blade Olivier Tebily

As it’s international week I thought I’d take a look at the career of a former Blade from overseas who went on to make a somewhat unusual career move when he retired from football.  

In March 1999 United’s manager Steve Bruce signed Olivier Tébily, an Ivory Coast-born French national, from French Ligue 2 club Châteauroux for £200,000. He was the only signing Bruce was allowed to make all season.

Tébily was a talented but erratic central defender who in fact played only seven times for United before being sold to Celtic for £1.25 million, a tidy profit in a few months. By this time Bruce had already resigned, fed up with all his better players being sold from under him.

At Celtic Tébily earned the nickname “Bombscare” for his mistake-ridden performances. Bruce liked him though, signing him for Birmingham City, where he played in the Premier League before injury forced him to quit.

Unlike many professional players, Tébily had made plans for life after football. Whilst still a teenager he used the money from his first professional contract to buy a vineyard in the Cognac region of France, near where his family settled after moving from Abidjan. It was, he said, insurance against premature retirement from the game through injury. It proved a wise investment.

When Tébily moved back to the area in 2008 he didn’t have enough vines to make his land productive but he fell lucky when a local Cognac maker sold him another 22 acres. This was a highly unusual state of affairs; historically Cognac makers were families who had been in the trade and the area for maybe hundreds of years. None of them were African-born black men. Nor were any of them former professional footballers.

At first Tébily experienced resentment, saying that some locals treated him like a Martian. People doubted that a man of his background could make a good go of it, but were then surprised by how hard he worked to make it a success. He eventually won them over, impressing them with his effort and determination and, not least, the quality of his Cognac.

Producing his first bottle for sale in 2013, Tébily was soon making enough to sell to the region’s bigger producers. He keeps around 10 per cent of his 11,000 annual bottles under his own label, Cognac OT, which he sells to restaurants and on-line. Tébily puts his success down to making Cognac with the same passion with which he played football. “I love this like I loved football,” he said.

You often read of footballers who enjoy a drink or three, but this is the first time I've heard of an ex-Blade actually making the stuff!