Professional football is a funny business. When I was 18, I was told that I’d be the next big player; that I had unlimited potential.
Unfortunately, mental health issues and injuries had something to say about that, and it was a potential that was never quite realised. By 29, I should have been at the top of my career. I’d played at Juventus and at two Premier League teams. My reality, however, was retirement. Having no formal education to fall back on, I was faced with a big dilemma: what do I do now with this big void in my life? How do I move forward?
It forced me to reflect on my career and why it went wrong. My biggest realisation was the lack of support that I’d received for my mental health issues. It didn't feel right and it didn’t sit well with me. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak in me, so rather than sit and let this feeling eat away at me, I started an organisation to help support professional sports people deal with depression and mental health problems. Problem was, I had no formal business training and, as a result, was making mistakes. The organisation was not well set up and, in retrospect, simply too ambitious. I needed an education.
They saw I had big ideas and passion and they offered me a place studying business right away. That personal approach was so important – I knew I’d made the right choice.
Portsmouth had always been a good city to me, back when I was playing for their football club and when I started a family there. What better opportunity to get an education that at the city’s university? At first I applied through UCAS, but because of my lack of formal education I was declined. It made me a little anxious. I’d never studied business growing up in France, let alone in England where my language at the time was only so-so.
I decided to contact Portsmouth directly, just to see what their opinion was. The difference between dealing with them and with UCAS was like night and day. They didn’t just look at my grades, they looked at me, the person behind them. They saw I had big ideas and passion and they offered me a place studying business right away. That personal approach was so important – I knew I’d made the right choice.
The course taught me everything I needed to know to start a real business. I was taught to streamline my ideas and put together a proper business plan. The result is 'What’s Up?' – an app that’s all about asking "How are you today?" With the support of lecturers, I developed the app for students, many of whom I realised were suffering from the same mental health issues as sports people. Now students can raise concerns with the wellbeing department within their university, in confidence and anonymity.
Some universities might just educate you and send you off into the world, but Portsmouth did so much more for me.
Some universities might just educate you and send you off into the world, but Portsmouth did so much more for me. Its Innovation Space helped me properly launch the idea, even becoming my first client, rolling the app out to over 700 students before referring me to Cardiff University to roll out there as well.
Now I leave with a proper education, two clients and links with partners such as Mind and the NHS, who could help me reach even more people with mental health concerns. A whole new career is open in front of me and all I need to do is stay on top of it.
Portsmouth has made that possible.