Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Front Page -

FOOT­BALL isn’t just about fast cars and big salaries – as Chris­tian Ribeiro has found out af­ter putting his heart and soul into the game, cou­pled with a lot of painkillers.

The Stroud-based de­fender was twice capped by Wales, along­side the Euro 2016 semi-fi­nal­ists of the fu­ture – in­clud­ing Gareth Bale and Aaron Ram­sey – but at the age of 27 he was quickly com­ing to terms with an early re­tire­ment and be­ing told he might never be able to run again.

It all stems back to one fate­ful night in Au­gust 2008, which should have been one of the hap­pi­est of his life

How­ever, it soon turned into a night­mare for the pro­fes­sional foot­baller, who has now turned his at­ten­tions to help­ing fel­low sports peo­ple, us­ing his own ca­reer as a “case study”.

“I came over from Wales to Glouces­ter­shire at the age of eight and played for a lo­cal team, which was a catch­ment area for clubs like Bris­tol City and West Brom,” he re­called.

“I got in­vited to train with a lot of teams, in­clud­ing Swin­don and Bris­tol Rovers, who said no to me, and then soon af­ter Bris­tol City said yes!

“I signed a youth con­tract with a guar­an­teed pro­fes­sional deal, which was ac­tu­ally quite ad­vanced.

“I pro­gressed through the academy and, com­ing from play­ing in the coun­try­side in Glouces­ter­shire, it was a mas­sive step up for me. I ac­cel­er­ated into the first team setup, play­ing reg­u­larly for the re­serves. By then I was also play­ing for Wales un­der-17s up to un­der-21s.

“Gary John­son was the man­ager at the time and he helped them win pro­mo­tion, be­fore reach­ing the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal just 12 months later.

“They had a very good team and I was very ex­cited to be part of it. I wasn’t get­ting many op­por­tu­ni­ties, get­ting called on to the bench a cou­ple of times, but I knew I had come a long way in a few years.

“We started the 2008/09 sea­son away at Black­pool and I trav­elled but wasn’t named on the bench. Just days later Gary pulled me to one side and told me I’d be start­ing against Peter­bor­ough in the League Cup on the Tues­day night.

“He wanted me to tell my fam­ily and get them tick­ets. Iron­i­cally my dad, who had fol­lowed me all around the world with Wales and through­out my time in the academy, was away in Amer­ica work­ing.

“It ended up that he wasn’t there for the big­gest night of my ca­reer and a defin­ing night too. My mum was there, along with other fam­ily mem­bers, but my dad missed out – in the end it prob­a­bly wasn’t the worst thing to hap­pen.”

Just 34 min­utes into Ribeiro’s se­nior de­but he tracked the run of Peter­bor­ough’s tricky at­tacker Ge­orge Boyd and tried to shep­herd him away from goal. Boyd twisted to go past the 18-year-old, who at­tempted to fol­low, only to pull up sharply as he dam­aged his an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment.

“I was play­ing right-back and he made a very good run be­hind the cen­tre-backs and I daftly fol­lowed,” he said.

“I re­mem­ber turn­ing and per­haps my studs got caught in the ground, maybe it was me try­ing too hard on my de­but, I don’t know re­ally.

“I’d had nig­gly in­juries be­fore but this was hor­ri­ble; a crack and tear­ing sen­sa­tion. In my head there was a pop, I leapt into the air and I was then ly­ing on the ground in shock.

“I had an oxy­gen mask on and they were mov­ing my leg – there was a clunk­ing. I didn’t re­ally feel any pain un­til around half an hour later.

“I worked hard on my re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion but I wasn’t able to get my knee back to the stan­dard it was be­fore. I prob­a­bly lost 30-40 per cent per­for­mance in that leg from one in­jury.

“I be­lieve if I had the same in­jury to­day, with the new lev­els of physio and tech­nol­ogy, I would have had a bet­ter ca­reer.

“When I came back to train­ing eight months later I re­mem­ber be­ing in a one ver­sus one sit­u­a­tion – my big­gest strength – and my team­mates were run­ning rings round me. That night when I got home I just started cry­ing; I was dev­as­tated and thought ‘I’ll never be the same again’.”

Ribeiro had spells at Stock­port and Colch­ester on loan to aid his re­cov­ery, even­tu­ally earn­ing a first start for Bris­tol City in league foot­ball in 2010.

“Gary John­son had just left the club and Keith Millen was in tem­po­rary charge,” Ribeiro added.

“We had New­cas­tle at home, live on Sky Sports, and Keith started me on the right-side of a back three with Lewin Ny­atanga and Louis Carey.

“We should have won the game, we went 2-0 up and then a keeper er­ror let them back in the game be­fore it ended 2-2. It was a qual­ity New­cas­tle side that would go on to win the league.

“That got me back into the mix and I played sev­eral more times be­fore the sea­son was over, earn­ing a callup for the Wales squad for the first time.

“It was a great team and a great ex­pe­ri­ence, along­side the likes of Bale, Ram­sey, Joe Allen, Ched Evans, Si­mon Church, Sam Vokes and more. They were set for big things and I was ex­cited to be in­volved.

“I came on in the friendly against Croa­tia and ended up mark­ing (Luka) Mo­dric, who has just won the FIFA Player of the Year award! But then I in­jured my back, a disc bulge. It was so bad I couldn’t bend down and I missed the whole of pre-sea­son with Bris­tol City.

“By the time I had come back new man­ager Steve Coppell had gone and Keith Millen was now in per­ma­nent charge.

“I tore my ham­string and spent two months on the side­lines, then hurt the other ham­string.

“That sum­mer I worked re­ally hard, I even spent thou­sands of my own money with physios to en­sure I was right. I was fly­ing in pre-sea­son and I fi­nally felt I was on my way, but then I jarred my knee in a friendly at Ply­mouth, had to come off and I think that was the last straw for the man­ager (Millen).

“From then on I was frozen out, he washed his hands of me and I be­came re­moved from the first team. It was a re­ally dark time for me.”

Ribeiro spent more time out on loan, first at Carlisle and then with Scun­thorpe, where he would earn a per­ma­nent move af­ter his City deal ended.

“Derek McInnes re­placed Keith Millen and he told me I had a chance of play­ing, but I opted to go to Scun­thorpe be­cause I wanted a guar­an­tee of foot­ball. That’s one of my big­gest re­grets,” ad­mits Ribeiro look­ing back.

The hard­ships con­tin­ued as he tasted rel­e­ga­tion in his first year at

Scun­thorpe, be­fore part-help­ing them re­turn to League One.

“I was in­volved in a 15-game un­beaten run but was then frozen out again, for no rea­son,” he said. “The man­ager (Russ Wil­cox) just told me I wasn’t play­ing, along with a cou­ple of other play­ers, and that was that.”

In­juries fol­lowed at Ex­eter, where he sus­tained a groin in­jury on the eve of sign­ing, and Ox­ford, frac­tur­ing his an­kle in­nocu­ously block­ing a shot, be­fore Ribeiro’s body even­tu­ally gave up on him.

He said: “When I was at Bris­tol City I was known as an in­jury-prone player and there was pres­sure from coaches that I was too soft or men­tally weak. It wasn’t my fault, it was sci­en­tific.

“Any time I had a knock or a nig­gle, I felt I couldn’t say, so I played through so many in­juries in my ca­reer and made things worse. My body was im­bal­anced and there’s no doubt from that very first in­jury, I’ve been over-com­pen­sat­ing to take the load off the knee and that’s caused the other prob­lems.

“Aside from the knee, I’ve torn both my groins, in­jured both ham­strings – it’s all down to the knee.

“Since the age of 22, I played ev­ery game with painkillers, just to take a lit­tle edge off things. When I was younger it was ibupro­fen, then ibupro­fen with parac­eta­mol, be­fore stronger painkillers. Play­ers would of­ten use painkillers for match­days, but I’d be do­ing it through­out the week as well, just for train­ing.”

Af­ter pulling out of two games with Ox­ford, Ribeiro was sent for tests, where he was quickly ad­vised to re­tire, aged just 27.

“My knee wasn’t right and the physio told me ‘you have to re­tire’,” he says, mat­ter-of-factly. “I im­me­di­ately said, ‘yes I know I’m fin­ished’. I knew it was com­ing.

“I had a re­ally tough pe­riod ini­tially. I was told I might never run again. Within two months I split up with my part­ner of ten years, so my life col­lapsed. I’d lost my job, my health and my re­la­tion­ship.

”Iron­i­cally though, all the nega-

I was told I might never run again. I’d lost my job, my health and my re­la­tion­ship. Iron­i­cally though, all the neg­a­tives I’d ex­pe­ri­enced through­out my foot­ball ca­reer had tough­ened me up to get through it


tives I’d ex­pe­ri­enced through­out my foot­ball ca­reer had tough­ened me up to get through it. What­ever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Ribeiro has now set up Per­for­mance Prop­erty Group with en­trepreneurial friend Jay Puddy to “help peo­ple go through sim­i­lar is­sues like me”.

“My ca­reer is al­most like a case study for the busi­ness,” he said.

“It’s de­signed to help sports peo­ple deal with re­tire­ment and en­sure they are looked af­ter fi­nan­cially.

“Dur­ing my ca­reer I’d se­cured some prop­erty, so it was al­ways in my mind, but as my own re­tire­ment came so early I’ve had to ac­cel­er­ate my plans.

“We of­fer a be­spoke ser­vice, we hold their hand through ev­ery­thing, help­ing sports peo­ple through the process of ei­ther pur­chase to let, or ren­o­va­tions, or pur­chase for longterm in­vest­ment, to en­sure they are set up for the fu­ture.

“As I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, you never know when your ca­reer is go­ing to end.”

Joe Mered­ith/JMP

Chris­tian Ribeiro bat­tles Kris Com­mons of Derby County dur­ing his spell at Bris­tol City in 2010

Joe Mered­ith/JMP

Chris­tian Ribeiro leaves the pitch in agony dur­ing Bris­tol City’s meet­ing with Sh­effield Wed­nes­day in 2011

Neil Brook­man/JMP

Chris­tian Ribeiro wins a header in Ex­eter City colours at Ox­ford United in 2015

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.