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Former Chelsea Defender Trades On The Stock Exchange And Dreams Of A Career As A Sporting Director

With a single piece of advice, Ryan Bertrand has already saved Southampton from financial collapse

Many footballers open restaurants, launch clothing brands and invest in real estate to earn money outside the field. Former England national team defender and winner of the 2011/12 Champions League with Chelsea, Ryan Bertrand, chose an utterly unexpected area for an athlete. In 2015, at 26, he founded Silicon Markets, which develops IT tools to help remote traders work from home.

"We created a good product and gained valuable experience. I understood I needed to start somewhere to be part of the business world. The earlier, the better," Ryan said in an interview with The Guardian in February 2020. "After some time, we sold the company. We exited the business, accepting an offer from a Malaysian firm. We built this company from scratch, developed it, and managed to sell it."

Bertrand's interest in the financial sector dates back to his childhood. The footballer's mother worked in the administrative department of the investment bank Morgan Stanley. She raised her son alone, often taking Ryan to work with her. "I was simply amazed by the buildings in the business districts of London – Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. It was the first push for me to become interested in this field," Bertrand recalled.

Living modestly with his mother, Ryan always appreciated money. The future English national team player began earning for the first time in school – lending pocket money to classmates at 5% daily. "I was always thrifty. Besides, I liked making a profit. Business and new technologies – that's been my passion for as long as I can remember," Bertrand noted in an interview with FourFourTwo.

After starting his professional football career, his fascination did not wane – it even reached a new level. After the emergence of Silicon Markets, Ryan tried himself in another business area. In 2016, with fellow footballers John Terry and Jose Fonte, he invested in developing an iOS application with football emojis called FootiEmoji. However, this venture turned out to be unsuccessful. Around the same time, Kim Kardashian launched her emoji application, capturing a significant portion of the market, overshadowing Bertrand's project.

Nevertheless, the defender was satisfied. He admitted that he sees business more as a source of passive income. Bertrand chose a different direction as his main focus. Ryan talked about his desire to become a sporting director in several interviews.

Among his role models, Ryan mentions the CEO of Manchester City, Ferran Soriano, who previously worked at Barcelona. In his book "Goal: The ball doesn't go in by chance," Soriano describes the ideal structure of a football club. Bertrand admits that the book became his desk reference at some point. The player also needs to attend interviews and lectures by Soriano.

"I watch Soriano and Txiki Begiristain's work at City with interest," Bertrand shared in a conversation with Sky Sports. "I am very attracted to participating in the football business as a sporting director. Besides, I love reading. Books about important figures in sports inspire me. Take the leaders of the City, for example. They left Barcelona, where they had already applied their strategy and developed a business philosophy. Reproducing all of this in another club was difficult, but they succeeded. Such stories are impressive."

Record-holder of the Champions League

Bertrand didn't choose between sports, management, and entrepreneurship in high school. Yes, immediately after coming of age, Ryan legally started playing on the stock exchange. Still, he was destined for an outstanding football career, and it would be a shame not to try.

Bertrand played for England's national teams at all age levels from 17. He was considered one of the leading talents in Chelsea's academy. Unfortunately, the transition to the adult level proved fatal for Ryan. Bertrand didn't give up his dream of breaking into Chelsea's main team for a long time but rarely made it onto the field. Ultimately, he started going on loans, where he had to prove his right to play again.

However, Bertrand managed to make history with Chelsea. In the 2011/12 season, the London club reached the Champions League final for the first time but lost several players to injuries. Coach Roberto Di Matteo decided to start young Bertrand in the lineup. Ryan became the first and, so far, the only player to debut in the Champions League in the final match. The defender didn't disappoint – Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in a penalty shootout and won the prestigious European trophy.

Southampton became the main club in Bertrand's career, where he moved in 2015 for €13.3 million (after a season on loan). He played seven years for the team, consistently in the starting lineup. Interestingly, in 2017, Ryan could have crossed paths with his idol Soriano. Bertrand was shortlisted as a candidate for Manchester City to strengthen the full-back position. However, Begiristain, Soriano, and Pep Guardiola preferred Benjamin Mendy, a choice they later regretted when the Frenchman became embroiled in a scandal involving accusations of assault.

Bertrand also entered Southampton's history, not as a player, but as a finance expert. During the pandemic, the Premier League proposed a 30% salary cut for players to preserve jobs in clubs without TV broadcast and matchday revenues. However, the league and players couldn't agree on a centralized reduction. Southampton was the first to reach a collective agreement with players. The club faced significant challenges, with the wage bill accounting for 77% of the total revenue, requiring a swift resolution. Bertrand represented the players in dialogue with the club's leadership. The defender developed a plan to navigate the crisis and presented it in a meeting with management. Ryan proposed a progressive salary reduction scale – the higher the player's salary, the more significant the percentage reduction.

"Everyone keeps talking about 30% – that's the reduction the Premier League wants to impose on players to cover the financial gap if we can't finish the season. But I believe a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible in this matter," Bertrand noted in a column for The Guardian. "One club might need to cut salaries by 19%, and another – for example, a big one from the Champions League – by 36%. It's not that these clubs must suffer more, but they have higher salaries. If we cut 40% in one place, 20% in another, and 16% elsewhere, we'll reach the same overall 30%."

The Athletic's source within Southampton referred to Bertrand's role in solving the club's financial problems as "phenomenal." The club stabilized its finances thanks to Ryan while maintaining a friendly atmosphere. Moreover, other Premier League participants also adopted Bertrand's progressive scale. Ryan demonstrated that it's unnecessary to act straightforwardly in such a delicate matter as salary cuts – flexibility is possible.

Bertrand is not stopping in his development. In 2021, he enrolled in a special course for sports managers at Harvard Business School. Notable figures like Edwin van der Sar (who later worked as Ajax's CEO for seven years) and Gerard Piqué (creator of the Spanish football media league and an investor in other sports) underwent the same course.

There is little doubt that Bertrand will eventually achieve his goal of becoming a sporting director of a football club. Especially since Ryan's playing career is likely coming to an end. In 2022, the defender underwent knee surgery and almost missed his second season with Leicester. The 34-year-old Bertrand is currently a free agent. In late August, the Daily Express reported interest from Manchester United, but nothing materialized beyond rumors.

Published by Patrick Jane