Over the last few months we’ve been looking at all things construction in the world of Premier League football. We’ve seen the good, the clever, the unfinished and the downright botched, and we’ve seen how stadiums can make or break club fortunes. This week, we take a look at the playing side of the game, and what one professional footballer has been quietly doing in the world of bio-engineering.
One thing that is certain for any player from any club is that football is a relatively short career. If you make your first professional league appearance at aged 16 (which is currently the youngest debut age in English football) you can look forward to, at best, about a 20-year career. Teddy Sheringham, who played for a multitude of clubs including Millwall, Tottenham, Manchester United and West Ham, played his last professional game for then-Championship side Colchester United in 2008 at the age of 42, an impressive 26 years after his debut. He remains the benchmark for extreme longevity that will be difficult to surpass.
But what do footballers do after their careers are over? The average wage for a Premier League footballer in the modern day is £2.6million/year, the highest being ten times that figure with Manchester United’s new Chilean pianist Alexis Sanchez scooping a cool £500,000 per week. Suffice to say that money should never really be an issue in the retirement years for anyone who’s had even a vague career at the highest level. Plus, there’s always the enticing career of professional punditry to keep the money rolling in, where apparently you don’t even need to be competent or be able to speak properly to land a position.
In 2004, hot on the heels of their last Premier League title win to date, Arsenal signed a young Frenchman by the name of Mathieu Flamini from Marseilles, probably hoping his name would join Viera, Pires and Henry among the list of Arsenal’s dominant Frenchmen from the Wenger era.
Described as a “combative, energetic and tenacious” midfielder by Arsène, Flamini nevertheless failed to make much of an impact in his first couple of seasons with the North London club, starting only 9 games and cementing himself as a utility player. That was until 2007/08 where he seemed to improve dramatically and become a more favoured player in his midfield role.
In 2008, Flamini left Arsenal for AC Milan, where he spent five years, playing nearly 100 league games. When he was released in 2013, he re-signed for Arsenal, became an impressive part of the side again and was an unused substitute in both the Gunners’ drought-ending F.A Cup final victories (2014 and 2015).
Around the time he signed for AC Milan, Mathieu already had one eye on his future outside of professional sport when he co-founded – largely in secret – GFBiochemicals with Pasquale Granata. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the company produces levulinic acid, which is created from biomass like grass. This chemical can be used as a substitute for oil in plastics, fuels, solvents and across the pharmaceutical industry. It’s been hallmarked as a chemical that could unlock a greener world.
Climate change has something that has been close to the Frenchman’s heart for some time and in 2008 he met business partner Pasquale Granata. One meeting with some scientists later, and the company was on its way. As Flamini was plying his trade for AC Milan, the company worked extensively with the University of Pisa perfecting the acid behind the scenes.
The company now employees some 80 people, and during this financial year, they want to scale production up to 10,000 metric tonnes per year. Funded by private investors, the company aims to become a leading bio-engineering company and help leave a lasting mark on the bio-economy.