There was a reason Ramon Vega preferred to sit at the back of the team bus. The former Switzerland, Tottenham, Celtic and Watford centre-half wasn’t your average footballer. He was always one step ahead.
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A business degree earned while coming through the ranks at Grasshoppers Zurich in the late 1980s helped provide a vital, early insight into what life could look like after his playing days came to an end.
Here was a player not dishing out cards or watching films on a long, arduous coach journey home. There were better, more insightful ways to whittle down the hours.
“At the end of my career, I was giving out financial advice to my team-mates. I would sit at the back of the coach on long trips and advise them on buying real estate, how to manage their money, helping foreign players not get ripped off,” he told Sport360°.
“Doing the degree helped give me a background and base in banking – I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was 22. It gave me real confidence when thinking about the future. Psychologically, it helps players to know there is something there.”
Footballers often struggle to adapt once their careers come to a halt. The dressing room camaraderie, and the money, only lasts so long. Vega knew it. And he acted accordingly.
Building on his business acumen, he co-founded his first asset management firm, the Duet Group, while contemplating hanging up his boots in 2004 at the age of 33.
— Ramon Vega (@Ramon_Vega71) May 8, 2015
A few years later, it was sold for millions.
Vega Swiss Asset Management was soon formed – it currently manages around $2 billion of investor funds – while today a great deal of energy has been concentrated on his latest venture which aims to utilise his experiences in football and intertwine them with his business skills.
Spanish soccer schools and boutique hotels are also in his impressive portfolio. The ‘From Pitch to Boardroom’ concept was brought to life three years ago and has seen Vega offer financial advice and develop strategies which have been cultivated thanks to the vast experiences gained in the football world.
He recently helped the Academy of Chief Executives in the UK and is staging a series of seminars and lectures in Pakistan later this year. Plans to educate business leaders in the UAE are also in the pipeline.
Yet, how can working with Roy Hodgson help the CEO of a huge multi-national company? What can Ottmar Hitzfeld do to aid the decision making of an incumbent chief of finance?
Well, a great deal apparently.
“I can’t single out one manager who has inspired me. I worked with Roy Hodgson, Ottmar Hitzfeld – they have worked at the highest level. George Graham at Spurs was another one. All of them had one thing which was very good. They all had different skill sets so I like to base my teachings on a hybrid of all of them,” admitted the 43-year-old.
“Roy’s man management was excellent, George Graham at Spurs was very good at motivation and discipline, Ottmar was great at tactical structures and man-to-man. He doesn’t coach you, he mentors you. That’s what top managers do.
“That means he will always play for you and perform. That’s where a manager’s skill comes in and there is no difference in the corporate world. There are a lot of egos to deal with in the hedge fund industry, the trading world is very egocentric. That’s what we try to translate from football into business.
“As well as trying to educate and assist players, what we are teaching is how you can transfer what is learned in football into a business environment.
“Think about team selection, having and portraying the discipline to recover after losing a game and then going again three days later. What are the psychological effects and how can it hurt team spirit? These aspects of football management can be used in business.
“Think about if some people have never played sports in their life and then they become part of a team in a corporate environment. In football, people can be very selfish but when it really matters on the pitch, everyone pulls together because everyone wants to win.
— Ramon Vega (@Ramon_Vega71) May 11, 2015
“Small things like that can be taken into the corporate world – certainly in terms of working with leaders and top managers. I was at arms-length from some of the best. I saw how they operated under different scenarios.
“How much time will a CEO have to select the best man for the job in hand? It’s not every week like football. It’s about selecting the right team for the right product. What kind of sales person do we need, for example? How is he going to integrate into the company? “You are working for success.”
Vega, who is fluent in five languages, is an engaging talker. A passionate man who loves his trade. Yet, seminars and lectures are just part of the plan.
“It took some time but we have created a board game to help people navigate around business scenarios,” he added. “There are cards for each player and it’s all very interactive. It’s an excellent tool to help get your point and ideas across.”
Watching his former club Watford return to the Premier League filled the Swiss with immense joy. Yet, underneath the surface, there is a serious sense of unease of what lies ahead.
Yes, problems on the pitch will become clear from the very first whistle next season. But it’s the financial scenario away from game day which really troubles him.
“The follow up of the success of the TV rights for the Premier League was badly managed,” stressed the Swiss.
“The structures within the clubs to help manage the funds in the right direction has not been working properly. There is a big gap thanks to people not knowing what to do. You’re talking about £5.1 billion (Dh28.96b) coming into the Premier League.
“The infrastructure needed to help manage these funds is lacking. If that is not upgraded and resolved, more clubs will be made bankrupt.
“The gap between the Premier League and the Championship in terms of TV rights is way too much. It should not be, because it’s not fair. Why not increase to £6 billion (Dh34.07b) and have the new £900 million (Dh5.11b) put into the Championship?”
And what of the billions of pounds pumped into the English game from Abu Dhabi? Has that helped grow the League or provided an unhealthy balance leaving too many also-rans in the race to be crowned kings of England?
“The Middle East investment in British football has been a positive thing and what I like about the guys from Abu Dhabi or Qatar is that they are coming at it with a long-term view,” Vega said.
— Ramon Vega (@Ramon_Vega71) May 8, 2015
“They have a plan and look at it as if they are using the clubs they own as a PR platform for the country. They aren’t investing blindly and are looking to use the money wisely. That’s what you need when searching for investors or backers behind you.”
Listening to Vega talk eloquently for 40 minutes about the problems infesting football at all levels was enlightening and educational.
Indeed such was his authority, a question quickly sprung to mind. Did he fancy replacing another famous son of Switzerland, dear old Sepp Blatter, to become the new king of FIFA? After all, the world governing body have been doing worse for far too long.
“Not yet,” he laughed. “Not yet.”
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