Man Utd title-winners among ex-Premier League stars paying £5 to play in secret matches

Irish Mirror   19/09/2023 21:50

A group of footballers are arranging games between themselves - with several former Premier League stars taking part.

Each week, 20 non-contracted or retired players meet up in Manchester to play a friendly on a synthetic pitch. Games are arranged via a WhatsApp group which contains 66 footballers, including former Premier League and Champions League favourites.

The idea has been praised by those involved, as many footballers struggle to come to terms with retirement. It is also helping current players remain fit while they aren't playing first-team matches, such as former Manchester United wonderkid Ravel Morrison.

20 players involved in a recent game had more than 1,000 appearances in England's top flight between them, scoring more than 100 goals. Many of those stars were capped by their country at senior and won major trophies - including Premier League titles.

As reported by The New York Times, each game lasts around an hour, with each footballer chipping in £5 to rent the pitch. Former players also get involved in the refereeing, with two-time Premier League winner Joleon Lescott officiating a recent game.

Antonio Valencia and John O'Shea, who both won Premier League titles with Man Utd, have featured in recent matches. As have Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater, two former Red Devils who won the Premier League title with Leicester in 2016.

Morrison is still contracted to MLS side DC United, who are managed by Wayne Rooney, but was left out of their squad for the 2023 campaign. Dale Stephens, who is retired but played in the Premier League just two years ago, is another star involved in the idea.

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Other players to have featured include former Newcastle star Papiss Cisse and fellow forward Oumar Niasse, who played for the likes of Everton, Hull and Cardiff. Former Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland plays a big role in organising the games.

Alex Bruce, the son of former Premier League manager Steve Bruce, has described the games as "better than going to the gym and running on a treadmill on your own".

Bruce, who featured in more than 300 first-team games as a centre-back, told the New York Times: "There's no build up (to retirement) and then one day you're at home, wondering what to do with yourself... You're institutionalised. You miss the environment."

The games were reported earlier this year. "I miss being around the lads every day," Simpson told The Telegraph. "I’ve not been quiet about that. I do miss walking out on a Saturday but mainly... well, if you’re around 20 lads every day for 20 years, that’s hard to replace."

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