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Thomas Kortegaard has played for Danish Super League club AC Horsens for 11 straight seasons. During that time, he got married, had children, bought a house – and put planning about life after football at the back of his mind.

In this interview for the 'Mind the Gap' campaign, the 34-year-old footballer describes the moment he realized he had to prepare for a new career. He is now studying to become a teacher.

You’ve been at one club for most of your career.

“Yes. I moved to Horsens from Aalborg when I was young because I wanted to play more first-team football. We went down to the second division and back up to the Super League. Players, coaches and directors have come and gone but I’m still here.”

Did you receive advice about career planning?

“The Danish player association’s career-transition team (4player) comes twice a year to Horsens. They tell us it is important to consider the next step in our lives. But when I was in my 20s I didn’t have the appetite for it. I postponed thinking about it. When you’re doing something that you dreamed about it’s hard to understand that it’s not going to last forever. PlayStation and the sofa calls you more when you are 25 years old. Now I regret that.”

When did you realize you should prepare for a post-athlete career?

“When I was 30, I was invited to a two-day career transition seminar by 4player. There were about 40 others who were also in the last phase of their careers as footballers. I had a serious knee injury and my contract was about to run out. I had some conversations with the club about renewing but nothing serious. I was worried. When I was 25, I didn’t have a house, a family and lots of bills. Now I had all these responsibilities and my career was coming to an end.” kortegaard studying 350

What did the player association advise?

“I sat down with Thomas Hansen, a personal coach from 4player, and we discussed what my interests were. He was a great help in making me explore what I wanted to do. I am a social person so I decided I couldn’t sit still all day, I needed to go out and talk to people. It was hard figuring out what direction my life was going to take. I felt like a teenager at the age of 30.

“Gradually I figured out I wanted to be a teacher. First I had to study for exams in Danish and social science to get the certificates I needed to qualify for a teacher-training course. 4player helped me with the application process. I made it through in the second round of applications and I have been studying online ever since. At the same time, I have carried on playing for Horsens.”

How do you combine football and study?

I have football training in the morning at 10 a.m., I get home at about 2 p.m. and then I study two or three hours every weekday afternoon. I have also done some teaching practice sessions in a local primary school. I have to complete a 6-week internship at a school as part of the course but that will have to wait until after my football career.

How long will you carry on playing?

“I have 18 months left on my contract with Horsens and I would like to extend by one final year after that. I still have four or five years of teacher training left so I will still be studying when I stop playing. If I had started studying when I was 25 I would have finished and be ready to work as a teacher the day I stopped playing football. It’s too late to change that but I am really relieved I have found what I want to do.”

What is your teaching goal?

“My aim is to work in a boarding school for young athletes, where I can coach football and work as a teacher. We have a lot of these schools in Denmark, and there is one in Horsens. I will be following my old passion - football - and my new passion - teaching.”