Many consider Cantona to be the player that fired Manchester United to the top of English football in the Premier League era. In just five years at Old Trafford following his transfer from Leeds United in 1992, the Frenchman fired the Red Devils to four league titles and two FA Cups. However, he hung his boots at only 30.
“I loved the game but I no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with my friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things I like in life”, was Cantona’s reasoning for the decision.
The former Roma midfielder, who won a Scudetto with the Serie A outfit, remains one of the greatest players to have come out of Japan. A brilliant footballer and a level-headed man, Nakata was adored by the Japanese public. However, he stunned the world by announcing his decision to retire from the game at 29, citing disillusionment with the game as his reason for leaving so soon.
“Day after day I realised that football had just become a big business. I could feel that the team were playing just for money and not for the sake of having fun. I always felt that a team was like a big family, but it stopped being like that. I was sad, that’s why I stopped.”
Mario de Castro
De Castro was a remarkable goalscorer in the 1920s in Brazilian football, scoring at the rate of well over a goal per game. The Atletico Mineiro forward gave up the chance to represent Brazil at the first ever World Cup in 1930 for not being the first choice for the team.
During a crunch game in 1931 with the state title on the line, Atletico Mineiro went 3-0 down at half time against Villa Nova. De Castro turned the match on its head with four goals in the second half to secure a win for his side. But tragically, an Atletico Mineiro official shot a Villa Nova fan dead. The principled De Castro retired from football on the spot and being a qualified doctor devoted himself to his new profession.
Baardsen was part of the Norwegian national team at the 1998 World Cup, but he mostly played second fiddle to most of the clubs that he turned out for in the Premier League. Disillusioned with the state of affairs he found himself in, Baardsen called it quits at 25 and became an investment banker.
“You wouldn’t think a person working in the city could say this, but I’m more relaxed, five kilos lighter, fitter and healthier than I was at the end of my football career”, was his assessment a few years on.
Knowles was a prolific forward for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1960s. However, during the 1969/70 season after a 3-3 draw with Nottingham Forest, Knowles never returned to the Wolves and instead did odd jobs. The transformation happened after he encountered two Jehovah’s witnesses at the age of 23 and became religiously inclined.
“It’s the best decision that I’ve ever made. I’m content with life. When I look at my standard of living and how it has dropped over the years, it doesn’t matter. I have my health. I’m still married — and if I had carried on playing football I wouldn’t have been!” He clearly has no regrets.