Barely three years after hanging up his boots, the Russian Valery Karpin is a successful businessman with a profile very different from your typical ex-player.
The former Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo star, whose career took
off at Spartak Moscow alongside the likes of Dmitry Radchenko,
Alexandr Mostovoi, Dmitry Popov and Robert Jarni, played
professionally for 17 years before becoming an important property
developer in Galicia in Spain's north-west. Some have even
dubbed him the Galician Abramovich, a comparison he rejects out of
hand. "If only we were more alike! I'm afraid the only
thing we have in common is that we're both Russian," he
After winning three league titles and one Russian Cup with Spartak, Karpin signed for Real Sociedad in 1994, the club where he would eventually end his playing days in 2005 after subsequent spells at Valencia (1996 to 1997) and Celta Vigo (1997 to 2002). "I've experienced very special moments with every team I've played for," he tells FIFA.com.
"Finishing runners-up in the league with Real Sociedad, qualifying for the UEFA Cup with Celta, the league and cup titles with Spartak... these were all successes."
"One unfulfilled ambition was an international title with
Russia, as we had a very good team," lamented the player who
had the honour of scoring Russia's first goal after the
break-up of the USSR and participating in the 1994 FIFA World Cup
USA™ and UEFA EURO 2000.
Born in Estonia in 1969, Karpin insists his retirement from the game was not traumatic, as he felt the time was right to dedicate more time to his investments in the construction sector and a career in property development. He began by refurbishing a building in Vigo city centre, which today houses the offices of Valery Karpin Ltd. He would later embark on a joint venture with his former Celta team-mate and current Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado to buy a run-down sector of the Galician capital to redevelop.
"Right now we have various important projects underway in the city. Why here in Vigo? Well, I like the city, its people and the atmosphere, plus I spent five seasons here, so I put down roots. I fell in love with the surroundings and have many friends here," he explains.
Naturally, Karpin is as concerned as anyone about the present economic crisis. "In recent years the Spanish economy has been experiencing a boom, which was fuelled by the real estate sector. Now the downturn in this sector will affect all of us. It's a general crisis," he says.
Yet his entrepreneurial projects are not the only ones to benefit the city in which he has decided to raise his two children. Karpin has become a renowned sports patron in the region's capital, financing a cycling team, sponsoring the Vigo Volleyball Club (the longest running of its kind in Spain), the Vigo University Rugby Club and the Paralympic swimmer Chano Rodriguez.
"There are good reasons for supporting each of these, but I simply wanted to help the people and sport in as far as I could. It's a way for me to express my gratitude for everything the city has done for me," he says with total sincerity.
Genius and figurehead
Many fans remember Karpin as a pacy and tenacious midfielder who was commitment personified on the pitch. Unsurprisingly, the fervour that was so evident during his playing days is just as prevalent in his work today. Indeed, while his staff enjoy a couple of days off, it is Karpin himself who opens the doors to us at his offices, where he is busy tying up a few loose ends.
"I like to involve myself in every project I set up, whether it's related to football or business. The fans of the teams I played for appreciated that dedication. My performances on the pitch may have varied, but no one could ever accuse me of not giving my all. Well, it's the same thing here," he explains.
That said, operating in the world of business has forced the Russian to temper the fiery side so typical of his play. "Yes it's different. Out on the pitch you compete with fierce passion for 90 minutes, but in business it's not about going into battle. You have to restrain yourself much more; it's not as intense."
After retiring, Karpin admits spending a year or so away from
the game, saying: "I barely watched a match as I was tired of
football." Then the opportunity came along to present a
Spanish league highlights programme, and he jumped back in.
"Nowadays I follow the game, but not fanatically.
"If I'm in the middle of something, I won't leave it to watch a game. That said, I've never cut my ties with football; I couldn't. I continue to play alongside other ex-players, as you always have that passion for the game in your blood," he says.
"Football has given me everything I have, both emotionally and economically. It has been my life, but like any job, it limits the time you can dedicate to other things. Nowadays, though, I have even less free time. Back when I was playing, I could spend most evenings with my family but had to sacrifice the weekends, whereas now it's the opposite," he says with a smile.
With his days filled with meetings and appointments, Karpin says
he does not feel the urge to get involved with the beautiful game.
"For the time being, no. If a very interesting and concrete
offer came along, then I would assess the situation."
For now, though, it is strictly business for the multi-faceted Russian.