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CAPTION: Las Vegas: The city Thomas Gravesen called home for eight years.

Many football players struggle to occupy themselves after retiring from the game, with many keeping themselves involved either through coaching or punditry. There are some, however, who embark on new careers with varying degrees of success. One example of a post-football success story is Thomas Gravesen who found fortune in Las Vegas after quitting the beautiful game.

Thomas Gravesen was one of the driving forces behind Everton’s resurgence under David Moyes which culminated in a fourth-place finish in the 2004/2005 Premier League season. The midfielder made 141 league appearances for the Toffees, scoring 11 goals before being sold to Real Madrid for a paltry £2.5m in 2005.

His career in Spain failed to take off as expected, however, and he was soon on the move again; this time to Celtic. A loan spell back at Goodison Park followed, before he eventually retired in 2009 aged just 33. But what happened to Gravesen after his retirement? And what is he doing today?

US adventure

It was reported in 2013 that Gravesen had made a fortune following a series of financial investments made using the money he had earned as a footballer – he was said to be earning around £85,000 a week at Real Madrid back in 2005, and it was also reported that he was now a regular poker player. Such was his commitment to playing cards, and other tabletop casino games such as blackjack, that he had upped and relocated to Las Vegas with his model girlfriend.

It is not uncommon for professional football players to relax by playing cards, but competing in high-stakes tournaments is another matter. For Gravesen, however, poker became part of a lifestyle that revolved around his business affairs and a love of Las Vegas.

Why Vegas?

Moving to Nevada’s principal city afforded him a level of anonymity that would not have been possible in Europe meaning he could frequent the poker tables but without getting recognised. “It’s less stressful and less intrusive,” he admitted in a recent interview. “Obviously I don’t get recognised as much in the US as I do in Denmark or the UK.”

In Vegas, he was able to live in the exclusive Summerlin neighbourhood where he could count the likes of Andre Agassi and Nicolas Cage as his neighbours. But to most locals he was just another high roller hitting the tables – the majority had no idea of his sporting credentials.

Man of mystery

Gravesen has always revelled in mystery. Even in Europe and his home country of Denmark, he has remained something of an enigma, with some Danes even dubbing him “the unicorn” due to the rarity of his public appearances. The true source of his reported £100 million fortune is also disputed, with some claiming it was made via business and property deals, and others claiming it came via high-stakes poker games against some big-name players. When asked about his fortune by FourFourTwo magazine, he added to the mystery by stating: “Only £100 million? Where’s the rest!”

Whatever the truth, it is clear that Gravesen loved the Las Vegas lifestyle and also enjoyed a game or two of poker. You could even argue that a few of the skills he learned as a football player may have helped him on the poker tables.

Professional sports skills useful in poker

One of the great skills in poker is being able to avoid the “tilt.” The tilt is when a player enters an erratic mental state that can have a negative effect on their game. This can be caused by frustration or anger when things are not going the way a player wants. It thus causes them to adopt an over-aggressive approach that prevents them from applying the optimum strategy. Gravesen may have had a reputation for being a little hot-headed as a footballer but, arguably, his craziest moments occurred off the field.

The player, who was known as “mad dog,” reportedly shot fireworks at Wayne Rooney in a sports hall, brought paintball guns to training, knocked out Ronaldo’s tooth and once got into a fight with Robinho during a practice session. However, he was focussed and determined on the pitch and rarely let his emotions affect his performances.

During his spell at Everton, Gravesen’s decision-making on the field of play made him one of the most admired midfielders of the time, soon prompting interest from the Real Madrid director of football, Arrigo Sacchi. The ability to think quickly and make the optimum call is vital to a successful poker strategy. That, along with his strong mental character and the persistence to keep performing at an elite level, may have also benefited him in the high-pressure environment of big-money card games.

From Hamburg to Everton to Real Madrid, Gravesen performed at the top level where players are put under immense pressure – where mistakes can be costly and there is no room to hide. Those who can take that pressure in their stride should have no problem dealing with the pressure of a high-stakes card game. It is no wonder, then, that Gravesen was a natural at the poker table.

A return to football

After eight years in Vegas, Gravesen finally realised that he was missing the world of football and returned to Denmark to begin work as a TV pundit, covering matches involving the Danish national team. After more than 300 league games and 66 international caps, it was only inevitable that the beautiful game would return to be the focus of his life – he still pays regular visits to Liverpool and keeps an eye on Everton’s progress. However, he still retains many business interests away from the world of sport.

But he has no regrets about his eight years spent playing poker and hanging out in one of the world’s most exclusive postcodes. As he told the Liverpool Echo: “I’ve always been interested in travel, different places, different cultures, and Vegas is a place that’s always fascinated me.” He continued, “I like America. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash – the exact opposite of Denmark where people are very reserved.”

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