Olivier Tebily

While footballers’ retire and have post-playing plans, a good number of them would choose to remain in the game but in the case of Olivier Tebily, the story is different.

He is the first African footballer to become a winemaker in France. Olivier Tebily, now 41, played for Birmingham City between 2002 and 2008, helping the club to promotion to the Premier League upon his arrival from Celtic.

Footballers and alcohol have long gone together, often badly, but the former Birmingham City defender is unique in actually creating the product.

What’s more, the treble winner with Celtic is doing so in Cognac, home to some of France’s – and the world’s – most celebrated vineyards. Similar to champagne, only the brandy made in the region can bear the prestigious name Cognac.

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Olivier Tebily

The local people were really, really surprised by an African footballer trying to do what they are doing. The most striking thing was that he is one among few footballers who would venture into something different from football after retirement. Footballers have long relied on the terraces for inspiration but when Olivier Tebily does so these days, he is looking at rows of vines and no longer his fans.

Olivier, though retired he is still in love with the blues. “We all dream of a team of Tebilys” was the chant from the St Andrew’s crowds for the affable defender, who has further endeared himself by showing the BBC his vineyard – in a Blues tracksuit.

Talking about how he started, the 41-year-old bought the land in his late teens and planned ahead for the future. While speaking with the BBC News in an interview at his vineyard in the South- Western French Village of Salles-d’Angles Olivier said,

“When I signed my first professional contract, I bought two hectares, and I said to myself: ‘If I get an injury and football stops, I will have something to carry on with.”

“I did that because I used to work on this land to get a little bit of pocket money to go on holiday – to the seaside with my friends – before turning professional.”

“It’s really difficult to become a professional so I bought this straight away to insure myself.”

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Olivier Tebily

However, Olivier Tebily was born in Abidjan and was raised in France where as a child he was an Arsenal fan. He became a naturalized French citizen and began his career as a junior at Ligue 2 Niort, where he spent several years.

 During his football career at Niort FC, he moved to Châteauroux FC which was promoted that season to Ligue 1. While his contribution failed to prevent their relegation, it clearly attracted favorable attention, for the following March Sheffield United manager Steve Bruce brought him to England where he signed for a fee of £200,000.

His Sheffield United career proved brief. His seventh game for the club was watched by Kenny Dalglish, and on Dalglish’s appointment as Director of Football at Celtic in June 1999, he was quick to bring Tébily to the club for a fee of £1.25 million. On 8 July, he became manager John Barnes‘ third signing for that season.

Olivier Tebily

Olivier played in the top level league in four countries, for Châteauroux in Ligue 1, for Celtic FC in the Scottish Premier League, for Birmingham City in the English Premier League, and for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer.

More so, his retirement from football happened all of a sudden. While at Toronto FC, he played four matches for the club, but an ankle injury disrupted his career, and on 31 July 2008 he was released because he wanted to be closer to his family in France and hence, his wine making business.

Olivier produced his first Cognac in 2013, five years after quitting football and he has been selling to local restaurants in France and Ivory Coast.

“That’s my dream,” he says. “I am already selling to some restaurants in Africa, in Ivory Coast. It’s not as much as I want but I’m still happy because it’s the beginning and it’s working.”