Andy Bernal knows all too well the challenges footballers face when they hang up their boots. After all, his transition into life off the football pitch was nothing short of dramatic.

While many footballers often struggle to uncover a new pursuit or passion, the former Socceroo, who played close to 235 games for Reading FC and Ipswich Town, 156 games for Sydney Olympic and 70 matches in Spain (at Albacete CF and Xerez CD, on loan from Sporting Gijon), dove headfirst into the fast-paced world of player agency, soon after retirement.

“It was strange because overnight you go from complete dedication and discipline to your craft and then it’s gone just like that,” Bernal told “The football family is no longer.”

Despite finding a new profession to channel his energy, Bernal discovered how chaotic the life of an agent managing high profile talent could be – and how it could damage his health, relationships and reputation – and how the absence of support from the football community failed to insulate him from the experience of transition.

Bernal represented high-profile Socceroos Tim Cahill and Tom Rogic.

Incredibly, Bernal found himself in the enviable position of managing David Beckham – playing the role of the England superstar’s representative, translator and navigator – during the height of the England captain’s stardom at Real Madrid in the early 2000s.

“After I retired, I somehow landed at [sports and talent management company] SFX Sports Group, which was at the time the number one player management company in the world. 
“It was all very appealing but deep down the agent world was not for me. I can’t change that decision, but my path may have been very different if I had chosen coaching or something else when the chance arose after football.”

Bernal quickly discovered that his new world didn’t come without its drawbacks.

In the cut-throat environment that envelops celebrity, Bernal was pursued by paparazzi, lived constantly on edge, was a victim of the British media’s phone-hacking scandal and eventually became addicted to cocaine as his life spiralled out of control.

Thankfully, after years of soul-searching, Bernal has finally found peace post-career.

Now 55, he has shared his incredible, at times barely believable, story of life on and off the football pitch in his autobiography, Riding Shotgun, which has given him a new appreciation for his achievements and challenges, and how they have shaped him into the person he is today.

Bernal – back row, second from left – with the Socceroos

“For the past 15 years, before putting pen to paper, I was a tortured soul living a lie… I was addicted to cocaine to somehow eradicate that pain, slowly killing myself. To be honest a I was a shadow of the real me, ashamed of where I was in my life.

“For me my purpose has come now in the form of sharing my story and seeing how it inspires, educates and empowers, not only footballers, but the younger generations to go on and chase their dreams, whatever they may be.

“The process of writing the book allowed me to look back and be proud of my many firsts in this nation’s football history. It allowed me to realise how the bad choices I made had deeply hurt my loved ones, and how I faced these head on and conquered them, which I’m very proud of.

“Writing the book was very cathartic and mind liberating. I feel free now, happy and empowered like when I was a kid chasing big dreams. 

“I believe this book transcends football. It is life, the ups and downs, the bright lights, the dark days. It will be an educational tool for future generations and a must read for all footballers especially in the times we are now experiencing; a journey and story of never giving up while there is hope.”

While the catharsis and reflection has provided perspective and a newfound appreciation of his varied experiences, Bernal believes his book has a moral message for footballers struggling to make sense of the world, their careers or their life after football.

“I learnt that a life in football can be a blessing and a curse.  I’ve experienced a normal life, I’ve experienced superstardom. Both of these bring amazing adventures, but they can only really touch your heart if you experience them with your loved ones close by.”

Having acknowledged that players, such as Bernal, have been left behind by the game in Australia, the PFA established the PFA Past Players Program to extend the organisation’s support those who have retired, something that Bernal was unable to access during his toughest times.

“In England I received advice regarding coaching courses and completed my UEFA B in Wales but didn’t receive much more support than that. I suppose in my case, as I mention in my book, it would have been nice to receive a call, as I did not long ago from Robbie Gaspar (PFA Past Players Manager) asking me if I was OK.

“Sometimes it’s all you need, someone to talk to, something that may change your life for the better, just to feel like you’re not forgotten, and your service was somehow respected.

“It never came in my dark days but that’s in the past. The PFA have been great. If my experiences can now help future and past generations, that will be my legacy.”

To find out more about the PFA’s Past Players Program click here.

To find out more about Andy Bernal’s book Riding Shotgun and purchase a copy, click here.