Adebayo Akinfenwa interview - "Breaking my leg forced me to adapt my game"
"Life is serious at the best of times, I've embraced what comes with me now."
Over 13 years ago Adebayo Akinfenwa broke his leg while playing for Swansea. His rehab was 'stop and start', because he was not affiliated with any club to guide him through the process. But as it turned out, this watershed moment in his career would force him down a new path and to adapt his game. That change has allowed him to reach the Championship for the first time at the age of 38, with no plans of stopping any time soon.
"When I was at Swansea I broke my leg, which had me out for a year," he tells JOE in an exclusive interview.
"When I came back, I knew I'd lost a percentage of my pace, so I had to tweak my game, adapt my game."
That adaptation came in the form of focusing on maximising the potential of his natural size, rather than trying to recover his lost pace - a shift in focus that reaped rewards over the past decade.
"What I say to the youngsters is, 'Get comfortable with what you are as a player. Find out what you're very good at, and focus on that and as you go, try to bring up the rest of your game.'
"When you're younger you don't want to be pigeonholed. But as you get older you get comfortable with, 'Look, you know what? I can't run past anybody, I don't do step-overs, but I'm ok with that."
"I made a conscious decision to start hitting the gym. Up until the age of 24, I wasn't a massive gym goer. I actually liked being able to say, 'I'm this size and I don't go to the gym'.
"It got to a point where I thought, 'People don't believe me anyway, so go to the gym'."
That transformation has garnered him a reputation among the footballing world, exacerbated by some problematic YouTubers, for being a 'beast'. The increased level of fame has allowed him to create a personal brand, 'Beast Mode', but the conversation around that side of his character has not always felt comfortable for Akinfenwa, who describes it as something he has had to "come to terms with" over the years.
"I used to get frustrated," he says.
"For years, they would say, 'He's got a good touch for a big guy.' It used to feel like a backhanded compliment. They just used to focus on my size. I was like, 'Rah. Listen, I score goals. I can play football.'
"I used to get frustrated with it, but that's why I say as I've got older I've come to terms with it. So it's not like I need validation from anybody else.
"Life is serious at the best of times. So I've embraced what comes with me now."
Akinfenwa speaks with a distinct assuredness, having endured the highest highs and lowest lows in football that have given him a sense of perspective of what is important in football and in life. He has no plans to retire yet, but acknowledges the end is not far away, and is already juggling a variety of possible career avenues for when the time comes to hang up his boots.
"Bruv, when I say I know my body... I'm conversing with my body daily to ask the question. My body's gonna be the one to tell me, 'Look, enough's enough,'" he says.
"I'm coming back from a knee operation, which is wear and tear. But as long as my body can hold up, my mind still wants to go out there and play the game.
"In terms of what comes after, I try not to put myself in a box. At the moment we're sitting down with some big production companies, as in Netflix, Hollywood producers. I'm doing a mentoring course, I've got the whole BMO (Beast Mode) franchise. There's a lot of stuff. I feel like you've got to try out a lot of things to find out what you like and what you don't. At the moment I'm blessed enough to be in a position where a lot of opportunities are coming my way."
He is wasting no time in getting stuck into a media career before his playing days are even over, regularly appearing on Sky Sports' Super 6 podcast with broadcaster Laura Woods, while also teaming up with BeGambleAware.
"I like the message they're sending," he explains. "It gravitated towards me because the campaign at the moment is wrestling, and I am a big fan of wrestling. If any footballer was going to go into wrestling after their football career, it would be myself.
"But I like the message in the sense that, listen, whatever you're trying to do, pause before it gets to the point of regret. I think the whole message in the sense of, 'tap out before it gets too peak', I'm paraphrasing... I think it's a nice message and that's what we need to do."
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