From Real Madrid hard man to poker star?! The odd career of Thomas Gravesen

When a footballer finishes his playing career, there are a number of traditional avenues open to him. He may go into coaching or punditry. In times gone by, many opened pubs or found a new trade.

One path less travelled is becoming a multi-millionaire poker player in Las Vegas. That is the route said to be taken by Thomas Gravesen, the former Everton and Real Madrid midfielder.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Gravesen has gone an unusual way after finishing his playing career at the age of 33, given he remains one of the oddest signings Madrid made this century.

He impressed as an all-action midfielder in the Premier League for David Moyes' Everton – the club with whom he is perhaps still most associated, and from which he still maintains a hint of Merseyside twang.

As a result, he was signed at the Santiago Bernabeu in January 2005, to play in the Galacticos side of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Raul, and as the replacement for Claude Makelele.

Gravesen was notably unimpressed by the illustrious company into which he was placed, telling the Daily Record in September 2006: "It's fantastic to play for them when they are in the mood, but the team fell apart at times because only a few were doing any running.

"If a player is a superstar and earns more than any of the others, then they should be leading the way, but they didn't. At times, they behaved like s*its."

Amid some of the most technically gifted players of all time, tough tackling, bald-headed Gravesen stuck out like a sore thumb. Although he did have some extended runs in the first team, usually as the holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1, he only played 34 league games across 18 months in Madrid.

Gravesen did, however, become something of a cult hero among the fans.

Thomas Gravesen Real Madrid GFX

In particular, he was known for a remarkable signature technique dubbed the "Gravesinha", in which mid-dribble he would plunge his knee into the turf – a thoroughly bizarre and frankly dangerous manouvre that must be seen to be believed.

His time at Madrid came to an abrupt end following the appointment of Fabio Capello as manager in the summer of 2006.

Gravesen said: "Capello arrived and told me in a very arrogant manner – without having seen me play – that he didn't want me. He is not a nice guy. He did not even give me an opportunity. He didn't even know my name. He was arrogant and selfish.

"Mine wasn't the only name he couldn't remember. He referred to goalkeeper Iker Casillas as 'Bobo', which is the name of a former keeper who had already left the club."

Virtually Gravesen's final action as a Madrid player was to get into an training-ground fight with Robinho.

"I made a couple of strong tackles on him but didn't leave him with any bruises", Gravesen said. "He retaliated by hitting me and giving me a couple of kicks, so I went for him.

"It would have been better if I had not reacted like that but Spanish TV, who had film of the sequence of events, decided not to show them. I wonder why?"

Forced out of Madrid, Gravesen had a short spell with Celtic and returned to Everton briefly on loan before hanging up his boots and largely retiring from public life.

Thomas Gravesen Everton GFX

Gravesen has made very few media appearances or interviews since, save for the occasional video on his Twitter feed, so getting word from the man himself as to what he has been up to is virtually impossible.

However, what is known is that he invested his Real Madrid salary with savviness and foresight, allowing him to retire in handsome comfort to Las Vegas.

Reports vary, but most state that he has amassed more than $100 million (£78m) in winnings from playing poker, lives in the idyllic suburb of Summerlin, with neighbours including Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Nicholas Cage, and drives a £400,000 ($540,000) custom-built McLaren Mercedes car.

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Certainly, Gravesen's mystique has grown and he remains a huge draw – a recent appearance on stage in Glasgow saw him draw a rapturous crowd, and he ensured his ongoing popularity by donating his appearance fee to the Celtic FC Foundation.

A player who never did anything by the book at the top level of football, and who continues to confound after retirement, we eagerly await the next rumour of what Gravesen will do next.

You can check in on more of Goal's Forgotten Men here.