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Rio is on the ball on the Springfield Road

PERFECT PITCH: Shane Smith (Innovation Factory Community Engagement Officer), Rio Ferdinand (New Era ambassador) and Lee Mudd (former professional footballer who is heading up the new Belfast office) PERFECT PITCH: Shane Smith (Innovation Factory Community Engagement Officer), Rio Ferdinand (New Era ambassador) and Lee Mudd (former professional footballer who is heading up the new Belfast office)
By Conor McParland

FORMER Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand was in West Belfast on Tuesday to officially open the new office of one of the UK’s top football agencies at the Innovation Factory on the Springfield Road.
Rio is an ambassador for New Era Global Sports Management, which is the first big name football agency to open an office in the North – their first office outside of London.
New Era Global Sports believes in a holistic approach, supporting players throughout their careers and into retirement and Rio is hopeful the agency can make an impact here.
“There has been so many good Irish players – Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Jonny and Corry Evans, John O’Shea, Craig Cathcart, I could go on,” said Rio.
“There are loads here and there will be more coming through.
“It is about nurturing and creating the pathway for these players. The amount of lads leaving here for England but returning a year later is far too high. It is not about their football ability but due to a lack of support network for them.
“There is that fear factor of moving away and we want to help them stay on the ladder.
“It is an important moment for New Era. There is so much talent in Ireland and now we have a place to facilitate them.”
The Innovation Factory office will be run by former professional footballer, Lee Mudd, who says the agency was drawn by the vast untapped potential talent throughout the island of Ireland.
“There are a lot of talented young players here and having an office in Belfast will provide them with the opportunity to make it on a bigger stage. We currently have 15 players on our books from Ireland and Northern Ireland and I would expect this to grow considerably in a short time as there is so much potential here.
“We recognise that it is an enormous challenge for a young person to leave this country and go to live in England. It is important to provide them with a support network. It can be a tough, ruthless environment and they need a caring team behind them to look after them, not just now but throughout their careers.”
Lee points to the example of New Era Ambassador, Rio Ferdinand who has seen many highs and lows during his career and is now a successful businessman, media pundit and mentor to many young professionals.
“Rio has been with New Era since the start and is the perfect example of how the company has helped him on his journey and shown him that there is a life after playing football. We want young players here to have access to all that experience.
“We are in a growth phase and the Innovation Factory gives us the chance to build our business and increase capacity as needed. We also liked the networking opportunities with other businesses that have ambitious plans; it offers us the chance to feed off this energy and new ideas”
Shane Smith, Innovation Factory’s Community Engagement Officer added: “We are very excited to welcome such a prestigious sports agency to Northern Ireland.
“New Era Sports has recognised the facilities and support we have to offer and we look forward to helping them expand their activities in Northern Ireland.”

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