@Mark_Cueto via twitter
First time I came across the name Mark Cueto was playing Rugby 08 on Playstation, one of my all-time favourite games. Little did I know back then that I would take the field with the all-time great of the game, Cueto himself. I scored my first try for Sale through a line break from Cuets, similar to how I would use him on Rugby 08. He was a competitive and rugged player. There was no filters on anything he said and he always led by example.
Cuets made over 300 appearances for Sale Sharks, won 55 caps for England and toured with the British Lions, where I was his opposite wing at one stage and that’s all we will say about that.
During his time at Sale, he helped them to win the European Challenge Cup twice, and was a try scorer in the Premiership final against Leicester Tigers in 2006, when Sharks won the league. In fact, over his 15 year career at Sharks, he broke the Premiership try scoring record set by former team mate Steve Hanley taking his tally to 90 before he retired in 2015.
He was of course a member of England’s 2007 Rugby World Cup squad in France, where he was infamously denied a try in the second half of the match which could have changed the game. It’s still talked about to this day.
Cuets is now the Commercial Director at Sale Sharks and received an MBE in 2016 for services to rugby union. In this entry, he gives a good insight into his personal experience of his transition into the real world and the challenges he has faced since retiring from being a professional rugby player.
How have you found life in the real world since leaving rugby?
Day to day life is really different. For the whole time you are in rugby, and particularly the last year or two when you know it’s near the end, you have all these ex-players coming up saying: ‘You don’t know how hard it is, you don’t appreciate how easy your life is at the moment.’
At the time it is like water off a duck’s back – but when you transition into it you suddenly start remembering all these people and think ‘Oh god – they were right.’
I’m quite lucky here with the job that I’ve got that and the role in that I can semi come and go as I please. But I’m still in here at 8am in the morning and don’t get away till 4 or 5pm.
If you compare that to a typical training day you might be in at 8am but you are generally done by 3pm and you tend to get two days off in the week and a day off at the weekend so that has been a big change.
I’ve always been at Sale and it so close to me and it’s an enjoyable place for me to be but if I was just sat in an office somewhere feeling totally cut-off from the rugby it would be so hard to do.
Did you plan for this role or did it just fall into place?
For the last 12 months before I finished playing, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think that’s the hardest thing for lads. Unless you want to go into coaching or you want to go into TV maybe, there are so few opportunities to stay in rugby.
There are a lot of lads who retired maybe a year or two before me and knew they wanted to go into accountancy or financial services so they could properly plan and take exams.
It’s a bit like leaving school all over again – you don’t know what you want to do.
For me I didn’t plan it, the club approached me. At the time we were obviously under different owners and the chat was about doing a part-time ambassadorial role.
As I didn’t have a lot else planned it was a no-brainer to do it.
It also coincided with the 2015 World Cup where I had a load of stuff going on. At the time the thought of working full-time was grim so when Sale offered me two days a week here it was ideal as it still allowed me time to go down to London and do stuff around the World Cup.
But by Christmas the World Cup was finished and my only official job was here by then I found there was almost no purpose in the week.
When you play you get an email on a Sunday night and your week is mapped out in terms of your diary, what to eat, what to wear and so on. By the end of my career I thought ‘I don’t need this – I’m 35, married with two kids.’
But six months after retiring I was almost craving that email.
It’s weird – the stuff you think you can’t wait to get away from you end up missing.
I think you have got to throw yourself into everything and anything and I went from being chased as a player where people wanted you all the time to when you retire, you are the one doing the chasing.
You go from being on a pedestal which is quite a big ego-thing to where you are chasing people and it’s a knock to your ego if they don’t answer the phone.
Do you find with not playing some people tend forget you?
It’s weird how quickly people forget you. As a player post game when you go into hospitality suites though part of you wants to try and get away quickly but there are so many people there who are keen to help you when you finish playing.
There are many people who can help you – not necessarily with a job but by putting you in touch with other people and building up contacts.
You hear all this chat about the rugby family and I thought it was rubbish but when you come out of playing, the amount of people genuinely happy to give their time to see how they can help is mad.
So for lads to tap into that network is really important
What advice would you give to guys who are coming towards the end of their careers?
The hardest thing is knowing what you are going to do. But I would say that whatever you do, try and make the most of that opportunity.
After the first six months here I could quite easily have said there was a point where I thought this isn’t for me. But because I stuck at it, new owners came in, there was a new opportunity with a full-time role and things worked out.
So I just say to lads say yes to everything.
When you are playing, people are forever asking you to do things and you tend to say no but I just say get out and meet as many people as you can and whatever opportunities do come around, give them time as they evolve.
Especially in that first year when you are going through so much change I just say stick it out as you don’t know what will evolve.
You set yourselves goals in rugby – do you do the same in your day-to-day life now?
I can set myself goals as I’ve got a proper job. In a nutshell my role is to generate as much money for the club as I can through sponsorship, hospitality and everything else. Naturally we set ourselves goals and targets which can be broken down monthly.
I guess your goals have got to be aligned to whatever you are doing.
If I didn’t have this role maybe my goal would be can I meet 10 people next week?
Here you can go a week and you are still chasing people, waiting for them to get back to you.
So it can be really difficult to quantify what you have achieved.
Ultimately there is nothing like playing professional sport – whether you are earning a quid or a million the lifestyle is a different level
If I do a deal here I still get a buzz. You have to change your goals I guess – I’m never going to score a try at the AJ Bell again but if I bring in a sponsor in for a significant amount that’s my new kick.
In a way is it like starting out all over again?
It is brutal. You are at the bottom of the barrel – it’s like being an Academy kid all over again unless you are lucky enough and I’ve been lucky with this.
What David (Seymour) has done brilliantly with his coffee business is tap into that network around the club and he’s been able to lean on them through his association with the club which has helped give the business a real lift-up.
The AJ Bell Stadium don’t need people to sell coffee but they’ll do it with Dave as he played for the club for 10 years – it’s like I said earlier. There are so many people out there who are prepared to help. It’s quite overwhelming.
Tapping into the coffee business is quite a good idea as every business, every office… they all drink coffee.
So it’s about getting out there and speaking to as many people as you can.
How did your family find it when you finished playing? Did they enjoy seeing more of Dad at home?
The crazy thing is that you think you are going to be at home more – but you are actually at home less. That’s one of the things you think will be different to how it actually is.
When I was travelling to games as a player, you think I never see my family but I see the family less now than I did when I played.
For example the school run – whether I did a drop-off or a pick-up, I probably did three or four a week when I was playing – now I reckon I pick-up once a month.
With the hours we work here 8-4 dropping off or picking the kids up is almost impossible.
Monday to Friday you rarely see the kids so it’s tough.
It was a struggle at first balancing expectations at home as when you are regularly getting home later it is a massive change for your family from your rugby routine.
So it is a massive change
I was speaking to Austin Healey recently and even those boys who have won the World Cup still have to work really hard with their commitments with BT Sport.
Guys like Martin Johnson, Johnny Wilkinson, Dan Carter when he retires – they are probably some of the few who probably don’t need to do so much when they retire but they are the exception.
TV and coaching seem the obvious routes to go into but there are only so many jobs and there is so much competition.
You have so many people retiring but so few jobs within the game
Within my new role you also have to learn to be patient. Playing the game it was all about instant results – either on game-days or your impact in training.
What advice would you give to young players who want to become a professional?
For me, it’s all about attitude. It’s the same as when you get into the real world – people who are prepared to work hard are generally the ones that will achieve more.
It’s probably the same for you Johnny but so many players I have come across who may be quicker than me or had a better step but because they didn’t have that work ethic, they didn’t go on and achieve what they could have.
So for me, everything is about working hard.
I say to my eldest son, as the youngest is still too young, but I encourage him to work as hard as he can whether that’s in rugby or football or maths or spelling as if you do that no matter what you are doing you will generally go well.
For lads coming through now that is probably more important than ever. When I was in the Academy here at Sale there were five of us – now there are probably more than 55 so the competition is really tough for lads who want to make it.
The other big thing is to learn as much as you can but having that work ethic is the biggest thing of all.
Who do you see as a young star to look out for in the future.
Here at Sale I’m excited about Cameron Redpath and Kieran Wilkinson. I played with Cam’s Dad, Bryan, 15 years ago and remember Cam being a little lad so seeing his progress has been really good. This year he has made his first team debut and I’m really excited to see him next year.
I didn’t make my debut until I was 21 so for him and guys like Kieran and Sam Moore to have already made their first-team debuts is brilliant.
Kieran I don’t know as well as Cam, but I know the reports about his potential and about how good a player he is going to be.
So it will be really interesting to see how those two boys go next year.
Thanks Mark for sharing your time with us all to give an insight of the reality when rugby finishes. Congratulations to you and Suzie on the new born son.
Another great read Johnny