Fantasy to Reality: How to Organise a Holiday for the Player Who Has Everything

Tom Williams@tomwfootballSpecial to Bleacher ReportJuly 24, 2019

Instagram: @mosalah

Cristiano Ronaldo plunging into the sea from a luxury yacht on the French Riviera. Mo Salah calmly wading through the azure waters on Egypt's Red Sea coast. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard relaxing by the pool at a plush Miami hotel. Lionel Messi frolicking in the surf with his family in Antigua.

The world's leading football players head to the four corners of the Earth when they jet off on their summer holidays. And wherever they go, they expect the very best. For those who work in the exclusive corner of the travel industry dedicated to meeting the needs of superstar footballers, it is a case of sparing no expense and pulling out every stop.

"They want to have the best of the best: the best villa, the best car, the best yacht, the best adventure," says Johnny Vegas, CEO and founder of luxury lifestyle concierge firm Kloudout.

"When it comes to me booking for them, it has to be something spectacular. It has to be something epic. Because this is the moment they just go big."

Vegas felt his way into the luxury concierge industry while working as a casino valet at the Bellagio Hotel in his native Las Vegas. After arranging a break in Vegas for Samir Nasri when he was 21, he became the go-to man for footballers planning trips to the city. His business expanded—Miami, Dubai, Mykonos, Marbella, Ibiza—and he now spends his days crisscrossing the world to look after clients such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Samuel Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette, Jamaal Lascelles and Ryan Babel.

Johnny Vegas (R) with Ryan Babel (IG: johnny1vegas)

Founded in 2012, Kloudout has multiple partners in the luxury travel sector, including hotels, AirBnBs and villas and firms that supply private jets and yachts. Vegas says the key to making sure things run smoothly for his clients is keeping in close contact with his partners so he knows what is available at all times.

"We know the availability, we know what we have, so we're ready for last-minute requests," he told Bleacher Report.

"Athletes are always last-minute, so you have to be very patient and very understanding. If they say, 'Hey, I want to go here tomorrow,' it's no problem. They just have to request it. And the greatest thing about them is, they'll pay the money for it. They understand there's no time to bargain or negotiate.

"Our job is to make it available and convenient and take the stress away from them. I say this to them: 'I'll make your fantasy a reality. Just tell me what you need.'"

British businessman Alex Cheatle set up concierge service Ten Group in 1998 and says the company now counts "hundreds and hundreds" of professional footballers among its 2 million global members. In his experience, most players are looking for the same kind of thing from their holidays.

"They tend to like the extremely posh 'fly and flop' places," Cheatle told Bleacher Report.

"They're pretty exhausted after the season. They feel like they've hardly seen their families or their girlfriends and they just want to relax. Those with families want to go somewhere quiet and relax: a beach Mandarin Oriental or a Four Seasons.

A Mandarin Oriental in Hainan province, China
A Mandarin Oriental in Hainan province, ChinaGetty

"They're not interested in a tiny boutique place. They normally want somewhere with a big pool that's full of other people who are successful financially so they're not sticking out like a sore thumb. And normally in a resort rather than in a city."

Privacy is naturally a concern for all high-profile footballers. Nabila Richardson, head of marketing for the travel division of lifestyle management company Quintessentially, says her firm will steer players from the front doors of their homes to their hotel rooms without them having to pass by a single gawping bystander.

"Privacy and anonymity are key factors for them, along with ensuring that their travel is as easy and seamless as possible through services such as private aviation, direct flights and private transfers," she said.

"We will arrange a VIP meet-and-greet, whisking them from the plane door to their hotel, making sure they have complete privacy and are incognito during their trip."

At Dubai's Atlantis The Palm, where Harry Kane, David Beckham and John Terry have all stayed in recent years, guests in the resort's seven signature suites benefit from the services of 24-hour private butlers who attend to their every need, making bookings on their behalf and ensuring smooth transitions between activities.

Should they wish to dine in privacy, they can have meals from the resort's array of world-renowned restaurants—which include Nobu, Hakkasan and Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen and Bar—delivered to their suites on room service. A peckish footballer can also request for a dedicated hotel chef to rustle up a dish in their in-room kitchen.

The modern footballer knows he must keep a close eye on his diet during the summer break and will consult nutritionists at his club about what he should and should not eat before setting off for some close-season sunshine. Some players will even take personal chefs and fitness trainers on holiday with them.

"Gone are the days of having four, five or six weeks off before coming back into pre-season training and starting at stage one," says Ed Tooley, a performance nutritionist who has worked with Premier League clubs Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace and Norwich City.

"Quite often players will get guidelines on both the training they're expected to do and nutrition guidelines to help them out.

"Some players are very diligent and you almost want them to have more of a break because they've gone off and trained quite hard throughout the summer. You've got the other end of the scale of usually younger guys who still have the old approach of, 'The off-season is the off-season.' They'll come into pre-season quite out of shape, but usually they learn the hard way and don't do it again.

"Then you've got the majority of people who are in the middle: they'll have a bit of a break, they'll have some top-up fitness sessions and keep an eye on nutrition, but they'll relax and enjoy themselves at the same time."

While money is no object for the sport's most famous names, Vegas is keen to stress that not all footballers are obsessed with getting access to the most exclusive hotels and nightspots. For many, after a long, gruelling season, the summer break simply represents an opportunity to have the kind of innocuous fun they don't always have time for back home.

"It's not all about clubs and this and that," he said. "They also want to enjoy the moment with their friends. Whether it's a theme park or the movies or water activities—things they normally don't have the opportunity to do. We organise all those things for them."

Organising activities for football players is not always a straightforward exercise. Their contracts forbid them from indulging in anything too risky—skiing is one notorious no-no—and sometimes the very destinations they have in mind prove to be problematic.

"The first thing we need to do is make sure we're not recommending anywhere that's going to fall foul of their insurance or their club's rules," said Cheatle, whose firm has been arranging holidays for footballers for over 15 years.

"For instance, a place that's very popular at the moment for beautiful five-star resorts is Cambodia. The trouble with Cambodia is that there's a chance of catching malaria or having to take serious anti-malaria tablets.

"When we first started working with footballers, we'd get all the way through to booking very complicated itineraries and then we'd get a phone call a couple of days before the holiday saying, 'My agent tells me I can't go.' By which time we'd paid the hotels and bought the flights. It can get quite expensive. So we don't make that mistake anymore."

Always ready to accede to the whims of his footballing clients, Cheatle has booked an airplane seat for a wedding dress to be flown out for an overseas marriage ceremony; employed a crowd of actors to mob a Brazilian player at Heathrow Airport as part of a prank played by another Brazilian player; and arranged for identical luxury sports cars to be delivered to two players from the same club in north-west England at exactly the same time so as to satisfy their instructions that they wanted the vehicles before anybody else.

Amid all the clamour for private jets, luxury yachts and top-end hotels, every now and again a footballer surprises him, such as the player from a leading London club who was bowled over by the unspoiled natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands during a family trip to South America.

"You might not think that a footballer would be really into wildlife and nature, but he absolutely loved it," Cheatle said.

"Living on a boat for a week, no paparazzi, swimming with penguins. And one of the things they loved the most? No mobile phone, no internet.

"Hearing a footballer talk about the enjoyment they got from nature and the albatrosses and marine iguanas and red-footed boobies...It was just fantastic."

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