Ramon Colillas is proof positive that a Plan B is possible for footballers when things don't quite go to plan on the pitch.
The Spaniard went through the usual path followed by young sporting talents, starting out at local club Manresa in Catalunya. His performances in the academy of the lower-league side caught the attention of LaLiga side Espanyol, only for injuries to intervene at the worst possible moment.
After hanging up his boots, he tried his hand at a number of jobs, working as an engineer and a personal trainer among other pursuits. Eventually, though, he learned poker was his calling.
Colillas achieved a few impressive results before, in January 2019, securing a breakthrough win and $5.1m prize at the prestigious PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) in the Bahamas. Mirror Sport caught up with the 34-year-old at European Poker Tour Barcelona, his home tournament held at the casino where he honed his skills before winning big.
"At 15 years old I was scouted by Espanyol and then got a serious knee injury," Colillas explains. "I took a year to recover, started training again, and then got another injury in the other leg. Then at 18 I decided to give up the dream."
His first recorded in-the-money finish at a major tournament came at Casino Barcelona, netting him a modest €1,820 back in 2015. Further scores would follow, the largest netting him €67,090 in 2022, and he doesn't see himself sitting out the event any time soon.
"I consider myself a local here," he says "It's the casino I started playing at and I love it - it's my city, so as long as it's happening I see myself coming back."
Barcelona was the city which hosted the first ever European Poker Tour event, back in 2004, and regularly produces huge prize pools for those taking part. There were more than 1,500 entries for the 2023 main event, with the winner netting more than €1m, but even that pales in comparison to Colillas' big score four years ago.
Back then, the Spaniard was one of more than 1,000 players taking their seat at the table on Paradise Island in the Caribbean. The tournament cost $25,000 to enter, though some - like Colillas himself - had won a seat for considerably less.
He had picked up some impressive results in the months leading up to the tournament, and this gave him confidence. Playing with millions on the line can impact anyone, though - even the most seasoned pros.
"I had been playing for many years before the breakthrough and anticipated playing types of tournaments like this so did all the technical and mental preparation," he says. "I'd consider it's more about understanding timings, having awareness of situations and different players, rather than the technical side.
"It had been working well for me up to that point so I approached it in the same way I'd approach any other tournament - just with more money on the line. Also I had a really good run in 2018 leading up to the PSPC. I'd been at a few final tables in live events, and that meant when I was on the TV table I felt like 'this is just another TV table, I've been in many already', and this was also an advantage against other players."
The bigger challenge, he says, has come since that victory in the Bahamas. Colillas has recorded a number of impressive results in the years since, including finishing 14th out of 6,650 players at the World Series of Poker Main event in Las Vegas in 2021.
He's no longer the talented young footballer who managed to blend in at the poker table. People often recognise him these days, and that means he needs to make even more adjustments.
"It's a bit tricky to navigate," he admits. "Sometimes you're wondering whether a player recognises you or not, are they playing differently or not. I'm making a bit of an adaptation because I'm noticing that people are folding less to me.
"Before PSPC I was just one more guy who would sit at the table and just play regularly, but now when I arrive at the table people are noticing me all the time. It's more like people will celebrate when they win a hand against me, or when I play a hand everyone seems way more focused about what I'm doing. There are rivalries, too, I've noticed people wanting to win against me more than before."
Colillas finished in the money in two events at EPT Barcelona, and has plenty of other opportunities ahead of him before returning to his home tournament again. The European Poker Tour has introduced two new stops this year as it looks to incorporate destination stops where poker is only part of the entertainment.
These new additions are Paris, where Colillas cashed in a side event, and Cyprus. The latter is set to get underway in October, with the main event costing $5,300 to enter.
The Barcelona tournament has also attracted plenty of footballers over the years, including stars who have played at Camp Nou. Gerard Pique and Sergio Aguero were among those to travel to Casino Barcelona this year, and Colillas spoke of his excitement at taking on some of the biggest names from his first sport.
"I have met a lot of them outside the poker tables, but haven't had the chance to play at the same table as them," he says. "That's something I'm really looking forward to.
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