Adebayo Akinfenwa: ‘I was the strongest player in FIFA. That meant a lot”

Adebayo Akinfenwa is one of the most famous modern English footballers who has never played in the Premier League. ‘The Beast’ has carved out a distinguished career in the lower leagues, bolstered by his charisma and earned reputation as the strongest football player in the world.

The sportsman sat down with Akinfenwa ahead of the release of ‘Beast Mode’, a feature-length documentary on Prime Video that chronicles his career. No topic was off-limits when we discovered what motivates one of football’s most memorable characters.

What can fans expect from ‘Beast Mode’?

People use the word inspirational. But for me, it’s just a look at my truths. It’s a look back on my journey, some highs, some lows. I think it’s a testament to what’s behind me, what helped guide me, my brothers, my family, my faith.

It’s good, it’s overwhelming. The hardest thing was trying to cram 40 years into a 90-minute documentary. There were times when I said things as a passing moment, whereas living it wasn’t just a moment. The other side, just seeing the end of the project, was overwhelming. It’s humiliating. And I hope people understand that it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to be comfortable in your own skin. That’s the point I want people to take away from the documentary.

In the documentary, there are excerpts that deal with the uncertainty of football retirement. A few months later, how is retirement treating you?

I’m busier now than when I was playing football, which is good. Because I think the transition from whenever you’ve done something for such a long period of time, and it changes, I think that’s the hardest period. But I’ve been busy. So it’s not like my mind is idle. I was blessed enough to be able to join BT and still be able to stay in the game. I still do talkSPORT. I have the documentary coming out.

Now I have no excuse, I take the kids to school, I do the school runs every morning. These are things I wasn’t able to do before. I’m not always happy, sometimes I want to have a lie, but having five kids doesn’t allow me to have a lie! So it’s that balance. At the moment, I’m enjoying it. I’ve been blessed enough to play the game I’ve loved for 22 years. And now I’m looking forward to new pastures.

There are some incredibly emotional scenes in the movie where you talk about some of the horrendous racist abuse you’ve dealt with over the course of your career. In your opinion, what do those responsible for football need to do to end racism in the game once and for all?

It’s a difficult thing in terms of eliminating racism from football, because I don’t really think racism is a problem in football. I think it’s a social problem. Those individuals who are in society come to football games. So it’s a difficult process.

I believe we are blessed, especially here. We are much more in a better place. I think everything should start with a conversation. But that can’t be the only thing. We can’t just say we’re identifying or just talking about it, it means we’re doing enough. No, it’s a starting point. I think it’s a conversation you need to have on an ongoing basis.

There’s a lighthearted moment for you in the movie when you get a message from Jurgen Klopp. How was that experience for you?

I played the game for 22 years and had some standout moments. But literally this is up there. This is up there with one of the best. I think sometimes people think because we’re football players, we’re not fans or we can’t be excited. I was a school kid when I got that video from Klopp. I was gassed. I let the world know.

I am always an individual who speaks how he feels. Even when I said that after the game, I was just talking because I was in my feelings. Liverpool won the Premier League. So I was like, if anyone is going to call me on WhatsApp, it will be Klopp. So to get to my phone afterwards, and he actually texted me, it’s a testament to the man he is. It’s humiliating, incomprehensible.

I’m not trying to brag, but we’ll also put the Pep Guardiola quotes in there. And when we played against José Mourinho. For me, Gareth Ainsworth is the best coach there is. I’m being biased! But when I’m interacting with Klopp, Mourinho and Pep, it’s humiliating. I didn’t make it to the elite as a football player, but being able to have elite officials say nice things about me or talk to me is really humbling.

One facet where no one can deny their elite status is strength. You were the strongest FIFA player for several years. How much did that raise your profile and help your career?

There were two elements that I think played an important role in raising my profile. That was YouTuber JJ, aka KSI, and the FIFA community.

I didn’t realize how big both communities were when I found out about them. FIFA is global, right? It’s all over the world. Whenever you pick up a game that you want to play with the fastest, the strongest, that’s what you go for right away. Because that just gives you a little head start. So being able to have something that was uniquely mine every year for me was a validation.

I liked the gym and every preseason, every day, I hit the gym. So being able at the start of every new FIFA game to be able to get the validation of ‘you are the strongest person in the game’. I remember saying when I ran with him, saying when I retire, I tell you that now no one is going to take that away from me. I think once there was a glitch in the Matrix where they got it wrong and gave it to someone, but that was just a glitch in the Matrix. We’ll accelerate beyond that. I was constantly the strongest player in the game and that meant a lot.

Obviously, this gave him a reputation as a powerhouse. Has any opposing player ever tried to physically test you on the field?

Yes, especially the puppies. They wanted to try to make a name for themselves. Everyone tried. All failed. It was cool.

I wanted to test myself against Virgil van Dijk. That’s just because he’s dominant, aggressive, very good in the air, fast. I would never beat you for pace, but you want to test yourself. When I was playing against people in my league, especially the younger generation that played FIFA. They would like to test themselves to show how strong they thought they were and quickly realized that there is only one certified Beast Mode.

Who would win an arm wrestling match between you and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?

Good question. I met Dwayne. DJ, that’s what I like to call him because we’re fine now that we’ve met. We shook hands and I saw his arm, now that was before Black Adam, you know he got a little excited about Black Adam. But I would say he would win or draw. Because if he was willing, and I’d like my brothers to come and help me, I’m just spreading the word now. So it’s either a win or a draw. Let’s just go with it.

Do you have a favorite shirt from your career? Also, what was the worst shirt you had to wear?

My worst shirt that comes to mind, Gillingham had a pink kit. I’m a big guy in a pink kit, it just didn’t look cool to me. It didn’t fit me well, it made me look a little bigger than I was. That’s what I’m sticking to anyway! My favorite was probably the last Wycombe jersey. It was similar, but it had changed in the sense of hugging me in the right places. It means you held me in your arms. It made my arms feel like diesel.

Have you been big on shirt changing in your career? If so, do you have any favorites you’ve collected?

I only started buying shirts in the later stages of my career. I wasn’t very big on collecting. But then, as you get older, you start to realize, ‘let me try to take moments and memories for the last bit of my career.’

The kitman hated me because I was giving away shirts in most games, I was giving away a good amount of shirts. I didn’t trade, but I took the Stevie G shirt. So this is one of my pride and joy shirts. I also got the Kevin De Bruyne shirt the season I retired, which was also good. Also Van Dijk sent me his shirt. I couldn’t play against him. But it’s probably the three shirts.

We played in The Rock. You’ve made your own switch to professional wrestling recently by appearing for Progress Wrestling. Any ideas of getting in the ring for a fight at some point?

I’m still going through the wrestling training process, learning to take the bumps, the takedowns. I like it. I did the first one and the energy was electric. Anyone who knows me knows that I love energy. I love to connect. So watch this space.

I’ve always said that when I retire, I’ll try as many new things as possible. I’m enjoying my time and in the moment. I’m learning, it’s hard, I won’t lie. The boys work hard and really do their due diligence. But it’s similar in the sense that if you want consistency and dedication, I think it’s just general data. So on that side, I’m fine with that. I’m kind of used to it. But it’s also like my body is hurting in places it normally wouldn’t. I’m usually the one who throws people to the ground. This one is a little different!

Finally, if you could sum up your amazing career in just one moment that you could relive; what would it be?

I think out of sheer adulation it would have been when we beat Oxford to be promoted to champion. The reason I say this is because I was 38 years old. When you’re at the beginning of your career, you’re always in your head, “Oh, I might win something new.” I knew that at age 38, when we were promoted to champion, that was the pinnacle.

It was at that moment that I had to give myself a lot of experience of being a father. So it just brings everything into perspective. When we got promoted, it was pure euphoria. That moment and it was this catch 22. Because there were no fans and no family in the stadium to come together and celebrate. That was the only disappointing thing. But then, on the other hand, it really allowed the players, the team and the club to just celebrate with each other. There was no way to go out to see wives or kids, it was literally just the people that were in the stadium and the people that were making noise were the club members. It was just a bunch of brothers.

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