Former Sunderland striker Michael Chopra has thanked his former manager Roy Keane for his role in getting him help with his gambling addiction.
Chopra, who also used to play for Newcastle, Cardiff and Ipswich, admitted there were times where he thought about betting ‘as soon as the final whistle went’.
His addiction got so bad that he once had to tell his family that his huge signing-on fee would go towards paying off gambling debts.
The 36-year-old gives special credit to Keane as the one who was the catalyst in his life being turned around.
“I didn’t know what to expect because I’d not long been at Sunderland – and it’s Roy Keane,” said Chopra, who joined the Black Cats in the summer of 2007.
“So I was a bit frightened when I first went in, but he took to me straight away. He opened up about some things he’d done wrong and he didn’t have to do that.
“Whenever I mention Roy Keane, people often say, ‘wow, are you being serious?’ But I had a great relationship with him. It wasn’t, I’m a player and he’s my manager, it was more of a friendship.
“We would go in his office after training and drink green tea and speak about life, speak about everything. He knew about my problems and he tried to make me happy in training, try to have a laugh and giggle with me.
“I really took to him and if anyone has a bad word to say about him, I totally disagree, because I’ve seen a different side to Roy.
“When you saw him on a football pitch, he was captain of Manchester United, he wants the best for his football club, and rightly so. But off the pitch, he was a different person, an unbelievable guy.”
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However, Chopra relapsed when he returned to Cardiff in 2009, which is where he says his addiction got to its worst.
He’s now in recovery and wants to reach out to other addicts over the Christmas period.
The charity for problem gamblers has teamed up with others to launch a TalkBanStop campaign which offers free services, including a national helpline, to help addicts begin their recovery journey.
But it was Keane who got Chopra on the road to redemption.
Chopra added: “Roy spoke to Sporting Chance and said to me, ‘I’m going to get you the help you need as soon as possible. You’ve got to go and do it’.
“It was brilliant. I couldn’t get into Sporting Chance because it was fully booked, but he helped get me into the Nightingale Hospital in London instead.
“That was all down to Roy. He was the one that got me help first.
“You think you can solve all the problems yourself and you can’t. You have to open up to people, you have to let people know about it, and you have to you have to try and get help.
“The most important thing is you’ve got to speak to people.”