Former Scotland defender Christophe Berra made the surprise decision to retire just days before the cinch Championship kick-off because he felt he had lost some “sharpness and aggression” and did not want to let his Raith Rovers team-mates down.
Despite being a key man for the Kirkcaldy club last term, the 37-year-old – who won 41 international caps between 2008 and 2017 – informed boss Ian Murray at the start of last week that he felt ready to hang up his boots.
After playing two more Premier Sports Cup games against Dumbarton and Aberdeen while his manager sought replacement defenders in the transfer market, Berra publicly announced on Tuesday evening that he had called time on a career spanning almost 20 years and incorporating spells with Hearts, Wolves, Ipswich and Dundee.
“I’d been thinking about it over the past year because I’ve kind of had my coaching head on for a while now and I’ve got ambitions to be a manager,” he said, discussing his retirement for the first time in an exclusive interview with PA news agency.
“I did pre-season and I was fit as normal but after the Stirling game I went to see the manager and told him I didn’t feel as sharp and aggressive in training as I’d been in the past.
“I felt like I’d be letting myself and the team down if I played on and I just said to give up my contract and find other players. The manager was brand new because he retired at 31 and knows what it feels like. You know when you know that it’s time.
“I could still be playing. We played Dumbarton two days after I told the manager and I cruised through the game but I know weeks and months down the line when things aren’t going well and I’m a bit off it, I’ll get really frustrated with myself and maybe get frustrated at my team-mates. I wouldn’t want to do that.
“I’ve got high standards and I’m my biggest critic, and I’d be judging myself all the time. I just feel like I probably wouldn’t be able to hit the standards I’ve hit in the past.
“I told my team-mates in a message on Monday night that the following day would be my last day because if I’d told them in person, I’d have got over-emotional.
“Even then it was tough because I got a lot of messages from old team-mates at Hearts, Ipswich, Wolves and Dundee so it was sad. I had a wee emotional period thinking ‘that’s it’.”
Berra is proud of a career that saw him captain Hearts over two spells and spend three seasons in England’s top flight with Wolves.
“My wife always says I should be more proud of what I did in my career,” he said. “Sometimes I maybe don’t appreciate it enough that I’m a boy from Edinburgh who lived the dream.
“But when I look back, people would give an arm and a leg to do what I’ve done: played over 600 games, played 41 times for my country and scored four goals, played in the Premier League for three seasons, played in England for eight-and-a-half years, and played in the top league in Scotland and the Championship.
“There’s been a lot of highs and a few lows but when you look back you don’t focus on the lows. I can’t have any qualms about how my career panned out.
“It would have been great to qualify for a major tournament with Scotland. The closest we came was under Gordon Strachan (for the 2018 World Cup). It was small margins that cost us but I can’t complain. Not just to play for my country but to score as well, nobody can take that away from me.”
Berra, who has already done some coaching with Hearts and Raith, will now take a short break with his family before stepping up his quest to become a manager.
“I need to earn my stripes first, whether that’s as an assistant somewhere or a coach or at youth level,” he said. “It won’t be an easy road. I’ll have to start at the beginning and work my way up.”