'Did I really enjoy it?"
It's Tuesday and Steven Reid is sitting at his home in Surrey, thinking aloud while asking and answering a question about the emotions he was feeling for the bulk of his football career.
"Not really," he says, without hesitation.
It's not the typical retrospective from an ex-pro who played close to 200 Premier League games, went to the World Cup and spent a dozen years earning his living in the world's richest league.
Yes, there were great days and stories that would fare well on the after-dinner circuit. But the transition to the next stage of his working life has required an honest appraisal of the road to here.
In truth, he spent a good portion of that grappling with mixed emotions.
His next birthday will be his 40th and only a handful of his peers are still playing now. Like him, a healthy number have graduated to the dugout and he has suddenly found himself reconnecting as a consequence.
Reid's long-standing relationship with Steve Clarke started his coaching journey at Reading and they have reunited again with the Scottish national team where he is now assistant boss. Before the shutdown, he was meeting regularly with Damien Duff who was then filling a similar role at Celtic. It was the latter who initiated the contact.
They had lived another life together.
On a recent podcast, Duff told a yarn about a night out in Korea with Reid days before the World Cup round-of-16 tie with Spain in 2002, claiming the pair ended up on stage delivering comedy routines in an open-mic session. Reid thinks they were dancing rather than telling jokes but you get the gist of the tone.
When they catch up now, they talk. They really talk. Duff called on Reid for advice before taking the plunge to work with Stephen Kenny.
"I'm finding that players who have retired, they touch base now," says Reid, describing a pattern he has noticed through the winter of his thirties.
"I have better conversations now - about the struggles as well as the good times, about how it can be so relentless. The conversations are a lot more open and honest which is nothing like how it was when you were in a playing dressing room. Everyone is trying to find their way, and it's great to see it."
The interactions have allowed Reid to gain perspective on his own experiences. For his Pro Licence application, he undertook a project called the '500 Club' which involved trying to speak to every player that had made more than 500 Premier League appearances to discuss their respective experiences.
Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Emile Heskey, Mark Schwarzer and Gareth Barry were among those he managed to sit down with.
What he realised was that even the highest achievers had struggled with self doubt at various stages. In a strange way, Reid took heart from that because of how he was plagued by confidence issues at almost every turn, to the point where it was "eating him up".
It's only now that he's fully grasping the complexities of what colleagues were going through. He came through the ranks at Millwall with Richie Sadlier, they were friends who holidayed together. And yet he found himself reading the Dubliner's autobiography and learning things he knew nothing about, with Sadlier opening up on sexual abuse he suffered prior to moving to England and then alcohol and recreational drug issues that blighted his injury-laden stint in London.
"I'm reading Sads' book and I'm thinking 'Wow, all of that is going on while I was at the club and I've not got any idea'," says Reid. "But a lot of the players I've played with are the same, especially since finishing up.
"You don't realise what players are going through. All of a sudden, everyone is opening up and sharing their experiences and difficulties. It's never too late. Of course, it's not. At that time (at Millwall) I was only a young kid. You wish you were a senior player in a way, it makes you more aware of checking how people are.
"It's something I've tried to do in my coaching career (he has also spent time on the staff at Crystal Palace, AFC Wimbledon and West Brom), to go into the physio room and check how injured players are.
"Roy Hodgson was brilliant at that. Every morning before training, he would poke his head in the physio room just to say hello to all of the injured boys. You get some managers who don't want them near everybody else, they are almost ignored. Stories like that . . . and reading Richie's book . . . it helps you understand and be more aware."
Reid is now following through on an ambition to do something about it.
Through lockdown, he completed a course in counselling skills through the PFA and has established a one-to-one coaching service with a difference.
With the tagline 'Person first, player second', SR Coaching will provide professional players, coaches and ex-players with confidential supports to discuss whatever battles they are facing.
It will range from technical assessments of their play and analysis of clips to a sounding board for any broader fears and anxieties they may have - although he stresses that if those problems went beyond football, his role would be as a friendly face to point them in the right direction.
For all that clubs may provide a lot of these services internally, particularly at the higher end, the former Ireland international has concluded that an independent operator can fill a void.
"When it's within a club, there's only so much, in my opinion, that a player will talk to you about," he says. "It's very rare that a player is going to say (to a coach) 'Do you know what? I'm lacking confidence at the minute and that's why I keep playing it backwards and sideways because there's a perception and a fear that if the coach goes and tells the manager . . . he's not going to pick him on Saturday.
"That can affect performances and maybe even contracts, especially in this environment. It (speaking up) is far more accepted now. Most clubs now have psychologists. You have clubs developing their own well-being departments.
"But, as a player, do you want to be seen going in there? A player or a coach might prefer something private away from the club. In some clubs, a manager might not care what a player is going in for.
"Others might want to know everything, they might demand that they be told which, in my opinion, would be wrong. All the bits I did when I played was away from the club."
It was his first season at Blackburn that opened his mind. The outsider would assume that Reid was in dreamland through the 2003/'04 campaign after securing a lucrative Premier League breakthrough off the back of exploits with club and country, but instead he was floundering. Doubts that lingered in the background during his formative days at Millwall were worse than ever.
Steve Peters came to address the squad because he was helping striker Matt Jansen following his career-altering motorcycle accident.
His words inspired Reid to seek help from the consultant psychiatrist.
"Steve gave a presentation in front of the whole squad that was amazing," he recalls. "And you only find out these things later on, but I found out a lot of other Blackburn players went to him too. Not just personally for themselves, but for family members as well."
For the remainder of his career, Reid called on the services of Peters and another mind coach, Damien Hughes.
The never-ending series of fitness woes, which eventually led to an annual assessment of whether he should retire, and the resultant impact on his employment situation, meant that stress was a constant companion.
But there are regrets that he always waited until he was close to rock bottom before making the call. Even on the better days, he found a half-empty glass.
"My biggest ever opponent and enemy during my playing career was myself, without a shadow of a doubt," he continues. "I might do 10 good things in a game but focus on what I could have done better. I'm an overthinker. In my mind, I think everything has to be perfect when, in reality, it doesn't.
"My problem was I would wait until I was really low and really down before I would have a session with Steve or Damien or whoever it might be. I played with a lot of players who were pretty carefree, but I was an overanalyser, and I'm still that way now with coaching. I feel more responsibility now. It takes on a whole new level. With every training session. 'Have we done enough?' 'Is this session right?' 'How does it look?'
"But I also know there's a lot of big names who - on the face of it - look like they've got it sussed. They have that carefree, nothing can penetrate their mind, way of being, but later down the line they've had some really tough times when they've come out of it."
In other words, delaying difficult discussions catches up in the end. The warnings that the years after hanging up the boots will be the toughest are not exaggerated, but even the playing days can be bereft of joy too.
"There's not many I speak to that can genuinely say they've gone on to bigger and better things after playing, that they're living really happily and that everything is a happy ending," he admits.
"Even football itself now, I think it's all become a bit too serious. There's not enough people in the game, in my opinion, that are genuinely loving it.
"A lot of the time people are worried about how long their next job is going to last. We all got involved in football because you love the game, but we've come away from that. There's not a lot of smiles as you get older.
"I look at the majority of my career like that. Did I enjoy it? There were great moments. Finishing sixth in the league with Blackburn and starting 33 games. Going to the World Cup, unbelievable. But on the whole, I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have done.
"Part of that was injuries but a lot of it was self-belief, believing that I really belonged at that level. It's a shame."
One of the main skills he has sought to work on through his education is to learn how to listen and gain an understanding of those around when the cut-throat nature of the gig lends itself to self-obsession.
He has picked up a lot from watching Hodgson at close quarters, and respects Sean Dyche, the manager during Reid's stint at Burnley, for his ability to have a consistent temperament in any scenario.
The best managers, he feels, have a genuine affinity with the dressing-room. "Look at (Jurgen) Klopp and (Pep) Guardiola," he asserts. "You see the connection they have with players and it pours out of them."
Curiosity means these are the things he studies now. He's not one of those veterans hankering for days gone by and resenting the young lads embarking on their maiden steps. Reid isn't envious of today's cubs, aware there's a danger of confusing wealth with contentment. Privacy is limited, and scrutiny is unavoidable.
"I've got sympathy for them," he says. "Not many would because of the money they earn but it's hard for them to go out without worrying about someone at the next table taking a picture.
"And there can be so much pressure with social media, with every game being on TV, every bad touch, everything you do in a game, straight away there's a video going viral. It's intense. They can search their name and go straight to the negative ones.
"I'd like to think they are enjoying it but, for a lot of them, that depends on having a good support network. A lot of younger players may not have that, or the foreign players coming into the country may not have family and friends nearby.
"It can be a tough industry and sometimes you just need someone there to offload whatever is going in your life. Most of the experiences I have faced are the ones they are going to face today. Maybe that's what might give me an edge - having walked in those shoes."
He doesn't know where this path will take him, and he retains ambitions to go into management. There were options this summer that didn't quite come to fruition, and perhaps this diversion will stand to him in that sphere eventually.
He laughs when it's put to him that he is actively seeking opportunities in football despite possessing the awareness that there's so much wrong with the industry.
"I don't know," he shrugs, "I guess it's what you've done your whole life. In hindsight, at the end of my career, I may have needed a little bit of time to have a complete break. But you can't turn down the opportunities that come your way. It was a dilemma, that one."
The work-life balance of international football appeals for now and Scotland, like Ireland, enter an autumn where crunch Euro 2020 play-offs will be accommodated around Nations League commitments. Israel and then either Norway or Serbia are the obstacles in their way.
"I want to get to a major tournament again," he says. "And probably enjoy it a little bit more than 2002.
"Back then, I was thinking I'll have another one in two years or four years but it never happened again. I try and stay in the good moments now, rather than let negative emotions take over. Just enjoy it."
For further information see stevenreidcoaching.com