THE foundations were laid during some of the most difficult days of Andy Little's career. After going back to the drawing board, he is now building for a brighter future.

There are many moments from Little's times with Rangers and Northern Ireland that stick in his mind. One afternoon with Dumbarton stands out, though.

On the way home from a defeat to Montrose in November 2018, Little decided he was going to retire from football. Come the Monday morning, the call was made to manager Jim Duffy.

He had been a champion with Rangers and represented his country. Yet the latter years with Preston, including loans at Blackpool and Accrington Stanley, and then Stirling Albion - where he suffered serious head injuries in a freak training accident - and the Sons took their toll physically and mentally.

It was time to retire and move on. Now a successful businessman with a thriving property portfolio, there are no regrets on Little's part.

"I was only 29 and, honestly, it was the best decision I have ever made in my life," Little told Herald and Times Sport. "People will probably find that a bit strange. I can still tell you the date that I retired from football.

"At 29, you have still got up to ten years left. But I just had injury hell and I was really keen to get a move on with the rest of my working life.

The National: Andy Little will be hoping for more days like this after signing a new deal with Rangers.

"I certainly haven’t made enough money in football and I knew I was going to have to work for the rest of my life. I saw it as an opportunity to get a head-start on working life before kids come along and stresses that happen later in life."

There was a sense of going back to the future for Little. Football had been his life, but a love of property was nurtured during his time at Deepdale or, more accurately, through his time in front of the television.

The BBC show 'Homes Under the Hammer' became more than a way to pass the days for Little and a chance meeting with a builder in a coffee shop offered a new opportunity whilst he was unable to play through injury.

With Little's interest piqued and inspiration found, the pair would renovate and sell houses in the Chorley area. It was the beginning of the next stage of Little's life even before quitting football had come to mind.

"That got me interested in property and I then moved back to Glasgow when I got released from Preston," Little said. "I was struggling to get back into full-time football so I started working in a letting agency as a part-time job.

"It was quite funny. I found myself working for £11-per-hour in a city like Glasgow where, only two years previously, I had been playing for Rangers and I would get stopped in the street.

"There was a relative level of ‘fame’, or whatever you want to call it. It was quite funny because I started doing viewings and check outs and inspections of property and every so often you would get a look and someone would say ‘are you not Andy Little that played with Rangers?’

The National: Andy Little says that he will take his time before deciding his next move following his release by Rangers.

"I would always make the same joke that I am on to bigger and better things now. That is how the interest in property came about.

"I worked in that letting agency for four years, initially on a part-time basis and then I really enjoyed it, I needed to work alongside playing for Stirling Albion and Dumbarton and doing some media work. I needed to earn money and learn the ropes."

Little would soon discover the harsh reality of working life as the chaos of Covid saw him made redundant. It was a decision the Northern Irishman had no qualms over, and the setback was put to good use as he went back to the classroom to gain his qualifications as a letting agent.

The ambition was to take a share in a Glasgow firm and some 45 emails were sent and offers were made. Of the handful that came back, one - from Matthew Gunn - stood out and opened doors.

The National: Andy Little who is back in the Northern Ireland squad after injury.

"It was the first time I went back to school since I was 16 and it is the only qualifications I have outside of GCSEs and AS Levels," Little said.

"Matthew had a small agency who did Air BnB mostly. He was 32, I was 31 and we were both very similarly minded in how we thought a letting agency should be run."

Little's first meeting with Gunn - in a Yoker park during Covid restrictions - wasn't a salubrious start.

The pair have now operated Gallus Lettings Ltd for seven months and the rise and rise vindicates their respective faith in each other.

"We have really grown," Little said. "We have had rapid growth and gone from managing 24 properties to almost 100.

"If it continues like this we will be delighted. We are definitely on the right path.

"We are a fully digital letting agency, a bit of a breath of fresh air in an old-fashioned industry. We are very pro-active in dealing with issues for both the tenant and the landlord.

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"Matthew and I are both landlords ourselves but, given that we are young, we have both recently been tenants so we completely understand both sides. We are now the mediator so it helps to have that first-hand experience."

The city that has been Little's home since 2006 continues to provide his profession. In many ways, Gallus is a fitting name for the firm that the former striker and Gunn continue to grow.

It is a term that encapsulates Glasgow. Little is no longer in the Old Firm goldfish bowl, but the people and the personalities still come to the fore as he strives for success in a new field of expertise.

"It is definitely a bit less now," Little laughed when asked if he is still recognised now that he has swapped his Rangers jersey for a suit and tie. "Maybe my stock has fallen away a bit! Let’s be honest, the Rangers team that are on show now are a class above where I got to.

"You get it from both sides and I love the banter, I love the rivalry and the city. I have no desire to fall out with anyone over what club they support.

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"I just love that we are lucky to live and work in a city where we have such passion for the sport, whether you support Rangers, Celtic, Thistle or whoever it might be.

"There is always a bit of craic and I am happy to have a bit of banter about it all."

It is eight years since Little departed Ibrox. He had helped Ally McCoist's side set off on the road to recovery, but the League One campaign proved to be the end of his journey.

The 32-year-old has left Rangers. The club is still part of his routine, though.

"I went from football, where you have a pretty relaxed lifestyle, to setting up two businesses in one year," he said of his second enterprise, a rental firm called Little's Van Hire. "It is one street back from Ibrox.

"It is quite funny that not long ago I was working in the stadium and now I am working in the Business Park."

Had life turned out differently, Little could have been hitting the road today and pulling on his boots once again. He lived that dream, and has no regrets about leaving it behind.

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Football no longer consumes Little's life. For all the highs the game gave him, he now has businesses to run and other ambitions to achieve. His goals today are very different.

"I think the biggest reason why I was so disheartened and not happy in football," Little said. "When it came to work rate, I was always top. I didn’t get outworked many times in training and I gave it my absolute all, I got the best out of the ability I had.

"I felt the game was quite unfair because injuries came along and your hard work was out the window and you had to start again from scratch.

"I feel with business that, yes you have ups and downs, but if you are prepared to be in first and out last, which were the words I always had at training, then you will get your rewards. I am trying as hard as I can.

"I have the balance right and the difference in being out of football is that I can go on holiday or have a long weekend, I can have Christmas with my family and go to weddings.

"Football is seen as a golden ticket and a brilliant lifestyle, but it comes with massive personal sacrifice. I am happy now that in business I can work really hard but if I want to go and do something and have the work/life balance I can do that and that is why I am the happiest I have ever been."