Phil Mulryne used to share a locker room with David Beckham, had a reality TV star girlfriend, and enjoyed all the trappings of being a Manchester United soccer star.

Yet just three years after seeing his career cut short by injuries, the 34-year-old has embarked upon a remarkable career that has taken him far away from the bright lights, big crowds and celebrity lifestyle of a modern soccer player.

Mulryne, who grew up in Northern Ireland and spent his playing career in England, recently moved to Rome -- not to transfer to one of the Italian capital’s famous soccer clubs, but to undergo training to become a Catholic priest.

His extraordinary story was revealed by former teammate Paul McVeigh, who played with Mulryne after he moved from United to Norwich City, and is now a popular media pundit.

"Unfortunately Phil struggled with injuries towards the end of his career," McVeigh said. "(He) decided to stop playing and move back to Belfast and try and decide what he'd do with the rest of his days. To my amazement, and most likely to the rest of the footballing fraternity, Phil decided to train to become a Catholic priest.

"I was still in contact with him and knew that he had turned his life around and was doing a lot of charitable work and helping the homeless on a weekly basis. Still, it was a complete shock that he felt that this was his calling."

Mulryne's lifestyle change is all the more remarkable because of how he previously lived his life and the perception of him as a popular, colorful character at every club where he played. His former girlfriend is Nicola Chapman, an ex-model who starred in a reality TV show called Real Footballers' Wives in 2005 and was recently voted as one of the best-looking soccer WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of all time.

However, while his former colleagues have been taken by surprise, many have sent messages of support to him as he embarks upon a life of religious service. McVeigh, who visited Mulryne in Rome, was delighted with his friend’s sense of purpose and wellbeing.

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"I know for a fact that this is not something he took lightly," McVeigh said. "The training to be ordained as a Catholic priest consists of a two-year philosophy degree, followed by a four-year theology degree and only after that will he be finally qualified as a priest. When I arrived in Rome I was met by a very contented looking Phil, who took me back to the college where he will be based for the next four years."

Mulryne came through the tanks at United and played in the club's youth team with Beckham and England internationals Gary and Phil Neville, and Paul Scholes. He made just one first team appearance under Sir Alex Ferguson, but spent six solid seasons at Norwich, before bouncing down the leagues towards the end of his career.

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