Surge in top footballers facing bankruptcy
It's well documented, and it's hard to deny, that footballers make a lot of money. However, what many forget is that away from the glitzy, glamorous lifestyle, the reality for many players once they retire is very different; the reality of life after football for most players is altogether rather challenging and for many, financial issues could be lurking around the corner.
Yet, many people are quick to judge and simply put the increased number of bankruptcy within the sports industry down to the lack of players' intelligence; which is not only unfair but there's also far more to it. The route to bankruptcy for many is often complicated but with footballers clear patterns have emerged. It is rarely due to a failed business, but is frequently down to astounding over-spending, poor investment choices and a failure to keep the taxman happy.
The combination of young and rich has an allure for those wishing to sell investments that pay a fat margin - be it investments that dubiously promise to reduce tax bills or simply property that is wildly over-priced. Speaking from own experience, one of the main issues is that players rely too much on the advice given to them without knowing what's actually going on. Some may put it down to ignorance and a lack of interest but it's not that simple. Players signs up to schemes that promises them large reductions in tax bills, because financial advisers targeted high-earning footballers and all of a sudden, it becomes a culture within the game. For example, a few years ago, many entered into these because they saw their teammates doing it; they considered their job was on the pitch, and their advisers were looking after them off it.
Lack of support
Today, a staggering number of footballers are faced with sever financial difficulties and unfortunately, rather than talking to my ex-colleagues about the great times we had, this has become the topic of conversation. No one is looking for sympathy but I do believe that something needs to be done to properly address these issues to prevent the number of bankruptcy and insolvencies from increasing even further.
Although one has to be careful with what we say about the role of players' agents in their financial dealings, but some of them have a tendency to be there during the good times and a bit like butterflies in the bad times.
Xpro, the charity for ex-players, has released figures suggesting that three in five Premier League footballers face bankruptcy within five years of retiring from the game - the fact that many multi-millionaire players fall on hard times is not in question.
America has got it even worse where a report found 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of quitting. In the NBA, 60% are broke within five years. Alarming to say the least.
The reasons on both sides of the Atlantic are multifarious but it tends to boil down to one thing: bad advice. Many players make bad investments without knowing what they're ploughing their cash into.
Learning to Move on
Fame and wealth can be temporary. A football career isn't likely to last as long as one would like and therefore, the importance of planning ahead can't be stressed enough; although sometimes a difficult reality to accept.
However, the lack of structure has much to do with the problems athletes face after football, but their personalities create issues as well. Football players are hard-wired to focus on one game at a time, to dismiss potential distractions and quickly forget about costly mistakes. This is a trait that won't just disappear the day you hang up your boots and unfortunately may come with a very high price tag.
Another important point worth highlighting is that most footballers fall into a group who aren't as well educated as other rich people around them and may have role models who aren't always the best examples. Insolvencies among former football stars are mounting despite the recent spiralling wages in the top flight. Quite often it's players who have failed to readjust their spending and lifestyles when their earnings fall towards the end of their career that will end up in trouble.
I suppose you get used to having the niceties of life and doing the things that the average person can't do. Football is known for that: nice cars, nice houses, nice holiday, nice clothes. It's easily done when you've got the money yet very difficult to give up even thought you know you can't afford it anymore.
Players always say the football field is a safe haven; that you can go there and block everything else out. But what do you do when that's gone and you have to deal with life? It can be a double-edged sword. I tell people all the time that you can retire from football but you can't retire from living. Trying to adjust once you retired is simply too late.
We're not here to judge who's spending their money the right way or the wrong way; I'm the first one to admit that footballers will always be big spenders. However, by creating an environment where independent reliable advice is easily available, whether that's for properly, investment funds, how much should be spent on cars, gadgets, or anything else, this will allow players to plan ahead in an easy straight forward way. The reason this isn't happening today, is that too many players have been burnt already and as a result, the trust is gone; and so far, no one has bothered to try to amend this breakdown.
And I've been the target myself - investing in what was meant to be a 'water-proof' scheme that ended up costing me a lot of money. Realising that this is something that happens all the time, led me to set up Axis Stars, a new initiative designed to protect players and vulnerable sports millionaires from inscrutable and opportunistic advisers. Players need help but up until now, there's been a complete and utter lack of it and we only hear about the issues once it's too late.
Our aim is to help drastically reduce the terrifying number of sports professionals go bankrupt after retirement - this number should be so small that it's not worth talking about.
Only advisers or companies recommended by our users and who have passed a vetting procedure will be admitted to the site. The idea is that internal discussion among users (as clients) will regulate the industry by allowing them to advise each other on good service and flag unknowns and charlatans: Green is standard, yellow and red is something new where you have to be careful.
It's important to note that we're not saying "don't spend" but what we're saying is "spend wisely"; it is about saving, about being sensible, about being careful - it's about not expecting to have the same lifestyle after that final whistle.
Not everybody can adapt but to have an exit strategy is important.