It is an ambition of many young athletes to become a professional superstar in their field, and when it happens, it is truly a dream come true. The meteoric rise to success is usually coupled with a plethora of riches both in terms of personal status and financial wealth. However all too often, both of these are decimated as quickly as they came. Although the public will revel in blaming the player's demise on a lavish lifestyle few can afford, many downfalls are a result of impressionable young athletes taking advice from supposedly reputable advisors who in reality have the ethics of a common criminal.
Lack of Support
The rise and fall of professional sports stars is a journey that the vast majority of the population will never really be able to comprehend, nor are they overly interested. The public's main focus is justifiably focused around the entertainment a particular sport entails. Unfortunately I could create an 'all-star' fantasy football team consisting of bankrupt former global superstars. A fall from grace remains a firm tabloid favourite, and no matter what the mitigating factors may be in the player's personal life, the public somehow continues to enjoy mass vilification. Many of the problems behind the scenes are rarely fully examined when the climatic headline breaks, but if the media were to ever bother scratching the surface they would find many poor decisions taken by athletes are as a result of poor advice by trusting the wrong people. However the public have to appreciate the mindset of players, and the impact their personal life has on their playing, (or to put crudely in this example) their entertainment potential.
Mental Toughness Makes Top Footballers
Having established the two are inextricably linked, let's delve into the raison d'etre of a professional sportsperson. They are consumed by competiveness. From a young age their life has focused around improving faster than the competition, and they are obsessive in pursuing this goal. The Olympic motto sums up the mindset in beautiful simplicity - Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger. This primordial focus on being the very best drives me to this day. As a player I was intent on keeping my place in the squad; scoring as many goals from as many starts; impressing the manager and entertaining fans. I gave very little thought to much else outside of this, a lot of which seemed irrelevant at the time.
As in all aspects of life, mistakes are made from time to time. In modern day business practice, mistakes are analysed and rectified in a very open and understanding way as to improve a process and the business as a whole. Unfortunately due to the macho bravado and competitiveness associated with the world of professional sports, players tend to live within a very thick bubble where they show little emotion. When things start to go wrong on and off the pitch, sportspeople can become isolated and distant, as not to tarnish their ego or perceived control. Unfortunately this has the effect of not sharing experiences of bad business practices with other players, perhaps when the solidarity of the teammates around you matters most. It is at this time players are at their most vulnerable, and often turn to unscrupulous agents or player liaisons for advice. As mentioned previously, many of the monetary aspects outside of the game are trusted to others. When teammates are reluctant to say when they have been caught out, it leaves those who do not have the best interests of the players at heart to continue unregulated and unrepentant.
Why then are these supposed 'experts' still employed by professional footballers who's salaries can easily cover the fees of the best financial consultants? Many footballers are from deprived backgrounds, and when they sign a multimillion-pound contract it can literally turn their life around overnight. It's like winning the lottery every week until the player's career is up. Some players can earn 100 times more in a week than their parents did in a year. Fast cars and big houses are purchased not only to reward loved ones, but also to stay competitive in yet another competition - dressing room one-upmanship. Little regard is given for tomorrow.
As soon as the money starts rolling in however, you are also met by a long line of people who are eager to get their hands on it too. As many players are not from privileged backgrounds, there is a great deal of naivety associated with financial planning. Many advisors will approach players in order to offer them a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to make a quick buck. I, like many others athletes, have been conned in the past by people who simply use you as a cash machine and have nothing of substance to offer in return. In my 15-year career, the greatest lesson I learnt was never to trust anyone on their word alone.
As can be seen, a picture is emerging about the personality of a professional athlete. The prodigious talent, who although is good, wants to be the best. The talent which can earn a vast sum of money in a short space of time, but a background which renders them incapable of investing their earnings for the long term independently. A 'devil may care' approach to spending in the short term to keep a competitive edge in the dressing room, and a fear to loose face in front of teammates or the public if a business deal turns sour. It is a dangerous concoction in terms of financial planning and trusting the right people. Footballers have a tendency not to foresee the inevitable end of their career, which can be all too abrupt on account of an injury. Income nosedives and players don't want to give up the lifestyle they have all too readily become accustomed too. The rest, as they say, is history.
So where then does a young athlete turn to for advice in an industry riddled with corruption? I often wondered this throughout my playing years, and have now made it my business to redress the balance of power and ensure transparency. My new company, AxisStars.com, has recruited established sportsmen like Didier Drogba, Mo Farah, Boris Diaw and Gary Neville to break down the barriers regarding speaking to colleagues about problems, and to offer mentorship to young athletes. We are establishing lists of companies which we have vetted and trust to provide advice and services, and we hope to establish a culture of prudent financial planning amongst the next generation of sports stars. Cultural change takes time, but we are committed to ensuring the athletes of tomorrow do business in a protected environment, and the only stories about them will be about success on the field, and not of a fall from grace off it.