By Gareth Farrelly
The salaries at the top of the game have become very substantial. This has fuelled the misconception that all players are set for life. The reality is very different with many suffering financial difficulties once their careers are over.
Firstly, there are only a few players that earn the salaries seen in the newspapers. Less than 2% of players earn more than $720,000 (£500k) a year while nearly half earn less than $1,000 (£700) a month according to FIFPRO research. And players’ peak earnings will last a few years at best.
Secondly, there is a hugely overlooked problem of mis-selling of financial products by advisers that players believed they could trust. Every so often an example of this pops up in the media, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, and it is still happening today.
I deal with it every day in my role as a sports lawyer.
A 2018 Guardian article reported that an accountant with knowledge of this area believes approximately 500 former players from the first generation to play in the Premier League may have lost up to £1bn because of disastrous investments.
The knock-on effects of this on lives go far beyond money and can have devastating consequences causing problems with mental health, relationships and addiction.
Why are players so frequently victims of these situations?
To reach the professional ranks and stay there requires a certain level of dedication, resilience and focus. To meet those demands they often choose to leave matters away from the pitch to people around them such as family members, friends, entourage and supposed professionals.
However, this trust can be misguided and abused.
Advisers may be referred by someone close to them, but that person can have conflicts of interest and bad intentions. These people get through because they can be very convincing, taking advantage of the players lack of financial sophistication and understanding.
A culture of invulnerability in football means nobody wants to admit what they don’t know. This makes the dressing room a fertile recruitment ground.
In many cases, players may meet their advisor once or twice a year and will be shown glowing reports or given a picture of what their financial position is, which turn out to be false or misrepresentative of the true position.
When they retire and need access to that hard-earned money, they receive a huge shock when they find out it was not as presented. Meanwhile, the adviser has been living the lifestyle, profiting off the player, without any of the risk.
Many players don’t speak up about what has happened to them, even hiding it from their families, as they are embarrassed and try to deal with it without support. One outcome of this is other players don’t learn from that experience and fall into the same trap.
The ones that do take action to try to recover their money through the legal system usually have little understanding as to the costs involved. Often, they don’t have the resources to pursue these people or there’s no point because they have cleverly ensured they don’t have any assets in their name that can be claimed against, as they knew what might happen.
Prevention is always better than cure. At Player 4 Player we have a unique experience in dealing with these complex issues and are raising players’ awareness and understanding, so they can ask the right questions and oversee the people advising them. They are a constant target for unscrupulous individuals and need protecting.
There are even certain people still prominent in the game after having a catastrophic impact on their previous clients. When this is pointed out, players still want to work with them as these people are very persuasive and sell hope. They may articulately side-step any concerns or scrutiny with excuses such as “disgruntled player”, “move went wrong”, “blamed me!”
In many cases, the player who is now financially compromised has helped. recruit their next batch of clients! They are salesmen, hustlers at best, negligent and calculated at worst.
Player 4 Player’s aim is to empower players to create a barrier around themselves that these advisors can’t penetrate. Other players will then see this example as best practice and replicate the same approach.
We don’t want to be here in 10 years with players still leaving the game and trying to recover from receiving devastating news when the truth of their financial position is revealed.
What Players Can Do
Players need to take responsibility for ensuring their interests are being protected. They need to be engaged and know how to check and review what people are doing on their behalf. If those people are the real deal then they will have no problem with the extra supervision, and it would be a warning sign if they are against it.
Players should take their time before getting involved in anything, even if it seems a great opportunity, and get advice from a professional who is independent from anyone around them.
The right advice is out there but as a player your focus is the game. This is your blind spot and what makes you vulnerable.
Choose your role models, mentors and trusted counsel very carefully.
Even the longest careers will end with more than half of your life ahead of you where you won’t be a player anymore. This is easy to forget when you have been in football since a young age and sheltered from reality of the outside world. The less prepared you are the more ruthless the transition.
It is important to recognise your income will likely fall substantially when you hang up your boots even if your next career is successful. Your lifestyle whilst playing should not be consuming all your income. It is important to understand the value of money and secure a significant proportion of your wages for you and your family’s future lifestyle.
If players do all this then they have an excellent opportunity for them and their family to be in a strong financial position when they retire. If they don’t, they may realise it is too late.
We are happy to speak with anyone who wants to know more and become better informed.