Many premier league players go from hero to zero after retirement
LONDON LETTER:Soccer players often find themselves broke after their careers end
Footballers in England have faced accusations that they have been paid too much ever since Johnny Haynes became the first to be paid £100 a week in 1961, once the £20-a-week ceiling had been abolished.
Today, a statue stands outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground to the inside-forward, a Fulham loyalist for all of his career once described by Pele as the finest passer of a ball he had ever seen.
Some of those now coming to Craven Cottage are getting paid hundreds of pounds a minute to don a club’s colours, including some who starred for Manchester United in this week’s Champions League battle with Real Madrid.
Millions cheered every attack, lived every tackle, investing their hopes in the actions of mostly 20-year-olds, but, in time, the applause for those players will end. Five years later many of them will be in financial trouble, some of them bankrupt, unless lessons are learned. Bankruptcy specialists, RSM Tenon this week warned that three out of every five run into problems: some because they spent everything on wine, women and song, while others fall because of investments that turned sour.
Three years ago, the average salary of a Premier League player was £1.47 million a year, 56 times the average British wage, points out RSM Tenon’s Mark Sands, and it has risen further since then.
Blaming “unsustainable consumption”, “falling incomes” and bad investments, Sands goes on: “However, as their wages have increased so have the number who become insolvent and we have certainly had an increase in the last three years.” One had bought buy-to-let flats during his playing days, leaving them in the charge of a friend who went missing, leaving the player with nothing.
Currently, Sands says he has 10 footballers on his books “not all of them Premier League” – some used to earning tens if not hundreds of thousands per week – who will have to be taken through bankruptcy proceedings.
“People don’t plan for retirement. Then they don’t adjust to the changed circumstances that occur after their playing career ends, while the clubs don’t do anything to prepare them for life afterwards,” he told The Irish Times.
The RSM research – or, at least, the use of it by a new footballers’ charity called XPro – has irked the Professional Footballers’ Association, the traditional guardians of players’ interests in the British game. However, the argument comes down to an interpretation of the words “financial difficulties”, since PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor accepts between 10 and 20 per cent go bankrupt, but that others have problems short of bankruptcy.
“I have to be careful what I say about agents, but they are there during the good times and they’re a bit like butterflies in the bad times. All the players come on to the PFA for advice when things have gone badly wrong,” said Taylor.
Recent casualties include Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, now on the subs bench at the north London club, if still highly regarded, to Liverpool’s John Arne Riise, or former Aston Villa star, Lee Hendrie.
Hendrie has been more public than most. He ended up owning HM Revenue and Customs £200,000 – earning few favours with the taxman when letters to the former player’s Solihull home went unanswered. Unlike some, Hendrie had tried to make plans. He invested in a tax-efficient scheme, but it was subsequently declared out of bounds, while other investments in property and film had gone south. In his heyday, Hendrie earned up to £40,000-a-week, but even the sale of his £1.7 million house, complete with 3½ acres of gardens, six bedrooms, five bathrooms and a refurbished cellar bar was not enough to keep him in the black.
For him, the path to decline began in 2007 when Villa released him: periods with Blackpool and Leicester followed, then an unsuccessful spell at Derby County and a 12-match stint with Bradford City before they let him go.
In the meantime, property investments worth £10 million collapsed, including a house he bought for his mother when he was the toast of Villa’s Holte End fans.
Suicide attempts followed, then the bankruptcy, but Hendrie is showing signs that his darkest days are behind him with his involvement in Footiebugs, a sport company which wants to encourage children to play football.
“FootieBugs prides itself on being able to do more than help produce the next David Beckham, more than just teach children the core skills to be a good footballer; it prides itself in working in partnership with the whole family,” says the business.
Hendrie, however, is not typical. Some players – the ones who do not make the transition to TV, or to business – “end up running pubs” in little-known places bereft of the applause, but living on old dreams.
“You only hear about the major failures – the ones who have enough assets to make it worthwhile bankrupting.
“Many don’t even end up with that, it just all dribbles away,” says Sands.