On the surface, being paid millions of pounds to play a sport you love while receiving worldwide admiration is a pretty good deal. In the card game of life, the deck is definitely stacked in favor of Premier League footballers.
The average wage in the English top flight is £30,000 per week. That's around £3,500 higher than the average annual wage in the UK.
Some players earn far in excess of this figure. When he threatened to leave Manchester Utd, Wayne Rooney's remuneration package was improved to a sum conservatively estimated at around £180,000 per week.
Eden Hazard is barely 22 years old, but is thought to be one of the league's best-paid players, taking in £185,000 every seven days. That means he earns £18 per minute, night and day.
It may be difficult to sympathise with a person doing their dream job while earning obscene money, but a new report suggests that Premier League paychecks can be hugely problematic.
Research by Xpro—a charity for former players—claims that three out of every five Premier League players declare bankruptcy after retirement.
According to The Independent, such figures are mirrored in American professional sports, too. In 2009, a report found a whopping 78 percent of NFL players went bankrupt or suffered "financial stress" within two years of retirement. Sixty percent of NBA stars lost all their money within five years.
So, why do so many Premiership players find financial hardship after living a life of excess and splendour?
Part of the reason must be that the excess and splendour are unsustainable for a career that can seldom extend beyond a player's mid-30s. Thierry Henry rebuilt his mansion with a four-storey aquarium running through it in a city in which he doesn't live or work. Stephen Ireland has more gauche customised vehicles than he has terrible excesses for not playing for Ireland. And the less said about Mario Balotelli's rumored statue, the better.
It is perfectly acceptable for footballers to spend their disposable income in this way, but when the five-figure checks stop arriving, it can be difficult to adapt to a more mundane lifestyle.
Teenagers are made into millionaires, then given very little financial advice to prepare them for life after football.
Some years ago I worked for a "luxury lifestyle" magazine owned by some former players. It was distributed only to professional footballers and other "high net worth" individuals—you essentially had to be invited to read it. Every few pages contained an advertisement for a yacht or jewellery that cost more than the average home. We wrote about diamond-encrusted golf balls, beautiful exclusive sports cars and various unnecessary high-end services.
It was a great magazine (with excellent writers!) which also offered some information about financial services and planning, but the luxury goods it purveyed were typical of the lifestyle expected of a top-flight footballer.
A luxury watch consultant at Knightsbridge department store Harrods once told me he sold a particular timepiece to a Premier League player. When his colleagues saw it at training, several of his them came into the store to ask for an even more expensive version. This kind of ostentatiousness and competitiveness happened frequently at Harrods.
Keeping up with the Joneses in this manner can be a risky game when one hasn't planned for one's retirement.
There are countless high profile examples of footballers who have declared bankruptcy, thanks to various vices or poor planning. Paul Merson went broke in 2007, having gambled an estimated £7 million.
Celestine Babayaro could no longer maintain his £475,000 Middlesex mansion when the creditors came chasing up debts in 2011.
John Arne Riise—a man with so little concern for his finances that he allowed his payslip to be leaked online—was declared broke at age 26 with debts of around £100,000, while still playing for Liverpool!
Of course, there are plenty of players who plan adequately for their post-playing days. Robbie Fowler is now worth £28 million, having wisely invested in around 80 properties. He's now even offering a workshop for others to learn his property secrets.
While I was studying to become a journalist, a former Premiership striker and a Championship midfielder were in my classroom aiming to have something to fall back on in their post-playing careers. One of them now has a regular column in a tabloid newspaper while still playing.
Yet for every successful property investor or pundit, there are countless footballers who find themselves with no skills and no earning potential after retirement. If they have taken bad investment advice or spent most of their fortune, times are difficult.
Until football's governing bodies take greater care to ensure professional players are educated in financial responsibility—or they are forced to lock away a certain percentage of their wealth until they retire—the bankruptcy statistics are unlikely to change.
As difficult as it is to feel sympathetic for millionaires, nobody likes to see someone set up for failure.
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