Why do so many footballers end up broke? FourFourTwo investigates...

It’s the unseen epidemic: the game’s young, rich and famous ending up penniless. Alec Fenn investigates how excess, addiction and divorce is leading former millionaires to financial ruin  

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A footballer who played for three of the game’s biggest clubs sobs after learning he’ll soon be made bankrupt. The chairman of a Premier League outfit sighs, before granting his captain an advance on his wages for the last time following another costly defeat at the roulette table. Inside a court, a player pleads with a judge to reduce his child maintenance payments after frittering away his fortune.

These are not plot lines from an episode of Footballers’ Wives, but real stories unfolding in the private lives of three players currently in English football. Forty per cent of their trade suffer from financial problems during their careers and then in retirement. But when the average annual wage of a Premier League footballer is so vast, how on earth do so many fall upon hard times?

For some, the problems begin with the adrenaline rush of signing their first professional contract. A Liverpool player recently tore open the envelope of his first wage packet and headed straight to a car dealership close to the club’s Melwood training ground. He agreed to buy a brand new Range Rover on finance, only to later find out that he couldn't afford the repayments.

Thankfully, we had a good relationship with the garage in question and they were willing to take the car back

- Peter Fairchild

Liverpool were made aware of his mistake and so called in Peter Fairchild, a private client tax adviser who offers financial advice to academy prospects at Premier League and Football League clubs, to sit down with the player. “He got confused between his net and his gross income,” he explains to FourFourTwo. “I had to tell him what he would be earning after the taxman had taken his share. Thankfully, we had a good relationship with the garage in question and they were willing to take the car back.”

Fairchild believes peer pressure plays a big factor in the financial mistakes made by young players. “They see a fleet of shiny cars at the training ground and don’t want to be seen driving a Fiat Punto,” he continues. Former Everton prodigy Danny Cadamarteri made his debut at 17 and had a similar experience across Stanley Park. “I saw wealthy players buying their designer wash bags and new cars and felt I had to keep up with them,” he tells FFT. “It’s easy to get caught up in it all.”

danny cadamarteri

Danny Cadamarteri in his early days at Everton

His youthful indulgences seem fairly insignificant compared to a high-profile Premier League star on the books of a London club. The 24-year-old earns a reported £35,000 per week, but he struggles to make ends meet at the end of the month having agreed to pay handsome salaries to family, friends and acquaintances, who carry out a variety of jobs within his entourage.

Bad investments

For football’s high rollers, real friends can be hard to find. Agents, financial advisors and businessmen often seek to befriend players before promising to multiply their earnings in return for sizeable investments. “At one stage I had 30 offers from different people in front of me,” the former Manchester United, Everton and Spurs striker Louis Saha tells FFT. “When you’re a player, you don’t have the time to do your research properly and determine who to trust. It’s hard to say: ‘No, I don’t want to invest.’”

The 38-year-old has first-hand experience of being burnt by bad financial advice. A few years ago he was persuaded to invest money in a scheme operated by a UK bank, which promised to recover tax if he invested in certain technology companies. The dividends failed to materialise. “I ended up losing a six-figure sum,” admits Saha. “After that I began to worry about money, I knew I had to be more careful.”

Louis Saha

Saha, pictured at Michael Carrick's testimonial, had his fingers burned in the past

He isn’t the only one to be tempted by lucrative-looking schemes. One Premier League footballer came close to parting with £100,000 in a property development in Morocco that had been recommended to him by a team-mate.

“I told him to look the place up on Google Earth – he didn’t even know where it was,” says Fairchild. “To get there you had to fly to Marrakesh, then get another internal flight, followed by a three-hour drive to the location. I said: ‘How are you going to get your workforce and building materials there for a start?’ He didn’t invest, but others did and lost money.”