Even though they can amass great fortunes during their careers, many professional footballers face the grim prospect of bankruptcy when they hang up their boots.
“To be honest with you, maybe 10% of the players I know in the Premier Soccer League [PSL] are making plans for life after football,” says Kaizer Chiefs star Bernard Parker.
With multibillion rand sponsorship and broadcast deals flooding the PSL, many players are earning impressive salaries and living the high life – but most of them fail to ensure they’ll be comfortable when their all-too short careers come to an end.
Parker first saw the value of investing in his future when he made the move abroad to FC Twente in the Netherlands in 2009. “All of a sudden I was earning foreign currency and the bank called me when it noticed the activity in my account,” he says.
“It set up a meeting with a financial planner and he explained the impact of my income and the importance of taking out policies and making provisions for the future – that’s when it all made sense. I’d had a few misadventures before then and wasted a lot of money, but once I was willing to listen to that guidance, I understood that there are a lot of people who depend on me.
“If I’m left with nothing, there are a whole lot of people behind me who are affected too and I needed to be more responsible”. He’s subsequently ventured into the property investment space and is looking to add to the three properties he currently owns.
He’s had a few business proposals, but will concentrate on those when his career draws to a close and he can pay proper attention to making them successful.
Head of SA Football at Prosport International, Alban Newman – who represents many of the country’s top players, including Parker – advises all his clients to consider their futures. “I’m not qualified as a financial adviser myself, but our team does put our clients in touch with reputable people and companies who are qualified to advise them,” he says.
“We also sit in any meetings that take place between our clients and their advisers because we know the specifics of their contracts and have worked with them to map out plans for their footballing futures”.
Most of us come from very poor backgrounds, so once you get that money in your hand, you go crazy.
Parker says that since he saw the light, he’s worked extensively with the Prosport International team to look at different options for life outside football – which he hopes is still a while away yet.
“Prosport have come up with a lot of guidance and ideas on what I can do and we discuss a lot of possibilities. They give me a lot of support. I play open cards with them and they do the same with me,” he says. “It’s important for an agent to remind players that there’s life after the game.
You almost need to plan for two different lives – during football, you earn a regular income and have sponsorship deals, but then after the game, there’s no guarantee of a regular income unless you plan ahead. Agents should sit on their players’ necks – most of the guys just don’t care!”
Newman says that many of the younger players today are more inclined to listen to advice about planning for life after football – but only, unfortunately, due to the number of stories out there of successful players who’ve found themselves with nothing after retiring.
Part of Parker’s contract at FC Twente was a monthly league-mandated deduction from all players’ salaries, which as put towards securing their post-game well-being – something that doesn’t happen in SA.
“I wish the PSL would do something similar for all players.
When I left to come back home, I got paid out a lump sum and you realise what a difference a little planning can make,” he says. Newman agrees that there’s a need for a more formal structure.
“From the player himself to his parents, his agent, clubs, the PSL and the South African Football Association – everyone should be playing a role in educating footballers about the importance of planning for the future.”
Parker says that in his experience, players from Europe are incredibly disciplined, which is why they’re successful both on the field and off it.
“It’s hard for us Africans to have discipline in the financial space. Most of us come from very poor backgrounds, so once you get that money in your hand, you go crazy,” he says.
Parker says the key advice he offers youngsters is that all the flashy trappings of success will come if they apply themselves properly.
“Starting off as a young player, you see the cars, the clothes and the houses the senior players have and your first instinct is to match them – but it will come if you plan properly,” he says. “Get a firm foundation. Get a roof over your head. Pay your house off. Anything can happen in football – and, if it does, at least you have a solid base that you can use to move on with your life.”
He says it’s a tougher sell getting players to focus on education, which is especially important if a career is cut short by injury. “Most of us just want to play. A lot of the guys never took education seriously,” he says. “It’s probably as important to be wise, open-minded and look at the opportunities that come your way. It’s up to the players to decide what advice they want to take. If you have a strong business mind, apply it and you’ll do OK. If you go back to school, good for you. If you’re lucky enough, you can even do both.”
Parker says the best advice he received from his financial adviser was about preparing for his kids’ future. “I was advised to take out a scholarship policy which will look after my boys’ education.
Now, no matter what, when they’re ready to go to university, it’s all covered and I don’t have to worry about providing for them that way,” he says.