The high wages of top-flight footballers in many ways crystallise the moral failings of contemporary society: an obsession with self, celebrity and ego. These are unified, magnified and propagated by cash; or rather the ostentatious display of wealth and status footballers feel they must display.
Is it possible to turn this around without challenging the primacy of market forces which dominate football? I’d like to suggest that there is, that financial education and financial coaching could help young footballers develop a more positive relationship with money. What is more, given the role-model status of top players and top clubs, this could even nudge some young fans to think differently about money – and in so doing, think differently about themselves.
Such riches permeate down to the lower leagues, with former Scottish international, Paul Dickov telling the football website Outsideoftheboot “We now even see League One youngsters coming in to training in a Range Rover Sport.” As the Celtic manager Brendan Rogers says the glamour of “walking around with a Louis Vuitton soap bag”is all too appealing for young players. The puffing of the ego through such conspicuous consumption is bloated still further by social media.
But positive and practical changes are possible. There is an opportunity here for clubs to broaden and deepen their approach to coaching. In particular they could include financial education and mentoring in their development of young players. Asex-Leicester City defender, Gerry Taggart, comments “I don’t know how much education they are getting. Especially when they’re going to get so much money at a young age after signing a contract” (ooblink). The answer would appear to be: not much financial education. This can be rectified relatively easily.
Money seminars could include practical content such as budgeting, financial planning, saving, investing and pensions. While all of these are necessary for financial fulfilment, they are not sufficient. What these young players also need is coaching in howthey respond emotionally to money – especially to suddenly becoming very rich. Money coaching encourages individuals to reflect upon how they behave around money – and offers tools, techniques and tips in how they go about improving their emotional relationship with money.
It is possible that this combination of practical and emotional money skills can create a well-rounded appreciation of the positive energy around money. Given that footballers have a relatively short earning career, a clear goal is to use money to support financial independence over the longer term. But money, especially the amounts many footballers earn, could add depth and breadth to the lives of footballers in many other ways. They could, for example, use it to start businesses, support charities or support third sector organisations. A combination of these might well provide a psychological as well as a financial return.
Another (indirect) outcome is how the actions around money displayed by a few hundred gifted young footballers might encourage young fans to question their own relationship to money.
Of course, a football star turning up to training in a Ford Fiesta rather than a Ferrari is not going to change consumer culture on its own, but it would certainly give the player in question more disposable income to save or invest and it just might stop some young people going into debt by making status related purchases.
Challenging the prevailing football orthodoxy around money won’t be easy, but as one of the games deepest thinkers, Arsene Wenger, who managed Arsenal from 1996-2018 is often quoted as saying “If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.”