When it comes to footballers and their finances, many of us will have seen a figure quoted at some point or another which claims that three out of every five Premier League players go bankrupt within five years of retirement. But how many of us have looked further into this research? Be honest, have you EVER read the research in full? I have spent 10 years trying to find it…
Where Has this Statistic Come From?
As is astonishingly clear, many different websites and online newspapers have cited a statistic from XPro, a former charity for ex-players, which claimed that three in five (or 40%) of Premier League players go bankrupt within five years of retirement. XPro said this 10 years ago in 2013.
It is repeated and repeated, with Schroders (conveniently an investment company) quoting it in 2021. I have seen it in “financial education” presentations too. Let’s be honest, most people working anywhere near football have seen it dozens of times.
It is incredibly easy to find this figure but there appears to be no trace of the original research itself.
How many people using this statistic have seen the study behind it?
The reason why this is so important is that we need to look at how this statistic has been formed. For example, how big was XPro’s sample size – did they look at all former Premier League players since its formation in 1992? And how long did former players have to play in the Premier League in order to be included in these statistics?
In 2013, Gordon Taylor, at the time head of the Professional Footballers Association disputed these figures from XPro, believing the ‘real’ number of former players becoming bankrupt to be between 10% and 20%.
When is the Cut-Off Point?
When conducting research on football bankruptcy, it is imperative that there is a cut-off point, i.e, if someone has a two-year career in the Premier League and then goes bankrupt ten years later, can this be included in any kind of statistic?
Naturally, the next question here is, when should this cut-off point be? (For XPro, this cut-off point was five years after retirement from the Premier League.) At what point can we no longer link the bankruptcy of former players to football itself? 1 year is very different to 10.
Footballers are Targets
Many financial advisers and agents are drawn to the high earnings of people who play football professionally, often times giving them poor advice without the person’s best interests in mind, such as luring them into high-risk investments. This is often given as a reason for high levels of former-player bankruptcy.
However, far more dangerously in my opinion, is the Pygmalion effect from repeating this statistic on a loop. Isn’t the constant reinforcement of what might be seen as a negative, especially to young people aspiring to make sports their preferred career choice, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Tell a young person often enough they are going to mess up and see what happens!
Of course, for the salespeople using this 40% figure of former-player bankruptcy to incentivise their own financial products or services, it is an easy shot isn’t it? “If you want to avoid becoming part of this statistic, you best invest with me!”
Hasn’t the world changed in 10 years?
Even if the XPro statistic was true in 2013 (please do send me the full research if you have it), hasn’t the world moved on?
Maggie Thatcher died, an average house in London cost £370,000, Sir Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United and Jeff Bezos was only worth about $50 billion. Oh, and Red Star Education started!
The lifeskills and player care community has grown and developed hugely since 2013 so regardless of its authenticity (or not) should anyone still be quoting a statistic about former-player bankruptcy that takes NO account of these developments?