Know the score

They can run, but they can't hide: global fame comes at a price for today's football superstars, as Alan Hansen reveals
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Alan Hansen recently went to a concert where he spotted a woman being mobbed by autograph hunters. Who was this icon of celebrity? A Spice Girl? Madonna? Er, no, it was Michael Owen's mum. "Is that fame, or what?" asks an incredulous Hansen. Owen himself is no longer able to visit Liverpool city centre, as doing so would cause a public disturbance. When he shops in his nearest town, Chester, he has to build an extra 40 minutes into the trip for signing autographs.

Hansen himself is not immune to that sort of attention. "I went skiing in Vail, Colorado," he recalls, "and when I was waiting for a bus, an American woman came up to me and asked, `Are you who I think you are?' She knew me from Match of the Day. At seven o'clock every morning in Vail, her husband goes on the Internet to talk to fellow fans about Chelsea."

These anecdotes emphasise that football has become another branch of the global showbiz machine - a state of affairs Hansen examines in a one- off BBC1 documentary, Football Millionaires. One of an estimated 70 millionaires in the Premiership, David Beckham's annual income is equivalent to the total wage-bill for Charlton Athletic's first-team squad. It's certainly a world of haves and have-nots; Hansen hears about one of Beckham's former teammates from the Manchester United youth squad who is now plying his trade as a car mechanic.

"With David Beckham and Michael Owen, you're talking rock stars," says Hansen. "They've got the same profile. But whereas a pop star can go and hide away for six months, the likes of Beckham and Owen can't because they play for up to 10 months of the year. They have to train and be in a certain place at a certain time on matchdays, so they're easier to keep in the public eye.

"Football is so in fashion at the moment. At Tony Adams's book launch, one in three journalists had nothing to do with football. That never used to happen. When I was captain of the Liverpool team going for Doubles between 1986 and 1990, I'd do three or four TV interviews a year. Now players can do that in a day."

In the Premiership, where the average wage is pounds 200,000 a year, players can be made for life after just five years. "When I played, it used to be 50 years," Hansen laughs, ruefully. Not that he has done badly in the eight years since he stopped playing. He has made his name as the most astute pundit around, one of the few former professionals prepared to tell it like it is and criticise current players.

"If you have the credibility of having done it yourself, then you can speak your mind," says the man whose sideboard is groaning under the weight of the eight League Championship, two FA Cup, three European Cup and four League Cup medals he won during his 14 years with Liverpool. "You can't afford to go in for over-the-top character assassinations, but if you're honest, it's all right. The public aren't idiots; they know if a game's bad. My motto is `say it as you see it' - that's the only way."

His plain-speaking has made Hansen something of a cult hero. Advertisers have even turned his Match of the Day mantra - "terrible defending" - into a catchphrase. "People have latched onto that," the man who started his career at Partick Thistle sighs, good-naturedly, "but when they say it to me in the street, they usually try a hopeless Scottish accent. I have to tell them it's not even close. Taxi drivers, too, also go on about `shocking defending'. I can't get into a cab without the driver giving me half an hour on what's wrong with his team."

To underline the fact that there is indeed no rest for the wicked, Hansen has gone straight on to make a documentary for the BBC about the US Masters golf tournament, to be broadcast next month. He had better watch out; if his profile gets any higher, he won't be able to visit Liverpool city centre, either.

`Football Millionaires' Tue 10.30pm on BBC1