From scoresheets to spreadsheets: welcome to the corporate world of the pinstripe player

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The Independent Football

Top-class football and the men who play it is suddenly changing very fast.

Top-class football and the men who play it is suddenly changing very fast.

The image of the spoilt-brat-£40,000-a-week player splurging his sudden wealth on fast cars and huge homes is already out of date. There may still be 23-year-old stars crashing their Porsches and buying ranch-style homes in Hertfordshire, but the hot story in the modern game is the rise and rise of the pinstripe footballer.

Players as young as 16 are learning about pensions, UK equity funds and "with profits" investment schemes. The modern star, it seems, is more likely to plan for his forties than he is for the post-match booze up. It is a far cry from the Seventies, when most players could only aspire to find a good pub to run.

David McKee, an investment adviser who specialises in helping footballers, said: "I think the message has got through to younger players. They can still buy a nice car and nice clothes but because of the vast sums of money being paid to them now, they can also plan their retirement. It's very unusual to find a footballer who wants to blow all their money."

The phenomenon was underlined by the annual report on football finances released by Deloitte Touche yesterday. It showed that players' wages rose 18 per cent last year - nearly double the 10 per cent rise in the sport's total income.

The 20 clubs in the Premier League, which made a combined operating profit of £69m, maintained their status as the games' biggest wage payers. Wages spiralled to an estimated total of £241m even before the start of last season, an average of more than £12m a year per club. By the end of the last season, as The Independent revealed in April, Premiership players earned on average £400,000 a year.

Four out of every five clubs, according to the Deloitte report, had a wage bill in 1998-99 in excess of two-thirds of their income, which is seen as the maximum sustainable level. Gerry Boon, the report's author, said: "These are worrying signs. Wage restraint, or more importantly managing the costs against incomes, is now more critical than ever before."

According to David Sheepshanks, the chairman of Ipswich Town and a former chairman of the Football League, it is inevitable that wage levels will continue to rise. He said: "This huge growth in television money is going to go on fuelling inflation both in wages and transfer fees. Many people say to me 'it can't go on David, it's just got to stop somewhere'. Well, it probably will, but only when the income growth is curtailed and, at the moment, you really can't see any sign of that happening at all."

The Premiership recently agreed a £1.6bn television deal from Sky which will guarantee each of its clubs £20m per season from 2001. On top of television income, gate receipts are increasing and commercial interests are generating large amounts of money. As a direct consequence, clubs can make more expensive signings, which inevitably means thatwage bills continue to multiply.

Mr McKee, joint managing director of Kingsbridge Finance, which represents 550 footballers, managers and clubs, believes that wages will continue to rise. he said: "I think... it will escalate beyond even what we dream of at the moment. We will reach saturation point at some time, but there is still a long way to go."

For many young footballers, the flash lifestyle of players such as Lee Hendrie, the 23-year-old midfielder with Aston Villa, offers an attractive lure into the game. His manager, John Gregory, disagrees, particularly after Hendrie wrote off his Porsche at high speed on a motorway last month. Hendrie, already banned from the England squad for three months for breaking a pre-match curfew, "is a classic example of a young man who has too much too soon", Mr Gregory said. He would rather the wayward star drove to training in a Vauxhall Viva, he added.

Mr McKee's firm has several clients as young as 16, still too young to sign a full professional contract. These players, seen as the next David Beckhams or Michael Owens but barely able to leave school, now get six-figure signing-on bonuses. Players aged 18 to 21also get an early warning to begin investing in their pensions. As well as buying smart Armani suits and sports cars, they are told to invest up to £1.5m in a pension over their 17- to 18-year careers.

That sum should guarantee an index-linked annual income of £27,500 for the remainder of their lives or, for lesser contributions, a flat annual income of £27,500, plus a cash bonus on retirement. Other surplus earnings are invested in "tax efficient" schemes.

Despite their anti-intellectual reputations, Mr McKee insists that many more mature footballers understand the intricacies of the investments market. The goal is to ensure that by 35 all their debts are cleared. "This is crucial, because their income will have dropped substantially," he said.

This trend is supported wholeheartedly by the Football League and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) which have negotiated a special deal with the Inland Revenue to exempt players from the normal pension rules. Under the Football League Players' retirement income scheme, they have also introduced a range of investment plans tailored for players, ranging from cautious "with profits" schedules, through medium-risk UK equities to high-risk investments in the United States or Japan. The scheme started in 1986 with 87 players and now has roughly 1,500 contributing members and 4,500 members in total.

George Gunn, administrator of the plan, said the greatest pressure on footballers was their short shelf-life, and such investments were crucial to give them a financial cushion for the rest of their lives. He said: "Once you come out of football at 35, on earnings starting at £2,000 to £3,000 a week, you go out into pub management where they're going to pay you £200 to £300 a week. You're starting at the bottom of someone else's ladder, so you can use the retirement income scheme as a crutch until you build up your own career."

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the PFA, said: "Modern footballers are better advised than ever before. There's no reason why any top footballer should end up like one of the old boxing champions, like Joe Louis, who ended up as a commissionaire on a nightclub door in Las Vegas."

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