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The Goal Rich List 2014 detailed the scale of the wealth of the world's top players but it is a very different reality for the vast majority lower down the chain

SPECIAL REPORT
By Peter Staunton

The Goal Rich List underlines the untold riches on offer in the upper echelons of professional football. Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are unlikely to ever have to put some money away for a rainy day.

They are football's "one per cent". That they deserve the salaries and the sponsorship fees they command is not the question. However, their wealth only serves to create the misconception that there is money in it for everyone. Every British boy goes to bed at night dreaming of being the next Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard, not playing for Oldham or Stevenage.

  IN NUMBERS
The statistics behind Xpro
33% Of players end up divorced within one year of retirement
40% Of players are declared bankrupt within five years of ending their playing days
43% Over 30,000 of the estimated 70,000 ex-professionals who played in the UK are now affiliated with Xpro
80% Of professional footballers will have to deal with osteoarthritis after they retire
120+ Players registered with the PFA still listed without a club on the website
Life down the divisions is not about Range Rovers and gated communities. Everyday reality for the majority of professional footballer is far more prosaic.

Dean Holdsworth - a fine Premier League striker during spells with Wimbledon and Bolton - is now the Managing Director of Xpro; a "safety net" for players upon retirement, be it at the age of 17 or 37.

"We are a charity based on the welfare of ex-professional footballers," he told Goal. "We are involved in the all-round welfare of someone coming though professional football and leaving it."

Holdsworth has made a vocation of establishing Xpro as a post-career treatment plan for his fellow players. The organisation assists in medical referrals, rehabilitation for addiction and stress-related disorders, employment and retraining, tax and pension advice, wealth management, debt solution and legal representation. It is unlikely Wayne Rooney will ever need Holdsworth's phone number. Many others will.

"Every footballer is branded the same as the top ten or 20 per cent of Premier League players," he said.

"When you run a charity alongside football it's not something which people say they need. In some cases that couldn't be further from the truth.

"We manage the majority not the minority. Many players in the Premier League won't need help with finances or welfare.

"The majority of players in the Championship and further down the line in the Conference will have 20 or 30 years after their careers when they've got to financially look after themselves.

"We aim to tackle the misconception about 20 or 30 years of post-career life and what they do when they finish the game."

Xpro offers help, support and advice through network of professional partnerships to its members. "Many of the senior members of Xpro suffer osteoarthritis, depression and financial difficulties," Holdsworth said. It estimates there are 70,000 former players who played professionally the UK. It has signed 30,000 of those, 43 per cent. It is the most comprehensive register of former players anywhere in the world.

The top 10 on the Goal Rich List have made millions upon millions through the sport they love but for others it is a precarious profession.

While it is true, for example, that Wayne Rooney or Neymar may never have to do a day's work after they hang up their boots that is not the case across the board.

Deloitte's latest estimates have average Premier League wages at £23,000 per week with a big difference between what is earned at Manchester City in comparison to Crystal Palace.


"It's alarming that they think their careers aren't ever going to change or never going to end."

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Dean Holdsworth - Managing Director, Xpro

Similarly, in the Championship, it has been revealed that QPR are struggling under the weight of a £68 million annual player wage budget but Yeovil Town's came in at under £1m during their last season in League One.

All in all, wages in the second tier average around £5,000 per week. Not bad work if you can get it. But it is a short career and one which is at the mercy of injury, illness and the volatile nature of the market.

Over 700 players registered to English clubs in 2012-13 found themselves unemployed ahead of this season according to a study by the Daily Star and the PFA website currently lists over 120 players still searching for a club.

These guys have bills to pay, mouths to feed and no primary source of income with which to do it. PFA representative Oshor Williams told the newspaper: "We are taking hundreds of calls from players whose contracts are finishing.

"For top players the issue is a loss of status, but for the lad who has been released by Accrington the concern may be how to pay the mortgage."

Not everybody earns consistently for a decade or more and ends up living off the interest by the age of 35.
Often, players are left facing a long working life with the only skill they know rendered unusable. What then for the players who have not got the education and the training to sustain themselves and their families?

"It's alarming that they think their careers aren't ever going to change or never going to end," says Holdsworth. "But they do come to an end and it's what they do next that is so important to them.

"We deal with the trauma of leaving the professional game. The career of a professional is getting shorter. They are getting younger as they leave the game.

"It's about re-educating players when they leave the game. The younger the player the more he needs to be educated on retraining.

"It's really important the dream isn't finished and they go on to the rest of their lives having a career path."

According to Xpro, four out of every five former players will develop osteoarthritis. One in three is divorced within the first 12 months of retirement. The figure increases after retirement exceeding five years. Forty percent of players end up bankrupt within only five years of hanging up their boots.

There are close to 150 former players currently serving sentences in the prison system, most of those for drug-related offences, and 124 under the age of 25.

For some of these young men, football has never been about the next Maserati, it's been about the next meal. The biggest challenge at the culmination of their short journey, however, is not breaking down.

"If someone wants to pay the top end footballers, good luck to them," says Holdsworth. "It's a short career so they have to earn as much as they can.

"The perception of an ex-professional is that they will finish their career very rich. It's far from the truth."

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