Footballers need help to avoid falling into the hero-to-zero financial trap after retirement, says soccer union

Footballers need help to avoid falling into the hero-to-zero financial trap after retirement, says soccer union
Emile Baron during the Nedbank Cup Last 32 match between Moroka Swallows and Bidvest Wits in Dobsonville, Soweto, on 9 March 2012. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Money struggles of South African soccer players after they hang up their boots is a recurring problem that needs to be solved.

Former Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Emile Baron was recently in the news after supporters of the club he played for in Europe – Norway’s Lillestrøm – banded together to raise money for their former player.

Baron was forced into retirement after a series of injuries, which culminated in a serious leg injury in 2013 while he was playing for Bidvest Wits. Since then, his financial battles have been well documented.

They came under the spotlight once more when a Norwegian TV channel focused on them, tugging at the heartstrings of his former club’s faithful. They collected just under R2-million for their ­former goal minder, who now reportedly relies on handouts to support his family despite his relatively successful soccer career.  

The case of the 43-year-old is not a new phenomenon in South African soccer. Many stars have risen to the pinnacle only to plummet painfully after retirement.

Steve Lekoelea. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Names such as Steve Lekoelea come to mind. He has been an Orlando Pirates cult hero ever since he made his debut for the club just shy of his 16th ­birthday. However, when the nimble-footed midfielder retired, things spiralled downwards for him.

Others, such as one of the most talented players that South Africa has produced – Jabu Mahlangu – were fortunate enough to be granted opportunities to rectify the mistakes they made during their playing careers, which were plagued by indiscipline. Mahlangu recently worked for SuperSport TV as an analyst.

This is true, too, for former Pirates captain Benedict Vilakazi – who now works as a soccer pundit for iDiskiTV. Vilakazi even went as far as appearing on the popular local TV show I Blew It to chronicle how he went from playing for the Buccaneers, securing a move to Danish Superliga club Aalborg BK and returning to SA to play for Mamelodi Sundowns – only to end up with little to show for it all.

The aforementioned stars have since used their decline in fortunes to warn others not to fall into the same trap. The Premier Soccer League has also tried to be proactive.

Last year the league’s hierarchy, alongside headline sponsor MultiChoice, announced a programme geared to helping players find success off the field once their careers conclude.

The programme fo­­cuses on current players aged 28 to 35, aiming to equip them with know­ledge and skills to transition into a different role in sport after they have retired.

However, in spite of such efforts – as well as the practical examples of former players – the South African Football Players’ Union believes that much more needs to be done to ensure players have a better chance of retaining their wealth.

The union’s president, Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, told Daily Maverick that, with its limited resources, it had “tried to help Baron and others, with the focus of equipping him with a skill”.

According to Gaoshubelwe, a complete overhaul of the system is needed – including the education system, which, the union feels, fails to prepare athletes to manage their money.

This is particularly true for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have never seen the sort of money that they earn when they succeed. “Fundamentally, what’s failing us in football is the educational system that we find ourselves in.

“It does not equip these players. It does not teach them from a very early age about financial models or contractual models,” Gaoshubelwe said.

“Here is a player who grows up and plays football, because of their skill and talent … When you are talented, you feel as though you don’t need to sit behind a desk and do certain things,” he continued.

“Throughout school, up until you finish Grade 12, there is nowhere where you meet anything [practical] about finances. Nothing about contracts. Now you suddenly have all this money and you’re unable to make proper decisions.”

The union president said players of sports such as rugby and cricket were generally better equipped – thanks, by and large, to South Africa’s divisive history, which subtly persisted. He did concede that individuals could manage their finances better.

Gaoshubelwe also spoke about how the union had engaged with the government to discuss taxation that caters for sports people – whose careers are much shorter than those of traditional workers.

The inconsistency in contract length also prevents athletes from building a proper credit history and financial credibility, according to Gaoshubelwe.

“There are myriad reasons that we can give,” he said. “But, over and above that, we need to capacitate the members, we need to educate them. We need to continue upskilling them. But sometimes it becomes difficult when you upskill them at a very late age in their lives, when they don’t even have respect for their money.   

“I’m raising these issues because if we are to change what’s going on, we need to address all those things holistically.”

Another reason soccer players find themselves with empty pockets is that, when their careers come to an end, they maintain the spending habits they had acquired while they had a consistent income.

“What makes a lot of footballers go broke after retirement is that they live the same way they lived when they had a regular income,” as Dino Ndlovu, one South African soccer player who appears to have his finances under control, told City Press.

With all the access to information and education that the current crop of active players has, the hope is that they can ­sidestep the struggles that their predecessors faced.

That outcome is by no means certain, though. After all, the temptation of booze, drugs and womanising that reeled in the older generations remains a danger.

It is also up to individual players to discipline themselves. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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