The Players Programme - Judicare Partner
According to ex-Manchester United trainee Simon Andrews, the problems faced by the young talent of English football are not just the headline-grabbing excesses of high profile footballers; "To begin with, an estimated 95 per cent of Academy players never play for the senior team - so for every high profile case that people know about, the sad truth is there are about fifty more that go under the radar. But then it's not just the risk of going off the rails that the youngsters face, there are countless potential pitfalls that await both those that make it and those who don't."
Andrews, 39, who also played for Wigan, speaks from the heart with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the situation: "As a teenager you think you're Peter Pan and it will last forever, so as hard as it is at such an exciting time in their careers, we need to get players recognising much earlier that they need to think about a Plan B beyond football. Players can go from earning £150 a week to £150k a week in just a matter of years. That isn't easy to deal with. But by the same token there are many who will never become thoroughly financially independent from their football careers - and they need to put in some foundations for later life as well."
With that in mind, Andrews created The Players' Programme which provides guidance to up-and-coming footballers. "We want to educate players on their lifestyle choices, dealing with the media and finances. It's about preparing them for what lies ahead if they are successful, but also offering advice for those who don't make it.
The scheme was first taken up by Man United, with Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill pioneering it at their Academy before it was rolled out to most of the clubs in the Premier League. The Sporting Chance Charity are involved too with other high-profile supporters including David Platt and Lee Sharpe.
Andrews, whose hopes of a United career ended when he was released in 1989, believes football needs to do more to prepare players for when their careers end: "The Players Programme aims to provide an impartial, objective and authoritative range of educational support services for clubs, players and their immediate families; empowering players’ decision-making abilities throughout their careers. Working in partnership with sports and their associated bodies to complement their existing educational strategies, the programme provides an evolving framework for players at all stages of their careers."
The latest strand to be added to the Programme is a segment that addresses the key issues around overseas property investment. A large proportion of high earning professionals - maybe even a majority - choose to invest some of their earnings into apartments and villas abroad, often at least in part for personal use, but also aiming to grow their capital or generate income in their footballing retirement. Andrews believes that hundreds of current and ex-footballers have already encountered difficulties with their investments, a lack of proper independent advice combining with recent falls in property values worldwide to leave many investors worryingly exposed.
Teaming up with Judicare the property investment recovery legal outfit headed by ex-Arsenal & Southampton winger Neil Heaney, the Programme provides advice on avoiding difficulties commonly encountered such as late or non-delivery, missing bank guarantees or contractual documentation, planning disputes, fraudulent or bankrupt developers and land grab issues. It also provides a source of help for those concerned about investments they already have that appear to be running into choppy waters.
Heaney himself suffered just such a reverse when the development that he and a group of fellow footballing professionals had invested in failed to materialise. It was on the back of several years of legal battles and the accompanying stress and frustration that he and property law guru Jose Dorta set about creating the UK based recovery company with experts on the ground locally worldwide. "Property investment is a great fit for many of us both during and at the end of our careers, but - " warns Heaney, "it has to be with a grounded understanding of the risks and how to minimise them, and with properly independent expert advice from the outset."
For Andrews there are two clear objectives for the initiative: "With this partnership we will be able to help would-be investors avoid most of the problems that others have run into. For those that are already facing potential losses, help is also at hand. This is exactly the kind of educational and professional support we need in the Game and across professional sport in general."