Are Young Footballers Given Too Much Too Soon?
Written by Jak Netting.
Footballers earn a lot of money. In fact, some would argue that they earn too much money. And that is the question that I will be discussing here – but with a focus on the impact that astronomical wages can often have on younger players. According to Statista, the average wage for a Premier League player aged twenty-three and below is around forty-one thousand pounds per week (correct as of 2020). But in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average income in the United Kingdom, for full-time employment, was £38,600 per year. This means that, on average, footballers aged 23 and below earn more in a week, than most people earn in a year. This, as a stand-alone fact, is not a problem. Sure, it’s going to annoy some people that working a 9-5 for 5 days a week all year pays less than ‘just kicking a ball around,’ but people making that argument either don’t know, or don’t care, about supply and demand.
Why Are Players Paid So Highly?
Before I explore the effects having this much money and fame at such a young age can have on people, I think that it is important to explain, in some degree of detail, the reason as to why players are paid so highly. For this, I am only going to look at the Premier League, as revenue and figures vary massively from country-to-country, and division-to-division.
In the 2018/19 season, Premier Clubs equally shared a domestic television rights package of roughly £636,000,000 (£31,800,000 each). This figure, however, is only what the clubs receive. In actuality, the fee paid for domestic TV deals is believed to be in the region of £2,500,000,000, which makes up roughly 53% of the league’s clubs’ total revenue. It is an undeniable fact that, without world class players, the league and clubs wouldn’t receive anywhere near such an amount of income from television rights alone. Don’t believe me? Well, take the Irish SSE Airtricity League as an example of the contrary. This division received just £15,000,000 for their television rights. And, as previously stated, this is largely due to the severe lack of quality found in the league. If there were more interest in it, and Irish football in general, then there would be more companies willing to offer greater sums of money for the rights to their games. For example, the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England hadn’t received much attention before the last few years. But since the 2019 women’s World Cup, the competition has seen an exponential rise in popularity – resulting in new sponsors, television deals and higher wages, all the result of increased interest in the division. So, when players, and their abilities, are so integral to the success and revenue of a league, they are well within their right to demand a fair share of the income themselves. Perhaps, sometimes, these wages exceed what some would deem proportionate to the revenue made, but, ultimately, it’s up to an individual club to determine how valuable a player is to them.
But surely, there is a reason for such a drastic change in behaviour. Money alone doesn’t do that to a person, does it? Well, no – not exactly. An article published by the University of Rochester Medical Centre claims that “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.” This idea has been supported by a wide variety of other studies and reports which all reached the same conclusion. The article goes on to say that new research has found that adult’s brains work differently to teen brains. It claims that “Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.” This information is critical to us being able to understand, to an extent, why some young players start having issues with their behaviour and attitude. If the rational part of our brains isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, then surely that can go some way in explaining, the poor behaviour of some young players. If you make every decision in your life without being able to think about it rationally, and with the mindset that said decisions won’t bare consequences, then you are likely to make a fair share of bad decisions.
Can Money Really Buy You Happiness?
Imagine that you are nineteen years old. You have just signed your first professional contract with one of the biggest clubs in the world. Your weekly salary has risen from £800 per week, to a little over £10,000 (that’s a 1130% increase!). You are now earning more than your entire family combined. Seriously, imagine how that would feel. Maybe it would feel amazing, the world is at your feet, and you’re now set up for life. Or, maybe, you now feel the weight of your family on your back – all that pressure to succeed to ensure that the money can keep flowing for many years to come. But, perhaps, your perspective begins to warp. Potentially, you now feel as though you are better than those around you. You believe that you can do as you please without consequence, no matter how bad it may be. The later may feel like a stretch from reality, but while I can agree that it’s not the norm, it definitively does happen to some players. This mindset is not just arrogant, it’s potentially very dangerous. Believing that your actions don’t have consequences is the first step to a dark and narrow path.
This idea of being unable to think about decisions rationally is further complicated by the later part of the report by Rochester University Medical Centre. If teens, (identified by the report typically as people aged 16 to 25), process information with the amygdala – it could go even further to explain such poor decision making. Afterall, this is the emotional part of the brain. This means that as well as being unable to make rational decisions, the thought process behind each decision is clouded with emotion, which is known to run high in sports, among other areas of a young person’s life. In a footballing setting, young players can also often to be held to the same standard as older players, even though their situations are completely different. This is because, according to the previously alluded to study, adults think with their prefrontal cortex. This means that not only are things like maturity levels on a different scale between the ages, but the very way in which they process information and make decisions is incomparable. This by no means implies that the expectations of younger people should be lowered, or that they should get away with more, but perhaps a different argument can be formed from this idea. Maybe footballers need more support to manage their lives at such a young age – especially when they don’t come from a background of wealth. Whether this be personal advisors, finance managers or maybe even counsellors.
I am going to delve deeper into this issue later, but for now I feel as though it is very important to realise that this isn’t an issue exclusive to football, or people who play the sport.
Callie Rogers was just 16, a child, when she won just shy of £2,000,000 on the lottery. She was the United Kingdom’s youngest lottery winner at the time but has since experienced a sad, but all too predictable demise. She is now living on benefits after wasting her fortune on cosmetic surgery, numerous lavish holidays, and over half a million pounds worth of gifts. She herself has had run-ins with the law, after being banned from driving for twenty-two months for her involvement in a crash in 2011. Callie is probably one of the best people to tell us what went wrong, and she did: “You’re only 16, with all that responsibility. At that age, you can get the best advice ever but you’re not in a position to listen,” she said in a recent interview. This, in my opinion, is a clear sign that the study surrounding how teen’s process information with the emotional part of their brain, limiting their ability to make rational choices. She has also been campaigning to increase the minimum age to play the lottery, a mission which has been fruitful as the legal age to play is now set at 18. She also told The Mirror “I was too young. Overnight I went from carefree child to adult.” This particular comment can be seen in harmony with my previous point about the impact on somebody’s mindset when they now have more money than those around them, including those who are supposed to be their superiors – including family.
Callum Fitzpatrick, of Northern Ireland, also won a small fortune when he was 16, but his story is far worse than Callie’s. But Callum can’t give an interview to explain his feeling towards this matter, because he is dead. He tragically died 7 years after he won his fortune. While the cause of his death, officially, is unknown, his parents asked for donations to be made in his memory to a suicide prevention charity, while his close friend Matthew said, “If only you knew how many people loved you.” Based on these two facts, I am going to talk about the case on the tragic presumption that Callum committed suicide.
With this as our working theory, we must then view this case as a tragic failure, but from who? After he received his winnings, he set out to buy a car and visit Old Trafford among other things. He remained in education, completing his A-Levels and even going on to complete a civil engineering degree. On the surface, it looked as though Callum had handled his win with maturity and in a ‘good’ manner. But his suspected decision to end his own life less than a decade later would imply that he hadn’t taken his win well at all. In fact, perhaps even more tragically, it would suggest that he felt the need to hide his true feelings to even his closest family. This would feel like suffering, building up over years until eventually he decided that he couldn’t take it anymore. If this is true, it further highlights how negatively such large sums of money can have on a young person, and their mind. It would also play into the idea that more support needs to be made available for young people who encounter large sums of money. In fact, it should be a government’s duty of care to ensure the physical and mental safety of all of its citizens and as such, should include this.
So, as we can see, this issue is not exclusive to football. It is, as such, not an issue with footballers – rather it is more of a societal problem. But I want to cogitate more on the effects of the issue within football. We saw examples of lottery winners mishandling their lives thereafter, so what about in football?
The Downfall of Mason Greenwood.
Let’s start with Mason Greenwood. The disgraced 21-year-old Manchester United forward has recently been arrested on accusations of rape, assault, and threats to kill. These crimes were all allegedly committed against his girlfriend, Harriet Robson. I must point out that, legally, these are only allegations, and Mason is yet to be formally charged and has been released on bail, pending further investigation. I have, however, seen enough evidence for myself to feel comfortable talking about this case on the presumption/basis that he is guilty. I do just want to clarify that I fully support the notion that somebody is innocent until proven guilty, but the evidence that I have viewed online, which is readily available to the public, says to me that he is guilty. It should go without saying that if Mason were to be found not guilty at a later stage, I would apologise for this and correct my statements surrounding him but, until such a time, I am firm and comfortable with my decision.
Less than 5 years ago, Mason Greenwood was earning around £800 per week. He now earns £75,000 per week – or at least he did before Manchester United suspended him. Looking back at what we have already discussed, it is already clear that such a rise in income could be detrimental to someone’s mental wellbeing. With his rise in ability, Mason’s wage wasn’t the only thing to see a sharp increase. His fame also rose considerably. He became a household name seemingly overnight, was seemingly always in the media and couldn’t do very much without being reported on – from shopping, to holidaying and more. This brings with it added pressure and stress which can be a deadly mix with seemingly unlimited finances and a potentially poor mental state. This isn’t the first time that Greenwood has endured disciplinary issues, though his previous issues were not a legal matter and so, as not to undermine this case, I will not go into detail on.
Little is publicly known about behind-the-scenes ongoings in football, but if it transpires that Greenwood was not offered support and help after his previous issue, then that should be an investigation of its own. For me, again, it comes down to a matter of having a duty to care. Whether directly or indirectly, Manchester United contributed to his situation and should help him succeed in life both on and, more importantly, off of the pitch.
The Case of Luke McCormick.
Another footballer, Luke McCormick, was jailed for over 7 years after admitting drink driving – which resulted in a crash which proved tragically fatal for 2 young brothers. McCormick was 25 at the time, so on the higher end of the example age we are looking at. But elements of my previous arguments are still valid in this scenario. For example, it is plausible to make the argument that he felt as though he was able to drink drive because he is simply better than others. It also ties into the idea of holding the belief that your actions don’t have consequences among other things. Incredibly, Luke is now out of prison AND playing professional football again for Plymouth Argyle, a team he represented prior to his conviction.
The Final Conclusion.
Overall, I think that it is very apparent that more needs to be done for young people who come into large sums of money. It is also very apparent that the issue isn’t exclusive to football, which has the ability to open a wider debate within society itself. I think that it would be almost impossible to deny that more can, and should, be done to support them. The idea of lives being lost due to an easily preventable issues does not sit right with me. You can make arguments for more drastic measures like a wage cap, which would help the issue in a sense but cause far too many other issues in its place to be a genuine option. The idea, however, would be that until a certain age, your earnings are capped, with the excess money being placed into a savings account until said person reaches such an age. But I doubt I have to list the drawbacks to such an idea for you to see straight through it. But government-funded counselling, free financial advice closer management for instances of fame and public interest are all relatively easy, and realistic steps towards helping to solve the issue. Like I have said throughout this blog, I am not condoning, or excusing, the actions of some individuals, but the fact is that with the proper support, there is a chance that the actions in question wouldn’t have occurred. It is undeniable that more needs to be done to protect both young individuals who encounter a sharp rise in wealth and fame, as well as those around them.
-Eric Miroshnichenko on Pexels – Grey Footballer Photo.
-University of Rochester Medical Centre.
-Sergio Souza on Pexels – Football Pitch Birds Eye View.