It is well-known that soccer players, particularly in the top European leagues but even now some in the U.S., Middle East, India and China, are paid handsomely. Many criticize the extortionate salaries these sportsmen are given, with some soccer player on over $500,000 a week, and that is before you factor in sponsorship and endorsement deals. All in all, soccer is big business for those at the top level.
How is it then that so many players find themselves in financial trouble? One of the problems is that the high earning invariably leads to luxurious and expensive lifestyles. With most players retiring around the age of 35, they may have 40/50 years to live without having such lucrative income. Many players receive poor financial advice whilst a number of them struggle to replicate the thrill and buzz of the game once retiring, which can often lead to drinking, drug and gambling troubles as they look to find that excitement somewhere else.
There seems to be little sympathy for these high-earning soccer players who manage to lose it all, and perhaps rightly so. Some of these players had career earnings totaling in excess of $20 million, but could not retain their fortune, with many losing it soon after retirement and some whilst still playing the game. Here are the top 20 soccer players who lost everything:
20. Michael Chopra
Michael Chopra is an English striker who still plays the game today. Chopra represented England at four different youth levels, but never made the grade for the first team and is currently trying to receive an Indian passport to represent the Indian national team. Chopra has played two seasons in the Premier League but has spent most of his career in the English second tier, the Championship. Chopra developed a serious gambling addiction and was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2011, when he had to receive a loan of almost $400,000 from Ipswich Town to keep afloat. He joined the Kerala Blasters in India in 2014 to earn some much needed cash but returned to Britain and Alloa Athletic the same year.
19. Michael McIndoe
Michael McIndoe is a two-time PFA Team of the Year midfielder who played for the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Wolves and Bristol City in a career spanning 12 years. McIndoe took an early retirement from the game in 2011, aged 31, stating that he needed to devote more time and concentration to his business venture, and could not do so whilst playing the game. McIndoe raised almost $50 million from over 300 different British players including Jimmy Bullard and Gabby Agbonlahor, but blew the entire fortune living a ‘Playboy lifestyle’ in less than four years. He declared bankruptcy in March 2015.
18. John Carew
John Carew is a former La Liga and Ligue 1 winner and Champions League runner-up, yet he was declared bankrupt in 2012, whilst playing for his last club, West Ham United. An impressive career saw Carew spend time with Valencia, Roma, Besiktas, Lyon and Aston Villa, among others, as well as winning 91 caps for Norway. A towering forward, Carew was good in the air and scored 150 goals over his entire career. He has turned to acting since retirement in 2012, starring in two films, one Norwegian-made and the other a Canadian horror.
17. Richard Rufus
Richard Rufus belongs to a rare band of modern day one-club men, as he played his entire 11-year career with Charlton Athletic. Ten of those 11 seasons were in the top flight/Premier League. He twice made the PFA Team of the Year and played over 300 games for Charlton, being inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2013. After retiring in 2004, Rufus became a born-again Christian, but was declared bankrupt in December 2013, after a failed investment of $9 million.
16. Chris Sutton
Chris Sutton is a retired English striker who is probably best remembered for his time at Blackburn Rovers where he formed a formidable strike partnership nicknamed the ‘SAS’ alongside Alan Shearer. Sutton set a British record transfer fee when he joined Blackburn, and he won the Premier League with the club before being relegated only four seasons later. Sutton played for Norwich before Blackburn and Chelsea, Celtic, Birmingham, Aston Villa and, briefly, non-league Wroxham after them. The one-time England international Sutton was declared bankrupt on 2014, following ‘poor financial advice’.
15. Carl Cort
Carl Cort is a 37-year-old forward who last played in the U.S. for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who he joined in 2012 but was released by the club in 2014 following injury troubles. Cort spent the majority of his career with Wimbledon and Wolves, as well as spells with the likes of Newcastle and Leicester. Cort was earning over $40,000 a week at the peak of his powers, but whilst he certainly did the business for Wolves, he could not do it off the pitch and was declared bankrupt during his career.
14. Celestine Babayaro
Left-sided winger/full-back Celestine Babayaro made his name in Belgium with Anderlecht before being snapped up by Chelsea back in 1997. Babayaro spent eight years with the Blues, in which time he was earning a reported $45,000 a week. He later played for Newcastle United before joining L.A. Galaxy, but only played 45 minutes for the Galaxy in 2008 before being released by the club. Babayaro’s later career was a tragic one; he lost his younger brother to tuberculosis in 2007, could not afford the upkeep on his home in Newcastle and a move to Portsmouth fell through after a bout of Malaria. He was declared bankrupt in January 2011.
13. Jason Euell
Jason Euell played in the top flight in England for over a decade before dropping down the divisions with Southampton, Blackpool, Doncaster, Charlton and Wimbledon before retiring in 2012. The Jamaican international made more than $9 million over his career, but was subject to a number of fraud scams later in his career before eventually losing it all after a failed property investment. Euell played almost 500 games in England, scoring over 100 goals and played for Jamaica three times.
12. Eric Djemba-Djemba
If you find Eric Djemba-Djemba on a list, it’s most likely one of three types of lists. Either the worst Premier League signings, worst Premier League players, or players who have lost their fortune. Unlike most, Djemba-Djemba was declared bankrupt when he should have been at his wealthiest, after two years at Manchester United. The Cameroonian midfielder looked considerably out of place at Old Trafford and since leaving England he has played for an unusual array of sides, namely; Qatar SC, OB, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Partizan, St. Mirren, Chennaiyin FC and since January of this year, Persebaya Surabaya of Indonesia.
11. Paul Merson
Paul Merson is best remembered for spending 12 years and the vast majority of his playing career at Arsenal as a right-winger, where he played over 300 games for the Gunners. Following retirement Merson fell into very serious trouble with drug, drink and gambling addictions. He was arrested following a crash due to drunk driving and suffered badly from his addictions, but his lowest point came in 2008, when he gambled his own house and was left homeless.
Merson struggled with addiction throughout his career but it hit him hardest after retirement, he lost around $11 million to his various demons. ‘Merse’, as he is often known, is currently trying to get his life back on track, working for Sky Sports as well as working the after-dinner speaking course.
10. Alan Hudson
Alan Hudson is another former Gunner, although he is probably better remembered for his time with Chelsea, Stoke and his four year stint in the U.S. Hudson played around 500 games for Chelsea, Stoke, Arsenal, Seattle Sounders and Cleveland Force, as well as earning two caps for England in 1975. Hudson’s post-retirement existence has been one of consistent struggles and set-backs. After alcohol troubles he was declared bankrupt, before being run over in 1997. Hudson spent two months in a coma and required 70 surgical operations. He believed the incident was an attempt upon his life.
9. Dominic Matteo
Former Liverpool and Leeds player, and a Scotland international, Dominic Matteo’s career spanned from 1992 to 2009 and was spent almost exclusively in the Premier League. This meant Matteo fell into arguably the first generation of footballers who should, in theory, never have had to work again after hanging up their boots and still live comfortably, should they wish to do so. The Leeds legend who reached a Champions League semi-final with the Yorkshire club began gambling lucrative sums and entered the world of racehorse ownership whilst suffering an injury-plagued end to his career. By the time of his eventual retirement, Matteo had already lost seven figure sums gambling. In August 2015, the one-time Leeds United ambassador was declared bankrupt.
8. John Barnes
John Barnes spent the vast majority of his playing career with Watford and Liverpool, before spells with Newcastle, Charlton and, briefly, Celtic, but it is his time at Anfield that he is best remembered for. Barnes was named Player of the Year once and Footballer of the Year twice during his 10 year stay at Liverpool, in which time he won eight trophies. Since retirement, Barnes’ results as a manager have been fairly poor, and following a sacking by Tranmere back in 2009 he was declared bankrupt.
7. Keith Gillespie
Keith Gillespie starred alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville in the 1992 Manchester United FA Youth Cup team. He made his debut at Old Trafford aged only 17, but headed to Newcastle at the age of 20 in a big money move. Gillespie went on to play over a century of games for Newcastle, Blackburn and Sheffield United, as well as turning out for an array of other clubs before finally calling it a day in 2013 at the age of 38. Gillespie lost his entire $11 million fortune that he had amassed, largely due to his gambling addiction, as well as poor investments in property and film, he was declared bankrupt in 2010 and released a book entitled ‘How Not To Be A Football Millionaire’.
6. Lee Hendrie
Lee Hendrie has become the quintessential image of soccer players who’ve lost it all in recent years. Hendrie played in the Premier League for over a decade with Aston Villa, playing over 300 games for the club. He left Villa in 2007, becoming a journeyman, playing for over ten different teams in six years, retiring in 2013. The one-time England international and FA Cup finalist was officially declared bankrupt in 2012, and tried to take his own life twice at that time. He missed a court hearing the following year and the judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
5. Paul Gascoigne
Paul Gascoigne is often cited as one of England’s most gifted players of all time. The nation became incredibly attached with their troubled star, particularly after Italia ’90, in a way that the public rarely do with a soccer player. They say there is no genius without a touch of madness, but Gazza had more than just a touch. He has suffered with alcoholism, bulimia, OCD, bipolar, chain-smoking and cocaine addiction. This cocktail of demons has taken its toll on the former Newcastle, Tottenham and Rangers star who is in a bad way, suffering with health problems and being in and out of both rehab and hospital. He filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and almost did so again in 2011.
4. John Arne Riise
The second Norwegian to make this list, John Arne Riise had arguably an even more impressive career than his compatriot John Carew. Riise spent 15 years in France, England and Italy’s top flights, where he will have earned a small fortune. He is best remembered for his time at Liverpool, where he won seven trophies, by far the most notable being the historic 2005 Champions League victory. Riise spent last season in Cyprus with APOEL and is the most capped player in Norway’s history, having made 110 appearances for his country. He was declared bankrupt whilst playing for Liverpool in 2007, with unpaid debts of around $150,000.
3. David James
David James is probably the wealthiest soccer player to have lost his entire fortune. The former England goalkeeper has been in professional soccer for 26 years and has career earnings in excess of $30 million. On top of that, James has also been involved in lucrative endorsement deals, most notably with Armani. In total, James probably earned around $40 million, yet he was officially declared bankrupt in May 2014. James’ financial situation had been on a downward spiral since 2005, after an expensive divorce from his wife. James, who has played over 1,000 games in soccer, including 53 for England, had a huge auction of his possessions to raise money and began working for BT.
2. George Best
Probably the most talented man on this list, and the most highly regarded during his playing days, George Best is one of the game’s eternal greats. In his 11 years at Manchester United he became one of the best players in the world, winning the Ballon d’Or in 1968, the same year United lifted the European Cup. Although soccer players earned significantly less when Best was playing, he was still one of the highest earning men in his profession, and his celebrity status and looks meant he earned a great deal. Despite this, Best had spent it all by 1980. He famously quipped, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” Best’s alcoholism not only cost him his entire fortune but also alienated him, leaving him with serious health issues and eventually killing him.
1. Kenny Sansom
Kenny Sansom is regarded by many as one of England’s greatest full-backs. Only Ashley Cole has more England caps in that position. Sansom played the majority of his career for Arsenal, playing eight seasons for the Gunners. Like so many others on this list, Sansom’s problems were gambling and drinking, and he did both equally dangerously. He began drinking heavily after divorce from his wife 29 years ago. In 2013 he was completely penniless, and despite punditry work and working at the Emirates Stadium, Sansom became homeless. Problems have continued since then and in June of this year Sansom was reported to be considering suicide.
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