Are young English footballers getting too sidetracked by money?

Ashley Football 3 Comments


Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain – to name but two young English players  – are they under performing because they have the cash and aren’t hungry enough any more asks Julius…

In Britain alone, youth unemployment stands at 20%. Spain’s youngest workers are only half employed. Greece’s 16-24 year olds are 60% unemployed. Raheem Sterling is on £30,000 a week.

I am part of a generation that is unified in a struggle against poor economic conditions. Whilst I have yet to fend for myself, I am at an age where I can appreciate the value of money. I also know how quickly this appreciation could vaporuise in the face of a lucrative salary at such a tender age.

The latest generation of English teenagers is a talented bunch, most would say. Out of teenagers alone you could field a decent squad, including the likes of Butland, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling. But it is of concern to me how players so young make millions so quickly. It cannot be healthy. If you want a chillingly appropriate example, look no further than Michael Johnson. Once touted as a future England captain, the 24 year old is now washed up and without a career. In 2008, he signed a £25,000 a week contract whilst still a teenager, “the world at his feet” in the words of Joey Barton. The pressures of being in the spotlight at such a young age, blended with a bank balance bigger than many local economies, dragged him into footballing anonymity. Whilst this is a complex case tainted with alcoholism as much as anything else the bare bones remain. Rewarding potential rather than achievement was a significant factor in Michael Johnson’s downfall.

Loss of form

Without meaning to be dramatic, a similar path could well be taken by Raheem Sterling. The now-capped winger lit up a dismal Liverpool side with some enigmatic displays, buzzing around the place with a hunger and desire that is so enjoyable to watch. His fearlessness made teams afraid, and all of a sudden the then 17 year old had a valuable bargaining tool. Originally on a £2,000 a week scholar’s deal, professional terms would need to be signed if Sterling was to continue in Liverpool colours. An England cap only strengthened Sterling’s already perilously strong position and the club started to panic. Stories started circling of the two Manchester clubs’ interest, with the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham supposedly waiting in the wings. Whether this was spun by Sterling’s agent or was genuine news is debatable, but nevertheless there was enough uncertainty for the winger to sign a five year, £7.8m deal for his 18th birthday.

And since he signed that contract in December? He’s been practically anonymous. It is basic economy that destroys the legitimacy of communist theory; once the incentive to work has been taken away/satisfied, the performance of an individual is likely to drop as there no longer a reward for exertion. Whilst it is not favourable to comment on the personality of the player himself, handing a teenager £30,000 a week and expecting him to concentrate solely on his profession is like telling a dog to sit and eat his biscuits when a juicy bone is flung his way. The balance between securing the brightest talents for years to come and putting careers in genuine jeopardy is a chord that is rarely struck, if at all.

What is the root of all this? Agents have a grand role in sorting out contracts, so it could be said that dodgy representatives are a toxic presence in the stunting of many young players’ careers. However, it is hard to fault a person for simply fufilling his or her objectives. It is an agent’s right to fight for the best possible deal for any client, which also secures a lucrative deal for themselves. Maybe it goes deeper than that. In a society as monetised as this one, cash is king.

Making it

For many growing up in the worst estates in the most deprived areas, the chance to say “I made it” is ever present in the dreams of many of Britain’s worst off kids. The success of someone’s existence is judged not by the character of the individual, nor is it measured with the importance of being a contributory citizen in mind. Not helped by a get rich quick urban culture, achievement appears to have become what you own as opposed to what you do. This sort of attitude is certainly instilled in the heart of many, and, even if it is realised by few, the lucky ones are at times ungracious in gold. Take Nile Ranger (See above tweeted pic).

It is a perfect example of how money becomes a priority over becoming a good footballer. It’s hard to envisage Ryan Giggs spending his time arranging pieces of paper into a recognisable word. That’s why he is a living legend, and Nile Ranger is not and is unlikely to be so.

It is difficult. As in many industries, regulation would be a big step in ensuring that limitations are there to compliment and harness talent. A cap on the amount a player can earn in his first professional contract would certainly take such a thorny issue out of the hands of agents and clubs, although a restriction on one’s income could be considered an imposition on financial freedom. A way needs to be found of rewarding young players for breaking into the first team but this should not be tainted with the threat of losing your brightest prospects to sides more willing to lavish teenagers with money.

There might not be a clear answer to the overindulgence of teenaged footballers. But cases such as Michael Johnson’s leave many questions.