Upon closer examination, it’s indeed astonishing that contemporary, well-compensated footballers can encounter financial challenges. Nevertheless, indulgences such as gambling, alcohol, drugs, and costly divorces have the potential to deplete the fortunes of even the wealthiest players, leading them to declare bankruptcy.
Historically, instances like Johan Cruyff, who invested his wealth in an unprofitable venture, forcing him to extend his professional football career into a more mature age for financial recovery, illustrate this point.
Here are a few more renowned footballers who unfortunately faced bankruptcy:
A prominent midfielder in English football during the ’90s, Merson secured two championships with Arsenal. However, his sudden plunge into addictions—gambling, alcohol, and drugs—led to the rapid dissipation of his approximately £7 million fortune. His life took a significant turn after a car accident while driving under the influence. Presently, Merson has conquered his vices and works as a commentator on Sky Sports.
Despite becoming an Olympic champion with the Nigerian national team before turning 18, Babayaro faced bankruptcy in 2011 due to persistent injuries that forced his early retirement. Despite earning well in England, legal actions from creditors revealed his financial struggles, even affecting his ability to maintain his house.
One of the players with the most appearances in the history of the English Premier League, James had an estimated wealth of around £20 million. However, a costly divorce in 2005, where he had to split assets and pay substantial alimony, led to his financial downfall. He declared bankruptcy in 2014, selling numerous football memorabilia and even coaching stints to recover.
A significant part of Aston Villa’s successful team, Hendrie faced bankruptcy in 2012, losing around £10 million due to a lavish lifestyle and poor real estate investments. Surviving two suicide attempts, he now serves as a director in an organization conducting football tournaments for children.
Djemba-Djemba, known for his time with Manchester United, faced bankruptcy in 2007 at the age of 26 while playing for Aston Villa. Flashy purchases and a subsequent divorce, coupled with supporting four children, contributed to his financial struggles, compelling him to seek opportunities worldwide to earn money in various championships.
An iconic American goalkeeper in the Premier League for 18 years, Friedel faced an unfortunate turn after investing nearly $10 million in a failed football academy in Ohio. The academy aimed to provide free education to children, but financial crises led to its closure in 2011, resulting in Friedel declaring bankruptcy the same month.
Emerging from Manchester United’s academy, Gillespie’s career, including stints with Newcastle and Blackburn, ended in bankruptcy. His £7 million fortune was squandered on gambling, marking a stark contrast to the expectations of a comfortable retirement. Post-retirement, Gillespie shared his experiences in an autobiography, offering insights into his gambling addiction.
John Arne Riise
The European Cup winner declared bankruptcy in 2007 while still playing for Liverpool. Despite a weekly income of £50,000, Riise struggled with a £100,000 debt and a £3 million fraud case in Norway. Continuing to play for several more years, he managed to overcome his financial challenges.
The legendary 1986 World Cup champion faced bankruptcy in 2009, owing €37 million in taxes and fines during his time at Napoli. Maradona’s excuse that he wasn’t informed about the taxes didn’t prevent Italian authorities from seizing €42,000, two watches, and expensive earrings.
Despite being declared the best-paid footballer in 2006, Ronaldinho’s indulgence in nightlife diminished the latter part of his career. Facing scandals post-retirement, including unpaid taxes and fines, confiscation of properties, and a brief arrest in 2020, Ronaldinho’s former Barcelona teammates raised funds to cover his bail and part of his debts.