How to Become the Jude Bellingham of Money-Saving: Demystifying Elite Sports, Money and Financial Education

Jan. 23, 2024

Boy in football kit

MyPocketSkill tutor and Brand Ambassador Harry, a football lover, unpicks *that* common myth about footballers and bankruptcy and explains why we need to reframe the conversation around sports and financial education.

A quick Google search of terms like “elite athletes”, “footballers”, “money” and “financial education” in the UK and US brings up some frightening figures. Countless articles quote supposed XPro research which claims that “three out of five English Premier League (EPL) players declare bankruptcy within five years of retirement”, while “four out of five former National Football League (NFL) players go bankrupt or suffer severe financial distress within two years of retirement”. This is despite them earning an average £3 million every year.

Dig a little deeper and the reality is a little bit less dramatic. Research from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) found that 16% of NFL players and 6.1% of NBA players will file for bankruptcy during retirement in the US, and there are no decisive (or even publicly available) statistics in the UK context. Despite these figures being lower than the widely spread “myths” suggest, however, there are enough stories of financial struggles from high-profile footballers and athletes like Wes Brown, Emile Heskey, and Bradley Wiggins to know that there’s still a big problem. Professional athletes experience very real financial vulnerability due to fluctuating incomes, short career spans, and unexpected injuries. This is compounded by the lack of financial education that young people receive both inside and outside the world of elite sports.

These stories of financial difficulty amongst sports personalities have two key positive impacts. For one, they’re important for generating wider conversations around money between sports lovers. Sports’ unique, universal influence has the potential to engage people of all backgrounds around financial education and needs to be harnessed. Secondly, they’re crucial for directly initiating change in the industry. One successful example has been UEFA’s partnership with Santander to launch their Financial Education Training programme in 2019. The course teaches young footballers how to invest wisely, spot scams and build a support system around them, just as they are coming into success and wealth. Further afield, in the US, the congress passed a legislation that enabled student athletes to be compensated for their athletic abilities and that in turn resulted in universities looking to do more about financial education.

But what about aspiring athletes and footballers? What about the other millions of young people who must start building their financial security?   

Like UEFA and Santander’s training programme, MyPocketSkill celebrates actionable and “just-in-time” financial education that helps you save and learn when you earn. It follows a lot of evidence which says that hands-on and experiential learning is the best way to help young people become financially capable. Teens like me on the platform may not (yet!) be making the millions that Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham and Chelsea’s Lauren James make, but every young person deserves to be instilled with the same financial confidence and literacy to manage their money. 

Instead of recycling old (and inaccurate) stats that elite athletes are bad with money and set for bankruptcy, let’s celebrate them as an example of young people who have tirelessly built on their skills from an early age. There's no doubt that some professional athletes have had money troubles, but this is a symptom of a wider problem in our financial education system. Footballers Lauren James and Alex Greenwood’s recent financial literacy campaign proves how brilliant of a role model they can be, and how valuable they are to conversations around money.

Whether we’re talking about becoming a pro footballer or financially literate, practice makes perfect, but financial education has to begin with having some money to manage to begin with. Become the Jude Bellingham of saving and start earning to work on your money skills today.

Written by Harry Ransley (MPS Ambassador). Edited by Annabel Talco (Policy and Impact Analyst).