/ 31 January 2020

Hanging up the boots and bucks

Absa Premiership: Mamelodi Sundowns V Baroka Fc
Heyday: Thabo Nthethe (left) has had to make provision for periods when he is not playing for a club. He has taken out policies and started a business to make ends meet. (Philip Maeta/Gallo Images)

“To ask and know how best to invest or save is important … because most of us footballers don’t know much”

Being a free agent gives footballers a glimpse into what life after retirement is like. There’s no salary coming in at the end of the month and the pressure to provide, as heads of households, increases.

It’s a difficult time for those who neglect — not always by choice — to save or invest the money they get. In South Africa, many black footballers come from townships and villages where people have very little to live by. Anyone who is talented enough to make it as a professional footballer is then viewed by his family as the one who will put food on the table.

They become the main breadwinners, but have to bear in mind that they cannot play football forever. This means saving and investing money from the first kick off is of utmost importance.

So, what happens when a footballer is a free agent and there’s no salary coming in every month?

Sudden change

Former Mamelodi Sundowns captain Thabo Nthethe has the answer to that. He has been without a club for a year and admits that it has been difficult for him since parting ways with Chippa United towards the end of 2018.

A move to Baroka FC fell through in January last year because of an ankle injury. Nthethe ended 2019 without having kicked a ball at a professional level. Fortunately, the 35-year-old was, with proper guidance, able to save money. He says he is surviving fairly well at the moment, though he admits it is not enough.

“Currently I’m living on the investment I have with Liberty, though I don’t feel it’s enough,” Nthethe says. “I’ve been with them for more than six years and that’s what has been carrying me. I have been putting money away for my kids’ education and for my retirement in a retirement annuity, and also, I have cover for anything that will stop me from doing my job, like getting an injury. That’s what I’m currently on.

“I’ve been without a team for a year now and I can, in a way, see life after football. I’ve started other things, business on the side. Money is never enough, so I would not say I’ll be okay. It’s very important when you are playing to invest or save money.”

Nthethe says a number of players do not like to ask about money.

“There are different ways of investing, but to ask and know how best to invest or save is important. That’s where we need to step up as players, so that we know more, because most of us footballers don’t know much.”

He said that teams often bring advisers in to assist players make the right decisions about their money.

“You’ll end up knowing how best to invest for life after playing,” he says.

Family pressure

Nthethe has two school-going children whom he has to take care of, which he admits puts a lot of pressure on him.

“There’s pressure,” Nthethe said. “I think 80% of footballers come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where you are the breadwinner … Immediately when you get a team you don’t even think about getting a car or house, you think about fixing things back home. We all differ, but most of us are breadwinners. We have that pressure to make our families comfortable. Wherever they are, we need to supply them with what they need. That’s the pressure I’m talking about.”

That obligation can make it difficult to save, he says.

“As the person who is working, you also want to enjoy your money. But you find that you have been helping back home. We come from different backgrounds, so it depends on how many family members you have and what you need to do for them.”

Life experience

Another player who is currently a free agent is former Baroka FC and Polokwane City defender Thabiso Semenya.

The 37-year-old has a taxi and shuttle business that helps him support his family and eliminate stress while he isn’t getting a fixed salary from a club.

“I started the business when I was at Platinum Stars. My mom had a line of taxis, but she did not want to have anything to do with taxis. So I got involved. She was the one managing things because I was in North West with Platinum Stars,” he says.

“I’m surviving well,” Semenya says.

Semenya learnt the importance of saving when he was working at a mine, before becoming a professional footballer.

“I was working in a mine a long time ago and I was earning R3 500, and I was able to save R300 per month. It’s something that you learn to do.

“[When] I was on trial at Platinum Stars for three months, I was not getting a salary, but I was surviving. They provided accommodation; my kids and I were surviving.

“When I am at a club, I have money that I put aside every month. So let’s say I’m earning R50 000, I take R20 000 and put it into savings.

“I had a target every season to say how much I need to save. When you are not getting a salary, obviously you’d need to adjust your lifestyle. ”

He says, however, that despite clubs bringing in financial advisers to help footballers manage their money, many don’t listen even though they have seen how many former players end up broke.

“They would bring in people and everyone would agree. They would even bring in ex-PSL [Premier Soccer League] players who went broke and they say, ‘My life was like this.’ Did that help? No. It’s a personal decision that you make. You can be a CFO [chief financial officer] and still spend money recklessly. We are not all the same.”

This article was first published by New Frame