How footballers choose their property

Imagine a young man in his twenties who never had a bedside lamp or a home. Although you have many girlfriends, you are actually single. You suddenly find yourself in a new city, one you’ve never been to before. It is not clear if you will stay there for nine months or for a lifetime. Every time you open your electric gates, you will be astonished. Many footballers will be in this situation when they transfer clubs during the month’s transfer window. How will they manage? Where and how do the best players in the world live?

It would be possible to track the growth in sporting television rights if you charted footballers’ house prices over time. Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in the 1970s, I saw a prominent player living around the corner in a smaller terraced house than my own. Peter Crouch, a former England striker, reflects on the “generic soccerer’s house” from the 1980s to the mid-90s in his book How to be a Footballer. “Mock Tudor,” he says, “Detached, beyond the orbital motorway, but never into the sticks.” A bit of land, swimming pool, with concrete paving-stone surrounds and corner bar. A large, aggressive dog and a large, aggressive sports car.

As television money began to flow into football in the 1990s, players’ housing costs increased, although initially within limits. In 2001, I was talking to a European player who had signed with Chelsea and started looking for flats in Knightsbridge and Kensington. He was amazed at the price. As a Londoner, I was familiar with these issues and I replied, “A thousand Pounds per Week.” He looked shocked: “Yes, a thousand per week!” I realized then that London was becoming too expensive for Chelsea footballers. I needed to reconsider my situation. He is partially responsible for my current residence in Paris.

A footballer’s hometown is often the first place he buys. Mino Raiola, Mino’s agent, advises his footballers to “Buy Stones”. Some of them are considering nightclubs and restaurants. Raiola’s Swedish client Zlatan Ibrahimovic bought the most beautiful house in Malmo in 2007 for $4.73m. This was an Italianate thing he used as a jogger or sneakily sailing past on a bus during Malmo FF team runs. He hung a huge photograph of his gigantic feet on the wall, which he had paid for.

It is difficult to move to a new place, especially if it is sudden. The wife of an ex-player, who writes under the pseudonym “The Secret Footballer”, recalls sitting in their first home when another player knocked on the door. He asked, “Have your spoken to TSF?” She had not. She wrote, “That was when I discovered that football works differently than other jobs.” My boyfriend, as it was then, was signing a contract at a Championship club. It was a phone call or text regarding a career change.

It is even more difficult for single teenage emigrants. A decade ago, clubs were able to spend millions on a footballer and not spend any money helping him settle. Ibrahimovic, then aged 19, joined Ajax Amsterdam at the age of 19. He found himself alone in a Dutch suburb house with his 60-inch TV, Hastens bed and PlayStation. He was so depressed that he called Maxwell, a Brazilian left-back, and asked him to help him. For three weeks, he slept on Maxwell’s mattress.

It can be difficult to transfer even within your own country. Wayne Rooney, an 18-year old from Everton, moved 35 miles up the motorway to Manchester United. In 2004, the club left its PS26m sign in a hotel.

He said that he had lived in “a horrible place” and regretted it later. He was the only one who helped him find housing. “Gary Neville tried convincing me to purchase one of his houses. I don’t know how many or if he was bragging or trying to wind me up, but he kept telling about the properties he owned.

Robbie Fowler, a Liverpool footballer, was another player who became interested in Property Investing. His wife and he built a huge portfolio of homes to rent around Merseyside.

Many players are confused by the housing market. They are able to get more help from their agents and the “player liaison officers” employed by big clubs. Raiola often FaceTiming his young clients during house viewings, holding up their phones, and asking them, “What do your thoughts?” They have learned to be careful in a market where many estate agents (and even some unscrupulous player link officers) are eager for young footballers to see the substandard mansion with dodgy drainages just off the motorway.