The dilemma of mathematics in modern football

een bijdrage van
Henk-Maarten Chin

The dilemma of mathematics in modern football

Although a lot of people say that there is nothing more conservative than football as a sport, the football players market is always changing and the biggest change is taking place behind the scenes in a way just a few people realise.

It is 2021, you have a son and he is an exceptional talent. He is 16 or maybe 17 years old and he plays for a professional football club. All of a sudden people approach you and offer you and your family everything you have ever wished for. Clubs, agents and new ‘friends’ show up from everywhere, put a lot of money on the table and promise you the world. The future seems bright.

Everything in exchange for the services of your son.

What is your reaction? Nine out of ten times you are a parent without experience in this field. I mean, what are the odds that you are an ex professional footballer, or you have two sons that are exceptional football players and you already know about the crazy ride to professional football? Very low. And Let's face it, nine out of ten times you and your family can use the money. Who doesn't? On top of this you are a proud parent and (secretly) your ego is also in the game.

So now that I have outlined the background, I will tell you what happens. Nine out of ten times. Players and their families make the ‘take-money-now-and-don’t-think-about later’ choice. They say yes to the money they are offered and deal with anyone who offers it.  I understand. This seems the obvious choice. Cause you never know if your son gets injured. Better take the money now and ease your life immediately, there is probably more to come anyway. Again, it seems a logical choice. Who is talking about a dilemma? I am.

So, when the choice is made, the money is coming in and lives change in a split second. Many times fairly poor people get (reasonably) rich. Overnight. Without a warning or a user guide how to deal with that. At first the pressure seems off. But in fact, now the pressure is really on. Big time. Bigger than ever imagined. Why?

Because the ‘inner circle’ from the still very young football player all of sudden wants and (many times) gets something: money and fame by association. This changes everything. Not only there is huge pressure now for everyone involved to keep on making money and fame (and the hunger to get even more) and even worse, this young boy is now also the boss of the family. He is making more money than his father or mother and is more (locally) famous than anyone else in the entire family.

On top of this the people that provide the money, once they have bought you, also put pressure, decide which choices are made because they want to earn/get their money (and more) back. So now everybody puts pressure on the young boy and football player.…so all of a sudden money turns out to be  a huge factor. It is not just about football development anymore. Money and fame become purposes instead of being the effects of the real cause of success: football and personal development. Again, lifestyles change. Also because distractions are affordable now. Friends show up from everywhere, like bees to honey. That is when the famous football entourage is born. Sadly, like every entourage, the football entourage is not any different from other entourages. I haven't met many people in entourages that don't talk the player to the mouth and do what they should do. Telling him the truth. Which is that he is not the king yet and still has to learn a real lot to get to the top.

Sadly it is nowadays a well known fact that so many young players never reach their personal top level because of these choices and these kinds of forces around them. When they are older, they often do realise that they made the wrong choices, but then it is too late. 

Of course everyone who gets closer to the top in anything earns more and more money and has to deal with that. So one can also argue that the ‘take-money-now-and-don’t-think-about later’ choice is not a bad choice in itself and careers go down the drain when the player and his entourage don’t know how to deal with getting money and acquiring fame.

But that is too short sighted. Because of two reasons. First of all, if you and (your family’s) eyes are on the short run money when you are young, your status is not so high yet. This means the amount of money people will offer you will be evidently not so much. It will be less than the amount of money you make when you are an arrived player. So when your eyes are on the ball and you make football development related choices while focussing on a step-by-step career (in which more money will be earned gradually), you not only have a better chance to make it to a higher level, you also have a better chance that your career will be more sustainable. Which means you make more money for a longer period.

Side effect is also that you get used to money gradually and therefore have a better chance to learn to deal with being fairly rich.

Now don’t get me wrong. I can understand that players and their entourage go for the short run money, in fact that is the sad part. Because in a way it is completely understandable. But in a broader sense this new development, which takes place more than ever in the last couple of years, is the root of the loss of great careers of many young talented players. So in the end this development is costing the clubs, the players and everybody else in the football market a lot of money.