Football’s own goal

One of modern life’s burning issues is how to spend £40,000 wisely. And if you’re David Beckham, that’s a daily cashflow problem. Beckham is, of course, the ultimate icon of fiscal fame, but in perfect formation behind him stands a very long line of UK premier league footballers who, while not exactly blighted by shyness, are far from hitting the back of 2021’s net for taste, tact and sensitivity.

Not long after the new millennium dawned, a regime change at Express Newspapers dictated a change of tone. Motoring features, I was told, such as which supermini might save your children’s lives, or what’s the best SUV on a budget, were to be spiked. Today’s readers don’t want such bilge as consumer information, the memo said, they want to drool over who’s got the biggest and loudest roadgoing hardware. Thereby followed maximum space for drooling chatter about who’s got what supercar. I should know: I wrote a lot of it.

The term “conspicuous consumption” was coined by sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 when the first observations of a public display of “discretionary economic power”, or spare cash, began to be used as “a means of either attaining or maintaining a given social status”. We tend to think of the Thatcher years as the obvious expression of this, but did it ever go away? In January, Oxfam reported data that showed the pandemic has been excellent news for the world’s richest people. I won’t torture you with the grim details; suffice to say there is no vaccine against materialism, which when dropped into the petri dish of financial freedom, is highly predictable in its final results.

And so to a recent study from Compare the Market, the one with those puppets I’d like to feed into a garden shredder. It found that the average premier league player spends £154,600 on wheels. And based on their average incomes, that figure is generally paid off by the sweat of 0.9 matches. The ball keeps moving, but top examples of extravagance include Paul Pogba, who owns a Lamborghini Aventador costing £271,000, (pocket money when you have an estimated £50m in wealth), Gareth Bale, a £230,000 Ferrari GTC4Lusso and Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang, a £3m Ferrari LaFerrari.

While environmental concerns brew in the background of Covid19, envy in the club car park, it seems, is rarely green. Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín faces little competition for the charger lead when topping up his Tesla. Elsewhere, I’ve scoured Google for evidence of combustion-eschewing football heroes. And I’m still looking. Understandably, I guess, everyone in the beautiful game wants to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo. He snaffled a Bugatti La Voiture Noire at $18.7m. It’s currently the most expensive car in the world, until something altogether crazier comes along.

All of which brings me to Marcus Rashford, and a hugely missed opportunity. Rashford is a beacon of hope and positivity in 2021, that rare example of a consummate sportsman who understands the power of his position and uses it, as we have seen in his campaign for free school meals out of term time, for the benefit of others. He’s essentially a nice bloke. But his taste in cars is as unremarkable as that of so many footballers who simply want to honour Thorstein Veblen’s memory.

Sure, compared to many, the £150,000 per week Man United striker’s choices – including a £70,000 Range Rover Velar modified by Urban Automotive and a succession of high-powered Mercs, have been prudent, but where are the images of this new warrior for justice emerging from a green, thoughtful set of wheels?

The right answer to this, of course, is that Rashford is free as any of us to spend his money as he likes. But consider this: like many, I have a young son who lives and breathes on the stories of these players, for whom performance is not only something shown on the pitch.

Personally, I don’t need green heroes, least of all footballers to calibrate my moral compass. I’m more than happy with the entertainment they provide as sportsmen. But as Rashford has shown in politics, so many of us do benefit from such optics. And for that reason, it’s time these athletes dropped the boys’ toys and turned the key on the cars the next generation will soon be driving.

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