The Football Lawyer: Callum McManaman tackle on Massadio Haidara and how footballers insure themselves against injury

John Blavo

When Massadio Haidara was carried off the field on Sunday against Wigan Athletic, he was just the latest example of the sight that professional footballers fear the most.

The Newcastle United defender, who was the victim of a badly mistimed challenge from Callum McManaman, must now anxiously await the results of a medical examination to see how long he will be ruled out of the game.  His fate was a stark reminder that a player’s career, though it can often promise substantial rewards, ultimately rests on a precarious footing.

In my experience, though, it’s not all that common for footballers to take financial precautions in case they suffer a grave injury.  Perhaps that’s because they just don’t want to contemplate such a day like that; that they don’t believe it will ever happen to them.  Or perhaps it’s because they think that the club will pick up the tab.  Whatever the case, insurance is not a topic to which many players give much serious thought.  Given even the fittest of them will enjoy short working lives – after all, the technical retirement age, after which they are entitled to receive retirement payments from their pension, is just 33 – they should probably consider this issue at greater length.

The current position is that clubs provide insurance for as long as the player is one of their employees; beyond that, players are on their own.  In the case of a career-ending tackle, a player is therefore suddenly faced with a sharp drop in earning potential and no immediate alternative source of income, which is a very worrying place to be in your mid-twenties or early thirties.  For that reason, I would suggest that players take out an additional policy alongside that which is paid for by their club; one which takes them some way beyond the end of their contract, and which protects their income in the case of an unfortunate injury.

What’s more, the sums in question aren’t substantial.  Depending on their claims records, a typical premium is between £5,000 and £10,000 each year, which amounts to a small or manageable percentage of a professional footballer’s salary.

This can cover a player for a couple of years after he suffers such a setback, and so it’s well worth looking at.  This, after all, is a sport where some clubs act wholly in their own interests, to the detriment of their employees.  One of my clients, who had otherwise excellent health, had to retire early due to persistent problems with the cartilage in his knee.  In that case, his club put pressure on him to play when he wasn’t ready to do so, and when his contract came up for renewal they told him that his ailments – which they had helped to aggravate – meant that they would have to let him go.  His career ended soon afterwards, but fortunately he had safeguards in place.

However, there are always who don’t think this far ahead, especially the younger players; after all, when you’re just beginning to live your dream, why would you put any thought to what happens when you wake up?  These are frequently the worst cases: when you see someone, like a former client of mine, whose ankle trouble puts them out of the game just as they’re starting to get all the right attention.  When that happens – assuming you’ve got a contract of at least two years’ duration – you can get payments up to eighteen months after you leave the club, and then you’re back out in the real world again.

That can be a very hard fall to bear: it is my hope, then, that all players seek the softest possible landing.

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  • creggancowboy

    Isn’t John Cooper QC my old pal involved?

  • alan kelly

    What about the recourse in law for what could be construed effectively as an assault? Surely a better solution than insurance (which in my opinion is often legalised protection money) is to fix the actual problem at source rather than pay to protect against it?

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