The Barcelona superstar is part of a growing trend of players who are preparing for life after hanging up their boots by making shrewd investment decisions.
“There is a place where you can rediscover the beauty of a sunrise, and feel the wind in the trees. A special place where the blossoms flourish and where the countryside and river make nature breathe life. It’s a place of tranquility and freedom so you can pause from the pace of urban life. It’s Azahares Del Parana, where you can feel the pulse of nature.”
So reads the literature that accompanies the Azahares Del Parana construction project. It is being built in a small town called Fighiera, 30 kilometres away from Lionel Messi’s home city of Rosario, and it sounds amazing. An enclave of seven gated communities, with a huge park, 600-metre beach, sports centre with volleyball and football pitches, tennis courts and a golf course. And, of course, a marina with berths for 60 boats. A retreat, a country club, a haven, call it what you will, it sounds impressive. As it should be: Messi himself has invested up to $10million in the business along with his partner, Marcelo Muniagurria, a former vice-governor of Santa Fe.
That is not the only property investment that Messi has made: he invested in the Aqualina tower in central Rosario, a building 125 metres high with 40 floors of apartments. It opened in 2009.
A place in the sun | Lionel Messi’s country retreat ‘Azahares Del Parana’
The over-riding common theme of the majority of players in the Top 20 is not their current football level (you could argue that 15 players have their best days behind them), their age (Neymar is 23, Aguero 26, the majority over 30) or their nationality (three Brazilians in the top 10, five Englishmen in the top 20) but their investment portfolio, which almost always features smart property deals.
In general it is breathtaking overspending, poor investment choices and a disregard for the taxman that leads players to bankruptcy, not poor business decisions. Often players struggle to readjust towards the end of their careers to a life of living within their means.
Players in the Jorge Mendes stable are encouraged to leave their investment decision to an in-house financial consultant. “My advice to young players is always the same,” Mendes told Portuguese station SIC in a documentary aired in 2012. “Don’t take up partnerships and don’t get involved in other types pf businesses.
“In most cases, everyone that got into these situations took a blow. A football professional has to be focused on football and not worry if tomorrow he has to make a deal with this and that. There are several examples of where something went wrong and put the player’s performance and even his life in jeopardy.” He cites a shrimp business and an oil-rig investment: two poor opportunites that left players out of pocket and fearing for their futures.
Perhaps the likes of Messi and Co have attended the Robbie Fowler Property Academy, a two-hour workshop course that opened in 2013 and teaches the secrets of buying-to-let investing. Former Liverpool forward Fowler is thought to own more than 80 rental properties and has admitted: “What the trained investor knows over and above everybody else is that there is money to be made in property. It doesn’t matter what state the market’s in, there is always money to be made as long as you get the right education.” His success spawned the chant: ‘We all live in a Robbie Fowler house….’
Another South American player, Arturo Vidal, is following a similar philosophy: the success of his two business, a sports marketing company called Arvid and an investment company, Sociedad de Inversiones Vidal Spa, with his two brothers helped fund €4.5m he spent on buying a sports centre in Chicureo in Chile.
There he installed top-of-the-range football pitches, tennis courts, gym equipment, an Olympic-size pool and various machines for exercise and rehabilitation, boosting membership from 200 to around 1,200. That doubled the value of the sports complex in almost no time. Thanks to that success he’s been looking to buy another sports centre on the outskirts of Santiago.
Again, this is a far cry from the rap labels and mega-yachts that recent players thought would secure their futures – and also investments in films, often used as a tax wheeze, rarely work. But the most important element is smart advice: not like Sven-Goran Eriksson, who alleged that his financial advisor lost him around €12 million, on a range of negligent investments including a residential and leisure development of 92 flats in Hampshire, and a proposed development of two plots of land at the Royal Westmoreland Golf Club in Barbados.
“I feel let down, angry and disappointed because I trusted this man for many, many years,” Eriksson told theDaily Telegraph. “I gave him too much freedom. I gave him all the authority he needed to take care of my economy.”
Fowler says it’s all about education and taking the right advice. Eriksson would agree and who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll hear a new chant from Argentina: ‘We all live on a Lionel Messi estate…”