When you earn £50k or more in a single week, it’s probably easy to lose all grip on reality.
Most mere mortals simply wouldn’t know what to do with all of that cash, and as a consequence you can see why some footballers might be considered selfish or grotesque in how they flaunt their wealth.
But it would be wholly unfair to tar all players with that brush, because many top pros – past and present – have done remarkable things for charity and their local communities.
Take Marcus Rashford, for example. Aged 22 and with the world at his feet, it would be easy for the Manchester United forward to occupy a dreamlike state in which all he cares about is scoring goals and upgrading his supercar, designer watch/wardrobe and gadgets to the next hottest release.
Rashford Tackles Food Poverty
But there’s a real touch of class to Rashford, who in 2020 has gone to war with the government over free school dinners – a system he himself benefitted from growing up.
The Tories want to pull funding from the free lunches programme, and it was only thanks to a campaign spearheaded by Rashford that the scheme was (reluctantly, you suspect) extended into the future. That will enable thousands of low income families to ensure their children are able to eat with their peers at lunchtime.
The England striker hasn’t rested on his laurels either. He has now helped to set up a taskforce with brands such as Asda, Aldi and the Food Foundation to extend his ideas further, including the provision of free school meals to every child from a Universal Credit claiming household, an increase in activities – and free meals – in the school holidays, and the introduction of a Healthy Start scheme, which would see hard-up families be handed vouchers to ensure their young children can afford basic food rations.
Again, this is Marcus Rashford – a 22-year-old multi-millionaire who doesn’t need to lift a finger to help anyone else. But he wants to, and he deserves a enormous amount of credit for that.
So who else ranks alongside Rashford in the pantheon of players who go above and beyond donating a few quid here and there to charity and are instead making a real difference to the wider community?
“Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches, or two planes? What will these objects do for me and for the world?
“I was hungry, and I had to work in the field; I survived hard times, played football barefooted, I did not have an education and many other things, but today with what I earn thanks to football, I can help my people.”
They say you should never forget your roots, and Sadio Mane has gone above and beyond the call of duty with his extraordinary charitable efforts for his Senegalese homeland.
The Liverpool forward donates £50 per month – plus food and clothing – to all of the people in the particularly poor region of Bambaly where he grew up, and he has also footed the bill for the building of schools, medical facilities and even a sports stadium.
When time allows, Mane flies back to Bambaly to check on the progress of the projects he has funded, and ahead of the 2018 Champions League final he sent 300 Liverpool shirts for the children of the village to wear in support of his team.
Despite a glittering football career that took Didier Drogba from Marseille to London and on to Montreal, he never once lost sight of home.
The Ivorian has set up his own charitable foundation following his retirement from the professional game, and the funds raised have been donated to a number of causes in his home country.
Drogba’s project has helped to build hospitals and schools across the Ivory Coast, and he has also donated medical supplies and building materials so that his people can start to create an infrastructure of their own.
The former Chelsea frontman built a school in the region of Guiberoa, so that the children there could get a formal education rather than missing out on their schooling having been sent to work on cocoa farms from the age of five – the Ivory Coast is the largest cocoa producer in the world.
Many sportsmen and women set up charitable foundations in their own name, and once-a-year they might host some kind of function in which some money is raised for a specific charity.
But Juan Mata has gone above and beyond that with his Common Goal scheme, in which players and coaching staff from around the world are encouraged to donate at least 1% of their annual salary to the cause.
Mata himself is signed up, as are many other stars from around the world including Jurgen Klopp, Giorgio Chiellini, Serge Gnabry and Megan Rapinoe, as well as major brands such as EA Sports and Banco Santander.
The aim of Common Goal is to deliver ‘long-term social impact on a global scale’, and already the money raised has been ploughed into a number of environmental and technological projects, improving the lives of impoverished communities with food supplies, clean water and building materials.
For some footballers, the huge amount of money they make is simply a by-product of the thing they love doing, and they are only too happy to share their wealth with the needy.
Mesut Ozil is near the top of that particular league table, donating a staggering amount of money to a number of different causes over the past year or so.
Back in 2004 when Germany lifted the World Cup, Ozil donated his considerable £240,000 win bonus to a children’s charity in Brazil, enabling 23 Brazilian children to have life-changing surgery.
And when he got married in 2019, rather than asking for gifts the Arsenal midfielder and his wife Amine instead asked for donations to be made to a charity which funds surgeries for children born with deformities such as cleft palette and club foot.
Ozil has even handed money to the Turkish government to help them fight Covid-19, confirming his status as an outstanding humanitarian.
When he played his football in England, Mario Balotelli became something of a joke figure for his outlandish antics on and off the pitch and his ‘why always me?’ celebration.
But behind the scenes, Super Mario was – and remains – a genuine charity giver, gifting hundreds of thousands of pounds to various causes around the world.
There were tales of random acts of kindness while he was in Manchester, like handing out cash to locals from the window of his Bentley and walking into pubs, buying everybody a drink before promptly leaving again, but it’s his more considered donations that ensure Balotelli’s place on this list.
While never confirmed, it is believed that he donated £25,000 to a local dogs’ trust after a fire – the same dogs’ trust where he had voluntarily walked the animals to help out, and that he paid more than £1,000 so that homeless people in Manchester could spend the night at the Hilton Hotel at Christmas.
If there’s one footballer who can match Balotelli for mad antics then it’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who also has a charitable side.
The Swede was once asked to donate a signed shirt to help fund the learning difficulties team of Sweden to play in the INAS World Football Championship. “What the hell are you going to do with a shirt?” Zlatan reportedly responded, and instead asked for the bank account linked to the team. He paid in more than £30,000 to make their dreams come true.
And then, in his inimitable style, Ibrahimovic pledged to defeat coronavirus in Italy, starting up his own fundraiser with the aim of raising €1 million to fund the purchase of emergency medical supplies. ‘If the virus don’t go to Zlatan, Zlatan goes to the virus!’ was the tagline, before the veteran striker promptly donated €100,000 of his own to get the efforts up and running.