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From an outside point of view, the life of a footballer is unsurprisingly one of luxury. Fast cars, huge mansions, more money than one can imagine, and all of this on top of their innate talent that has allowed them to perform on this elevated platform.
But the glitz and glam of being a professional footballer isn’t always what it’s made out to be, with paparazzi, social media abuse and many other off-field problems often getting in the way of their abilities.
And another negative issue that also seems to follow these athletes around is problem gambling, with many prominent stars making the headlines over the years for their difficulties in the betting industry.
We take a look at ten players who suffered such problems throughout their careers.
1. Michael Chopra
The ex-Cardiff City forward enjoyed a career throughout the various divisions of English football, but often struggled away from the game, recently admitting to losing around £2 million through gambling. The striker also admitted that he joined Sunderland to pay off his debts, which started out when he was just a teenager at their rivals Newcastle, where he would bet up to £30,000 with other players en route to matches.
The former striker additionally faced severe charges from the British Horseracing Authority for suspicious betting activity. He did, however, spend time at the Sporting Chance clinic, a charity set up by Arsenal legend Tony Adams to provide an addiction and recovery facility for athletes. After England, Chopra spent time in Scotland and India with Alloa Athletic and Kerala Blasters respectively, before retiring in 2016.
2. Eidur Gudjohnsen
Former Chelsea striker Gudjohnsen enjoyed a trophy-laden career that spanned two decades, but he is another to have fallen victim to the lures of gambling. He once admitted to losing almost half a million pounds in just a few months, with roulette wheels and blackjack his games of choice when he missed out on football due to injury.
The journeyman had stints in Greece, China and Belgium in the latter stages of his career, and has since turned to coaching, firstly as an assistant manager for the Iceland under-21 side, before becoming manager at Icelandic football club FH.
3. Matthew Etherington
Etherington is another to have spent part of his career behind the glitz and glam of professional football at the Sporting Chance clinic. The former West Ham winger battled an addiction to poker and horse racing betting throughout his years as a professional footballer, with the Hammers once providing him with a £300,000 loan after their player had accumulated over £800,000 in gambling debt.
The 39-year-old worked towards his UEFA coaching badges after retiring from the game in 2014 due to a recurring back injury, putting his skills to the test by returning to former club Peterborough United to manage their under-18 team.
4. Wayne Rooney
England’s all-time record goalscorer has certainly dominated some headlines over his phenomenal career for his actions on the pitch, but those off it have often crept into the media too. One such issue was gambling, with Rooney reportedly losing £500,000 in a Manchester casino during his time at Old Trafford, with boredom and immaturity forcing him onto the betting scene.
The Red Devils legend made a high-profile return to England at the beginning of the year, joining Championship outfit Derby County. Rooney is a regular for Philip Cocu’s side, but it was a move shrouded in controversy due to the club’s primary sponsor, betting firm 32Red.
5. Kyle Lafferty
The former Rangers and Burnley striker has admitted his gambling addiction on numerous occasions, stating boredom as his major reason for online gambling once training and matches were finished. But betting on football matches once brought about an FA charge and a £23,000 fine for the Northern Ireland international.
Lafferty’s journey has taken him to Sunderland, Hearts, and Norwegian side Sarpsborg 08 in recent years, but he currently lines out for Serie B side Reggina, as well as remaining a key figure for his country under new boss Ian Baraclough.
6. Joey Barton
The FA had a tricky customer on their hands in the form of Barton, who gave the governing body plenty of trouble over the years both on and off the pitch. After ten years of betting on football matches, the former midfielder was finally charged in 2016 for breaching their rules with regards to gambling.
The ex-Manchester City and Newcastle man reportedly placed 1,260 bets over that period, and was given an 18-month ban for his actions. He had previously been given a one-match ban for breaking Scottish Football Association betting rules during his spell at Rangers.
Barton is another to turn his hand to management after playing, and is currently in charge of League One outfit Fleetwood Town.
7. Paul Merson
Arsenal legend Merson battled plenty of demons throughout an honour-filled career, with alcohol and drug addictions regularly getting the better of his innate abilities with a football. He also had a lengthy run-in with gambling, and reportedly spent thousands of pounds at a time on a regular basis, with his overall debt of around £7m forcing him at one point to sell his house.
The former forward is now well-known for his punditry work on Sky Sports, having played for various non-league clubs in England and Wales after his successful stint at Highbury.
8. David Bentley
Rather than focusing on football betting, former England international Bentley reportedly opted to gamble on greyhounds, horse racing and online poker, with his gambling addiction seeing him place up to 100 bets a day. He recently admitted that his gambling days began when he was as young as 14 and playing in Arsenal’s academy.
The former Tottenham Hotspur man now has a hand in several different businesses across Europe in the entertainment sector, as well as overseeing a bespoke flooring company.
9. Andros Townsend
Current Crystal Palace player Townsend is another to have fallen foul of FA betting rules, with the midfielder’s gambling habit spiralling out of control during a loan spell at Birmingham City. He was forced to pull out of England’s under-21 squad for the 2013 European Championship after receiving a four month ban, affecting both his career with his country and parent club Spurs.
The 29-year-old has become a key player for Roy Hodgson’s side in recent seasons, with his displays on the wing helping the Eagles clinch consistent mid-table top-flight finishes.
10. Dietmar Hamann
Former Germany midfielder Hamann reportedly turned to gambling at different times in his career, with the breakdown of his marriage and time spent away from his children two major low points. He once revealed that one night alone cost him £200,000.
The German retired as an Anfield hero, before venturing into the coaching world with MK Dons, Leicester and Stockport County. Hamann even made a brief return to football with amateur side TuS Haltern at the age of 41, but his current focus remains on punditry and as a columnist for several different publications.
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