Wealthsimple is an investing service that uses technology to put your money to work like the world’s smartest investors. In “Money Diaries,” we feature interesting people telling their financial life stories in their own words.
As footballers we'd get paid on the 28th of every month. And in football, we have this thing that we all carry to training — our wash bag — and all the players come in with Gucci or Louis Vuitton. And so, with your first big paycheque, that's what everyone would go and buy. By the first of the month, every young player had a new wash bag. I’m not gonna say that my family had nothing, but we really, really struggled at times when I was young, and that made me appreciate and value money. So it was exciting to have money, but at the same time, in the back of my head I knew that I couldn't be silly, because it's so hard for the money to come in but it flies out so easily. I didn’t run out and buy a sports car or anything. I was happy with my wash bags.
When footballers in Europe turn 16, they can sign working contracts, which means they can go abroad. I was playing with FC Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, and when I turned 16, I thought I would stay with Barca. But I wasn't feeling like they were showing me on paper what they were saying — let’s put it that way. I'm not talking just financially, but also in terms of my path into the first team. Halfway through that year, I got the call that Arsenal were interested in me. So, I went to London, saw the facilities, met with the boss, and they made me an offer. Everything looked so great, and my path into the first team was clear — obviously as long as I worked hard and I was reaching my targets. I like challenges and adventures. Even though people might have thought I was putting myself in a tough position by leaving my country and my family, it was actually quite easy, and exciting.
I went alone for the first year and a half, and I lived with an English family. We were four players with this family, and I'm really happy I did this because I learned a lot about the culture — about the similarities and the differences between how people live in England and we live in Spain. Things like the timing of when you eat, when you wake up, or go to sleep. It took me awhile to understand and adapt to it.
After a year and a half, my parents decided to come with my sister and live with me. The four of us lived together for two years, then my sister went back, and my parents stayed another year. Now, all of them are in Spain and I'm on my own again. It was really nice to have them here because every young footballer goes through his ups and downs. To go through them without your family or your friends is quite tough. During that time, I went on loan to Watford and then made my first team debut with Arsenal, and I owe them a lot for the moral support and the guidance that they gave me, because those years were really important for me.
The bigger money doesn’t come in until you turn 17. During that first year, I was actually getting very little, so it was a challenge for me to live for the whole month. My parents have always given me a lot of independence in terms of my lifestyle and finances. Sometimes I would spend too much, and then be struggling a little bit toward the end of the month. I guess that happens to every young person when they start earning money. But it taught me how to deal with those situations. There’s not always going to be a lot of money coming into your bank account; you’re going to have challenges like this. And, my parents were there to put me in my place when I was spending a bit too much.
Even today, that feeling is always there. You see it in football — in a split second, you can have an injury. You look at what’s happened with Ryan Mason. He was a healthy professional football player and then, from a head clash, he had to retire at 26. It really makes you reevaluate your whole life. It's not just injuries. You can have very, very bad seasons and end up somewhere you didn't expect to be. And, when you get used to a certain lifestyle, it's hard to cut back. I think it's always in the back of my head that anything can happen, and that I need to be ready for it. It's important for every single player, doesn’t matter the age, to have a plan, and always put money aside.
What I'm making sure is that I have something for life after. My goal is to get to a point where I can play football without having to think about how much I'm getting paid — a point in which the finance is not in my head anymore. Some players, when they get to age 27 or 28, all of a sudden they get this thought in their head like, "I don't know if I have that much time anymore, so I'm gonna have to start investing.” And sometimes they put so much risk into it that they end up losing money. I thought, instead of waiting so long, why don't I just start taking care and managing my money and getting ready for the future now? It might be 15 to 20 years away, but the sooner you do it, the more ready you are when it happens.
The earlier you begin to save and invest, the better. That's one of the things that I say to younger players. I didn't start taking care of it until I was 20, but if you can start doing it when you're 17, when you actually start getting the money, that's even better.
I bought a house a couple of years ago, but at the moment I've been living in one that I rented in a location that was more suitable for me. I've got one in Spain as well, and my family lives in it. It’s nice to be able to provide for your family and give them a better place to live. It's one of the greatest feelings. But they insist that it’s my house. They like to say that they're just taking care of it, to make sure everything's clean.
My first big splurge was probably my third car — a Mercedes S63. When I was in the Under 21 team, I would see older players driving them and I thought, ‘One day that will be my car.’ I was hearing other players spending huge amounts on cars and thinking those people might be crazy. But after you get that kind of money, it kind of makes more sense. I loved that car so much, but at the same time it was quite scary when you see that money flying out your bank account.
I think it's always in the back of my head that anything can happen, and that I need to be ready for it.
I don’t have it anymore. I decided to go green so I bought a Tesla Model S. I’m a very big fan of technology and taking care of the earth. The Tesla is amazing. Every time I go to training, I'm excited to just drive the car. It’s like a phone: it upgrades itself every month. It is amazing to see what a machine can do — and, of course, there’s the plus that you are not harming the Earth. That makes me very happy inside.
This way of thinking isn’t new for me. My school in Spain was quite a green school. We had our own vegetable garden. It was actually a subject in school, to go and plant food that we would eat. My family as well is very spiritual. They believe that what you give is what you get back. A bit like karma. When you see the signs of the global warming, and some people are trying to say that's not actually true, it’s quite scary. We need to treat the place where we live in well, and it starts by making all these little choices every day.
I started a plant-based diet at the start of the season. That is great for the environment, and I would do it for that, but this wasn’t the main reason. Once you start doing it, you actually feel better.
I don’t actually know the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought. It would probably be a jacket, because I don't really spend that much on any other things. Loads of players love cars. Loads of players love the stock markets. For me, it's fashion. My mom and grandma have made clothes their whole life. My grandma had her own factory. When there was no kids to play football with in my local park, I would go to my grandma's factory. She used to give me £2 if I cleaned all the threads and scraps off the floor. I even learned how to sew.
I don’t know yet what life will be for me after football. I’m already working on other businesses. I have a marketing agency with my best friend, I even took a basic degree in marketing. Right now, the company's gotten quite big, and we have loads of things that we're dealing with. We are quite picky with the players we work with. We want people who know that image and the way that people perceive them is important. It’s hard for players. It’s easy to say yes too much. That happens to loads of players — you go on social media, and you can see them posting a different product every day. In the short term, that can help you financially. But when it comes to the long term, if there's a brand that's actually, seriously looking at getting a player for an ambassadorial role or something, they're not going to look into a player who has 20 different brands in his social media. They're gonna look at someone who has integrity.
Becoming a designer myself is a long-term goal. I've seen my mom do it since I was really young and I've seen some of the pieces that she was able to create. I wouldn't like to just print a t-shirt with my name and put it online. I want to do something that is different, that people can appreciate, not just for who I am, but for what those pieces are.
I'm 23 now. In the end, there has to be a balance. I'm a young person and I should enjoy my life. I need to value money, but it's important to make the most of your time. It's like how the gossip in the papers used to bother me when I was younger. But I don’t worry anymore. You've got to train hard and take care of yourself, but at the end of the day, you're only 20 or 25 years old once. It’s important to give 100 percent towards your career, but also to take your downtime to enjoy life, to go out with your friends, to meet other people, to travel. If other people want to make that part of your life sound like an issue, then there's not much you can do about it. As long as you know that what you're doing is right and you're not harming anyone, and you're working 100 percent, you're allowed to do whatever you want.
As told to Josh Dean exclusively for Wealthsimple; transcript edited and condensed for clarity. Illustration by Jenny Mörtsell.