Do a quick online search for “footballer” and “bankrupt” and you’ll find no shortage of multi-millionaire athletes who have played, earned and fallen on hard times in only a matter of years.

It’s a heartbreaking story but one that seems to play on repeat, a clichéd version of life after sports.

“Athletes often make a ‘Faustian bargain’ in focusing on their sport at the expense of preparing for a post-sporting career,” explains David Lavallee, a professor at University of Stirling’s School of Sport in Scotland.

Lavallee’s research, which focuses heavily on transitions experienced by high performance athletes throughout their careers, has found that one in five athletes experience a distressful reaction following retirement from sport.

“Retirement is perhaps the only inevitability in sport, yet very few prepare for it – it is a very low percentage [of those who prepare], normally less than 10 [percent],” Lavallee explains. “There are a combination of factors, including the reason why they retire, the coping resources they have in their post-retirement environment and self-identity.”

But it also comes down to a question of earnings. On average, According to a Sportsmail report, Premier League footballers earn £2.3 million a year not including bonuses and sponsorships. For a career that lasts eight years on average, stretching those funds out is critical.

“Once you stop, or you're forced to stop performing at that level due to injury or simply you're out of a contract, your salary base immediately pulls back,” says Oshor Williams, a former footballer and current assistant director of education at the Professional Footballers’ Association. “Unless you’re a top player, it changes your financial circumstances.”

Connect with a relationship manager

Don’t have an RBC relationship manager and wish to find one? Get in touch with one.

Develop a game plan while still on the field

Sustainability begins with asking what kind of lifestyle the athlete hopes to live when the game is over.

“Take time to really think about what you want from life – you should then work backwards from that goal making sure the investment and lifestyle choices made are aimed at achieving this,” says Sandy Swinton, Head of Sports, Media and Entertainment at RBC Wealth Management in London. “Some people may have ambitions to be a manager, pundit or go into business, everyone is unique but there is still the same planning methodology for everyone.”

A solid, robust financial plan and an advisor are must haves.

“Seek real wealth structuring and protection advice,” he adds. “Outline your goals – career, financial, family – and work with them to ensure the structures they deem suitable really meet your needs.”

A good offense is a solid defense

One element retiring pros often struggle with is pay control, says Williams.

“They are so focused on reaching their pinnacle performance that they put so many of their affairs into the hands of others – whether it be planning a trip abroad, their finances, hiring a car, buying a house, aspects of their wellbeing,” he says.

It’s club culture to take as much of the day-to-day responsibilities off the player so they can focus on performing at the highest level.

“That's great, until you no longer have the support group of the club and you've been asked to make these important decisions on your own,” he says.

That’s where trust structures and insurance can prove invaluable ways to make a salary last, says Swinton.

“But they could also invest in property to provide further income and asset appreciation and protection,” he adds. “Only earmark a portion of the disposable income to the athlete to play with, the rest should be set aside to protect the future.”

Trade long shots for good shots

While athletes have the luxury of earning a lot of money in a very short space of time, it does not follow that they should invest it in the same timeframe with a view to simply earning more, Swinton cautions. Careful planning and consideration of their goals, both personal and financial, should drive an athlete’s strategy, Swinton adds, with careful consideration to a long-term view.

The spike in earning in their early life, can also lend itself to a slightly higher degree of risk. But investment should be thoughtful.

“Don't rush into an opportunity, you have all your life to invest in vehicles to make more money but this time is really to invest in your career and seek advice to help protect and accumulate in a careful way,” he adds.

Stack your bench

As the support from the club and sponsors fades, athletes will need to look towards building a new team, one that can help them protect their finances.

“Engage the services of an experienced wealth partner who will have seen it warts and all who has witnessed the good and the bad times and the volatility that characterizes most asset classes,” he says.

Williams agrees, saying horror stories where athletes follow their teammates into bad investments or poor advice, are born out of a lack of their own due diligence.

“They need to think through investing prudently, seek the right kind of advice, and undertake their due research and intelligence,” he adds. “It may cost some money, but it may save them.”

It is important to note that the capital value of, and income from, any investment may go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount invested.