HAS THERE EVER BEEN A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU’VE BEEN PARTICULARLY HARD UP?
We had a very poor childhood. I came from a family of nine and I was the eighth child. We all lived in a small two-bedroom bungalow in Tobago, so you can imagine things were fairly tight for us. I think that was poor by most people’s standards. So there was a strong desire to improve things for my family.
HOW DID YOUR CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES INFLUENCE YOUR ATTITUDE TO MONEY?
Coming from such a humble background made me soon realise that I needed to make a difference for the sake of my family. So I decided the only way to do this was to dedicate myself to sport and made the sacrifice to move to the UK to start playing football. I could have chosen the easy life and stayed in the Caribbean with a good family, good weather and good food but I opted for something else, especially for the sake of my mum. At 15 years old I left home and went to join Aston Villa.
SO HAS THAT UPBRINGING MADE YOU A SAVER OR A SPENDER?
I appreciate things that I have paid for but I am still very much a spender. I was earning a lot of money as a footballer. It wasn’t long before my salary was 10 times what I would have been earning back home and it grew much greater over time. I am a firm believer in enjoying the moment and I enjoyed the money I was earning. This partly comes from the fact that I was run over by a car when I was three years old, so I know how fortunate I am to be alive. And when I see all the disasters in the world, such as the latest earthquake in New Zealand, it brings home that you never know what’s around the corner, so make the most of your time and enjoy the moment.
FOOTBALLERS ARE KNOWN FOR FAST CARS AND LUXURY ITEMS. WAS THAT YOU?
I was earning a lot of money and, yes, I did spend it on those sorts of things. Footballers are criticised for the huge salaries they earn but it’s not all their fault. Clubs are willing to pay that money for players and if you happen to be good at football you’ll get paid a lot of money to do so. What are you supposed to do with all that money you’re getting paid? And anyhow, the average career of a Premiership footballer is very short so you need to spread that money over a normal working life.
SO WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR WORST BUY?
Cars, without a doubt. People say if you buy an expensive sports car they will hold their value but that’s not true. I lost a lot of money that way. But money really wasn’t the issue. I would be on a contract so would be getting paid if I scored or I didn’t. Money was the last thing on my mind. There was no need to exercise any control as I knew that I had enough of it. When I saw something, whether it was a car or an expensive piece of jewellery, I just bought it without looking at the price tag. When you’re playing well, scoring goals and winning trophies, no one is going to stop you. But I had way too many cars – maybe five or six at any one time, which was outrageous but something I never really thought about at the time. Having two or three would have made more sense.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST BUY?
Property. I bought a big house in Manchester and own another back in Tobago and I’ve whittled my mortgages down on them so they’re now all mine. That would be my advice to others – pay off your mortgage as quickly as you can.
YOU WROTE YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN 2009 – BORN TO SCORE. WAS THAT MOTIVATED BY MONEY?
No. I wanted to get my story out as there have been so many misconstrued stories written about me. And I wanted to show that, while at the top of your game there can be lots of glamour and glitz to being a footballer, it can also be very lonely at times.
I hope it might be useful reading to young footballers to show them the hard work and dedication you need along with preparing them for the lonely times. I left my family when I was 15 and it was very hard for me. I gained so much from writing that book but more in therapy than in money.
DID YOU START SAVING FOR A PENSION WHEN YOU WERE STILL PLAYING FOOTBALL?
I have always had an accountant and a financial adviser who have guided me in the right way. I knew while I was earning all that money that I couldn’t spend it all so money was being put away for a rainy day. At [Manchester] United they had advisers to help you with that sort of thing.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FOOTBALL MEMORABILIA YOU COULD SELL IF YOU WERE HARD-UP?
Hopefully that day won’t happen anytime soon. I do have a lot of shirts signed by the great players like Becks [David Beckham] and Giggsy [Ryan Giggs], who I played alongside, plus shirts from Zola, Maradona, Ronaldo and Zidane. But I wouldn’t have a clue what they are worth.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG FOOTBALLERS STARTING OUT TODAY?
My only advice would be never to lose focus. If you love football, or any sport really, that should be enough to motivate you to get out of bed every morning. I was very focused on my career and never drank until I was 21. I loved football so much I slept with a football in my bed until I was 25! A lot of young players are earning treble what I did when I was a teenager and it’s very hard to keep your focus. But there will come a time when you can’t run as fast as you once could, so make the most of your prime years. Keep a balance of working hard but enjoy your time too.
BUT GENERALLY DO YOU THINK FOOTBALLERS GET PAID TOO MUCH MONEY?
Definitely. But as I said, this is not necessarily their fault as someone is willing to pay them that amount of money. There are people who do far more important work than footballers, like doctors and nurses, who deserve to be paid lots of money too.
SO HOW IS THE TRAINING FOR THE MARATHON GOING?
This will be my first time and I am ahead of schedule so I would like to finish it in under 3 hours 15 minutes.
AND THE FUND-RAISING?
That’s going well too. Sir Alex Ferguson was the first person to donate to my charity Vision, for blind and visually impaired children (Dwight’s son Harvey is blind). He kick-started it with £1,000, which was really generous. I might ask some of the old United boys to donate too. I’m sure Becks would donate but I haven’t spoken to him since he picked up the BBC Sports Personality of the Year lifetime achievement award in December, which he thoroughly deserved as he is such a great ambassador for the game.
WHERE’S YOUR FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION?
I have been lucky enough to travel all around the world with football and thanks to the money I’ve made. There are very few countries I haven’t been to, so it’s hard to pinpoint one place. But a popular destination I’ve never seen is Hawaii. I think it will be great for a honeymoon, though I haven’t had the opportunity for that yet.