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Elite soccer players are being violently robbed at an alarming rate, and one expert says it is only a matter of time before someone is killed

Barnaby Lane   

Elite soccer players are being violently robbed at an alarming rate, and one expert says it is only a matter of time before someone is killed
  • Violent home invasions and robberies are becoming increasingly common across European elite soccer.
  • Social media and poor security are largely to blame, one security expert told Insider.

The city of Manchester is, arguably, the epicenter of British soccer. Home to its best team right now, Manchester City, and its most successful team, Manchester United, the city lives and breathes the beautiful game.

It is, however, also the epicenter of an alarming, growing trend in the sport: the rise of violent robberies and home invasions targeted at elite players.

In the last month alone, players from both sides of the city's great rivalry have been caught up in such attacks. Late in December Manchester City's Joao Cancelo was assaulted in his home by four intruders who stole jewelry and left him with visible facial injuries.

Just three weeks later the family of Manchester United's Victor Lindelof was targeted, his wife forced to lock herself and the couple's children in a bedroom while he was away at a match.

Violent attacks are becoming increasingly common

Cancelo and Lindelof's stories are far from unique.

The pair are just the latest victims of the trend, which one expert told Insider he fears will end in the death of a player or family member in the near future.

While there are no official statistics on how many soccer stars are being robbed or assaulted in their homes, it is clear from a brief glance at social media and traditional media outlets that more and more players are becoming victims.

In total, Insider was able to find more than 20 examples since 2019 of publicly reported robberies of soccer stars and their families across Europe's top leagues.

Below are a handful of those incidents:

  • In March 2021, Premier League goalkeeper Robin Olsen was at his house close to Manchester with his wife and two children, when a masked gang armed with machetes broke in, tied them up, and stole jewelry. Though nobody was physically injured, Olsen was said to have been " deeply traumatized" by the incident, according to The Sun.
  • A month before Olsen was burgled, two robbers broke into the home of his manager, Carlo Ancelotti and took a safe.
  • Over the past two years, Chelsea FC defender Reece James has twice been targeted — first his car and later his home.
  • Liverpool star Fabinho had possessions and a $125,000 car stolen while he celebrated his side winning the Premier League in July 2020.

Robberies are not just a problem in England, however.

In January 2021, Juventus and USMNT star Weston McKennie had designer clothes and other items stolen from his home while he played in a cup match.

Just two months ago, Argentine defender Nicholas Otamendi was assaulted at his home in Lisbon, Portugal, with attackers putting a belt round his neck, according to Portuguese media.

And in perhaps the most public robbery to date, Paris Saint-Germain's Angel Di Maria was dragged off the field by his manager when the club got word that his family home had just been burgled. His wife and two young children had been held hostage during the ordeal.

At the final whistle, Di Maria's teammate and PSG captain Marquinhos received a similar message. A house he had purchased for his parents had also been targeted. His father had been involved in an altercation with one of the intruders.

Fortunately, nobody was injured in either incident.

"It happens all time," Alex Bomberg, CEO of security firm Intelligent Protection, which provides security solutions to soccer players around the world.

"This is a real problem."

Social media is fueling the rise in robberies

But why does it happen all the time?

In its most basic form, crime opportunity theory suggests that opportunity is the key factor as to whether a potential thief will act or not.

In the case of soccer players being targeted, opportunity is rife.

Not only do players often share pictures of their wealth and expensive belongings on social media, but their timetables are also publicly known. Thieves know when stars are training or playing a match, and therefore know when they'll be away from their homes.

"If as a criminal you know that a footballer, for example, is going to be playing for Arsenal on Saturday, you know he's not going be at his house," said Bomberg.

"And then too much intelligence is also being put on social media. Players are taking pictures around their houses of their stuff, so people kind of know what portable valuables they've got.

"Whether you're part of an organized crime gang or not, using social media you could put together really, really quickly where somebody is, who they're with, and what they've got on them. It's easy."

A post shared by NJ (@neymarjr)

Bomberg also says that soccer players sharing pictures of expensive goods online only acts as motivation for potential thieves.

Though information on the socioeconomic background of those who commit crimes in the United Kingdom is virtually non-existent, according to The Equality Trust, rates of violent crime, including robbery, are related very strongly to income inequality. The UK has a very high level compared to other developed countries, the Equality Trust says.

A study published in the Applied Economics journal in 2012 argued that statistically in England and Wales crimes with economic motives such as robberies and thefts are most often committed by males from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have a lower than average level of education.

A similar study published by the University of Manchester in 2018 backed that assertion, stating that people from the least affluent 20% of society were 13 times more likely to commit violent crime as young adults than those from the most affluent 20%.

And while those from less wealthy backgrounds are more likely to commit such crimes, people from affluent ones are more likely to be victims.

According to the Metropolitan Police, burglars most often target homes that they think will contain lots of valuable goods. Houses of that nature tend to lie in wealthy neighborhoods.

"You only need to go through the social media profiles of some [soccer players], and you'll think fucking hell, really?" Bomberg said.

"It's very much look at me, you know, very much look at me. And a lot of criminals are going look at that and just think, 'I'm fucking having that.'"

He added: "I think it backfires and I think it probably does antagonize. People expect the top players to have nice stuff. But when it comes to things, like, you know, 'This is my watch, and my watch is worth more than your car.' Or, 'These are my diamond stud earrings worth over 50 grand.' Somebody out there is going to go, 'I'm fucking having that.'

Bomberg also believes that some players lack "humility" when it comes to sharing their wealth on social media, which he says can exacerbate the problem.

"You've got to be a little bit of humility, and I think that's what a lot of these players are lacking. A bit of common sense and a little bit of humility.

"You've got to really be sensible. If you put a picture of yourself at home with expensive stuff in the background, you're asking for trouble."

Players need to take measures to protect themselves

On top of being smart with their social media presence, there are plenty of other measures players can take to protect themselves from being the targets of crime.

This includes installing CCTV cameras on their properties, which act as both a deterrent and an early warning system, building panic rooms, fitting alarms, and keeping valuables away from windows and out of sight.

"When a client is going to build or restore a property it's on a tick list: sauna, swimming pool, four-car garage, bowling alley and a panic room," Paul Weldon, the managing director of the Panic Room Company told the New York Times in 2021.

Players can also hire private physical security such as Bomberg's Intelligent Protection, which offers, in his own words, "covert," "un-invasive," and "layered," protection that is especially useful for players who live in more rural areas, out of reach of a rapid police response.

According to recent reports in the UK media, some players are even hiring former special forces soldiers to provide their security.

Another measure that has been employed by a number of players, including Manchester City and England duo Kyle Walker and Jack Grealish, is the use of specially-trained guard dogs.

Chaperone K9 is the UK's leading provider of such dogs, which it says are able "to recognize and deal with a number of different threats, including home invasion, road rage, personal attacks on the person and their family, and robbery."

The company train and supply mainly German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Cane Corso and Dobermans, each of which undergoes two years of intensive training before being housed.

The result, Richard Osborn, Chaperone K9's managing director told Insider, is a playful and loving family dog that turns into super-aggressive security guard when necessary.

A post shared by Chaperone K9 Ltd (@chaperonek9)

"We've got this working model now where we only take dogs from puppies through to adulthood before we hand them over so they're a minimum of two years of age typically," Richard Osborn, Chaperone K9's Managing Director told The Sports Thought in a previous interview.

"During that process there's loads of house visits, lots of integration steps, lots of us understanding what the customer wants, requires and needs. Not just from a security aspect, but they might like going running, or they've got a yacht or a private jet or other dogs or horses.

An attitude problem still exists, however

While there are numerous measures players can take to protect themselves, Bomberg believes many still choose not to because of stereotypes surrounding security, and more specifically, physical security.

"They think that security is invasive not that security adds value to their life," he said. "And unfortunately, that's why a lot of them don't have don't look towards having proper security.

"The American approach to close protection is very much about being on top of the client. Big presence, lots of people. But that that also draws attention and a lot of people, especially in the UK and in Europe, they really, really don't want that.

"Clients have got to live their lives. We're not there to cause aggravation, cause disruption. We're there to add value."

Bomberg also says many players have had previous bad experiences with physical security, which ruins their appetite for it.

"Most people like football players, as they become famous, they don't have the access to proper security," said Bomberg. "And their experience of security tends to be their cousin's mate who did 10 years in the Army or was a bouncer.

"So that's kind of their first experiences of security, and what that tends to do is sour their their appetite for security for the rest of their career."

Unless things change, Bomberg believes players will continue to be targeted and the problem will only get worse.

"Sadly, it's only a matter of time before one of these incidents turns nasty," he said.

"It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed."


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