Money & Me: ‘I’ve been skint many times in my life’

Former professional footballer Sonny Cobbs has learnt the value of money through some difficult life lessons

Sonny Cobbs, founding partner of Precision Football, enjoys spending money on his family. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Former professional footballer Sonny Cobbs is the founding partner of Precision Football, a high-tech sports coaching complex at Ibn Battuta in Dubai.

The Briton moved to Dubai in 2012 after playing for Brighton & Hove Albion, Southampton FC, and others, including a Beirut club.

Mr Cobbs took up coaching after recognising that he was unlikely to join English football’s elite, using his skills and experience to mentor other players.

He also worked with prestigious UK schools and colleges and with professional English clubs, coaching 10,000-plus players from juniors to European stars.

Mr Cobbs, 34, lives in Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Was there money growing up?

My mother and father broke up when I was quite young. Dad used to travel, played professional rugby, which got me kicking a ball, and was a communications coach and proof-reader. Mum was a pub landlady and moved into charity work.

I never really came from money. I wasn’t rich, wasn’t poor. If I needed something, I could get it, but my dream was to be a professional footballer.

I lived with my mother. She made sure I had the latest England kit or new football boots, the best tools to perform. Both parents believed in me.

When I got to 15, mum travelled as well, so I lived with my older sister. I had to grow up quickly, but football gave me clear structure.

When did you first earn?

At Brighton (then a Championship club) as an apprentice, paid £45 ($54) a week, plus expenses. At 16, I went full time … my first job.

Every weekend I’d go into town, buy trainers and something to wear.

Football was everything, I ended up becoming youth team captain. There was no plan B.

Why switch to coaching?

You can never guarantee the future. I got released from Brighton at 20, played until I was 22 or 23. The last couple of years I had injuries, was going club to club in lower divisions I didn’t enjoy so much.

Unless I was going to make it in the top 1 per cent, in the Premier League or Championship … I didn’t want a 10 to 15-year career and have no money or savings.

People see footballers as Premier League, earning £250,000 a week, but there are many levels. It’s not a golden pathway, sometimes it’s out of your control. Someone advised me to get into coaching.

How did Dubai happen?

My sister applied for Emirates and moved to Dubai. I visited her in 2012 and loved it, so moved here and got a job coaching early on.

I felt it was my calling. I ended up setting up my own company, Royal Football Academy, to get into the business side and work for myself.

I’m a risk-taker. I put all my savings in … and at 25, this was the first time I earned really good money.

What was your best investment?

I brought some football technology to Dubai, a Football Icon. It cost £25,000. I was first to bring it to the region, a massive risk at the time, but I made it back before it landed.

I got deals with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, renting my machine to different clubs. I had the UAE national team using it. All the top players, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, use these. I ended up buying two more.

The money I made, I put back into my business. I had the freedom to educate myself, many hours studying videos or watching other people’s methodology.

Any financial blips?

Covid came and I lost every bit of money. I couldn’t afford to pay staff, my car loan. I had put myself into debt because I had to borrow money.

I had some dark days, but there was no turning back. I couldn’t leave Dubai with nothing.

I needed to be less vulnerable as I was working within schools and doing events. I ended up moving in with my sister to get back on my feet. It was a humbling experience.

What prompted Precision?

I realised my dream was my own facility. Dubai called out for a high-level performance training centre.

I did business plans, spoke to people. I pitched the idea and was going into investment meetings wearing a suit, but maybe Dh50 in my wallet. I had nothing to lose.

Now we have 165,000 square foot, Champions League-standard pitches outside. The whole centre cost Dh50 million. It’s a football Disneyland.

We have international teams coming to train and some of the best football equipment used at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal.

I want to franchise this around the Middle East and the world.

Do you manage to save?

I’m in the process of creating savings. I wanted to work for myself, so I don’t have many savings now, but I invested in my business and back into myself.

The future’s bright in terms of those investments.

People see footballers as Premier League, earning £250,000 a week, but there are many levels. It’s not a golden pathway
Sonny Cobbs, founding partner, Precision Football

What’s your key financial milestone?

When I set up my first company (Royal) and paid myself. It was the most I ever had in my hands.

If you take risks and do a good job, you can earn. It reassured me that I made the right decision.

Yes, you get knocked back but you’ve got to keep going because at one point it will turn around if you know what you’re doing.

Most cherished purchase?

That plane ticket to Dubai to visit my sister, when I was 22.

How do you see money?

As a way to freedom. I’m free, and have a business off the back of an idea.

Now, I’m looking forward to the next 30 to 40 years, looking to save, save for a property. I want to be in Dubai for the rest of my life.

At the minute, money doesn’t bring happiness, freedom brings happiness, money helps.

I’ve been skint many times in my life … I never want to be in that position again.

Are you wiser with money?

I’ve spent most of it when I’ve had it, on silly things, expensive restaurants, which I don’t regret because I’ve done it for a reason.

Now, I understand what not to do going forward. Life is about making those mistakes; just try not to make the same one twice.

My advice to my younger self would be to prepare, put some away and don’t put your eggs in one basket. Multiple revenue streams is the way forward.

What spending do you enjoy?

I spend on nice food, love to travel, the best holiday destinations, but I don’t care about watches or cars. I love memories with friends.

Money is important, but happiness is way more important. Buying mum dinner brings me happiness, not having to worry if my sister wants a good Christmas present.

Having money gives me opportunity. I love spending on my family … it’s more important than me saving.

Do you regret not becoming a football star?

No. I believe the wrong turns and setbacks have made me a great human being. I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons, the value of money.

If you want to be successful and rich, and football is your ticket to that, then why not?

Now I want to give people an opportunity to be the best footballer they can be.

Updated: October 09, 2023, 3:41 AM