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Footballers and speed: A car crash waiting to happen?

Story highlights

  • Manchester City have had three players banned for driving offenses since start of 2013
  • Survey shows almost a third of football players in UK have points on license
  • "Players believe they are beyond reproach" when it comes to traffic laws
  • Audi says it will take action if players break law while driving its brand of vehicle

Fast cars, fast women and fast on their way to court -- it would seem some footballers are renowned as much for their pace on the pitch as for flouting the rules when it comes to the need to speed.

New Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini might be known as the engineer, but he will want to put the brakes on his players getting behind the wheel.

Carlos Tevez, who completed his move from City to Juventus last week, was just one player to feel the force of the law after being found guilty of committing motoring offenses.

In April of this year, the Argentine was fined about $1,500 and told to carry out 250 hours of community service after being found guilty of driving while disqualified and without insurance.

Tevez's former teammate, Samir Nasri, was also banned from driving for six months and fined $3,180 after being caught on camera exceeding the speed limit three times in 2011.

Defender Micah Richards became the third Manchester City defender to be banned when his license was suspended for six months after failing to respond to two speeding notices.

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    And it's not just the Manchester City car pool that has had problems with that thirst for speed.

    Benzema

    In February, Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema car was clocked on a Madrid highway driving at 216 kilometers per hour -- more than double the legal limit.

    The Frenchman, who was driving an Audi, which is the official car sponsor of Real, was banned for eight months and fined nearly $23,000.

    It came after a June 2011 incident where Benzema was fined for racing in downtown Ibiza.

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    In April, Swansea City's Kemy Agustien was banned from driving for 12 months after clocking up 39 penalty points -- 27 more than the usual limit of 12 that would get a player banned.

    Car sponsors are an essential aspect of the football industry but given the place footballers occupy in the hearts and minds -- and more importantly the wallets -- of the sport's paying customers it's unlikely that relationship will be ending anytime soon.

    "Football is the sport that cuts through to by far the largest number of people around the world," a spokeswoman for Audi, which runs sponsorship deals with Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United, told CNN.

    "Our experience based on our commitments with the top class European clubs tells us that there is major business potential for Audi within this sporting environment, both on a business-to-business footing and with consumers, i.e. the fans.

    "Together with the teams we are conducting international activities not only in Europe but also in Asia."

    Big business

    It is not difficult to understand why Audi has forged such a close relationship with a number of leading teams in Europe.

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    "The best example of this 'internationalization' is the Audi Cup, which has been a resounding success both in terms of quantity and quality," added the Audi spokeswoman.

    "The 2011 competition was staged in Munich, and was broadcast in 180 countries, achieving more than one billion exposures during the pre-event and post-event coverage period."

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    While the commercial gains are obvious, the company was also keen to point out that it would take "necessary constructive action" if players were found guilty of breaking motoring rules.

    "Audi has sponsorship agreements with various associations and teams," added the spokeswoman.

    "Many of these agreements also contain clauses concerning the provision of Audi vehicles.

    "Of course, we work on the basis that all the drivers of these Audi vehicles will comply with existing traffic regulations.

    "If this proves not to be the case, it is the responsibility of the association or team management to take the necessary corrective action."

    Aura of invincibility?

    But it is not always easy to comply with existing traffic regulations when you have an "aura of untouchability."

    "Players have absorbed this and, as if by osmosis, have begun to believe they are above reproach," Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University in the English Midlands, told CNN.

    "Every day, they are surrounded by evidence of their immaculate status, whether in the media, or in restaurants and bars, or even just when they turn up for training where there's usually an assembly of adoring fans and obsequious journalists.

    "Footballers are only doing what the likes of you, me and other consumers do all the time -- buy products that confer value on them.

    "Fans buy trainers, shirts, or dogs. (yes, dogs are commodities nowadays), other people buy designer clothes, homes in desirable areas and, of course, cars."

    When it comes to vehicles, added Cashmore: "Footballers buy even more expensive cars, which tend to be faster, so tickets for speeding and parking are, in practical terms, irrelevant.

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    "We are all part of the same process -- buying visible status. The difference is that footballers can afford more and want their status to be not just visible but ostentatiously visible."

    It's not just players either -- managers have also been in trouble, with Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson famously being absolved of any wrongdoing in October 1999 after claiming he had severe diarrhoea and needed to reach a toilet after speeding down the highway.

    Beckham

    David Beckham was another to escape after winning an appeal against his eight-month driving ban in December 1999.

    Beckham claimed he was trying to escape a paparazzi photographer when his Ferrari was clocked at 122 km/h in an 80 km/h zone.

    According to the judge, there were "special circumstances" which had caused Beckham to break the speed limit.

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    Both Ferguson and Beckham were represented by attorney Nick Freeman, a man who has been nicknamed "Mr Loophole" after successfully getting his clients off the hook.

    Freeman has represented golfer Colin Montgomerie, singer Van Morrison and countless other celebrities during his time working in the business.

    But other football stars haven't been so lucky:

    The likes of Rio Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe have also felt the force of the authorities, with both men being handed bans from driving.

    And Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo survived a high-speed crash in January 2011 after smashing his $303,000 Ferrari against a Manchester tunnel when he was playing for United.

    Balotelli

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    And then there's that man, Mario "Why always me?" Balotelli, who crashed his Bentley last April in a collision with another car.

    Balotelli, who now plays in Italy with Milan, paid out nearly $15,000 in parking fines and had his white Maserati impounded just the 27 times during his spell at City.

    And while car sponsors continue to queue up to sign marketing deals with football clubs, others within the motor industry remain concerned about the impact players flouting the law has.

    "It doesn't help having someone who can have cars at the higher end of the market who is ignoring the law," Damien Smith, editor of Motor Sport Magazine, told CNN.

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    "I was surprised that Tevez wasn't given a custodial sentence and the judge didn't make an example of him."

    Smith adds, however, that it's not a new phenomenon; footballers and cars have had this relationship going back to the 1970s.

    "Footballer players are very rich young men who have a penchant for buying nice shiny cars and have a reputation for buying the most expensive. They're high powered and high performance cars and there will be occasions when they go too fast."

    Unfortunately, it's unlikely that footballers are about to change their way.

    According to a survey taken in February 2011 by British insurance firm Elephant, professional football players "are the drivers most likely to have points on their driving license for committing offenses such as speeding, running red lights and using a phone whilst driving."

    After consulting data from more than over three million motorists in the UK, research showed that almost a third of football players have points on their license.

    Temptation

    Elephant.co.uk managing director, Brian Martin, said at the time, "Powerful cars are closely associated with the footballers' lifestyle so perhaps for some of them the temptation to speed is simply too much."

    With wages at the top level still rising and punishments such as that handed out to Tevez unlikely to act as a deterrent, life in the fast lane looks set to continue for a while longer.

    But perhaps a sobering thought might give some football players a reason to pause and think.

    Courtney Meppen-Walter had the world at his feet after joining Manchester City.

    Now, at the age of 18, he is serving a 16-month sentence after being found guilty of causing the deaths of two people in a car crash.

    He admitted to causing their death by careless driving and was banned from driving for three years.

    Footballers may have a need for speed -- but the speed of thought might be more useful next time they consider flouting the law.

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