Stroud, United Kingdom | AFP | English football clubs will only wake up to the security risks their players face when either one of them or a member of their family are maimed or killed, a security expert told AFP.
The stark warning from former soldier Alex Bomberg comes after Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac were targeted in a carjacking attack by knife-wielding men on mopeds in London in July.
The fallout from that incident resulted in the duo being left out of the opening Premier League fixture with Newcastle due to “further security incidents”.
Bomberg, founder and CEO of Intelligent (UK Holdings) Limited, is responsible for the personal protection of nine footballers in Spain and France but says he has had no approaches from England-based players even since the incident involving German star Ozil and Bosnian international Kolasinac.
He said he was surprised that super-rich Premier League players and clubs were underestimating the threat.
“Footballers are more exposed in the United Kingdom, far more exposed,” the former aide to the British royal family told AFP at his office in Gloucestershire in the west of England.
“I think we have a serious problem in the UK and it does surprise me how we look at it.
“This is a really serious subject which needs proper attention and I can tell you what will happen; nothing will change dramatically until a footballer or member of his family either is seriously injured or killed.”
Bomberg, who says he has been contacted by other players in mainland Europe since the Arsenal stars were attacked, believes footballers and their families are especially vulnerable.
“I came across newspaper clippings from 2009 where they were talking about 21 robberies of British players’ homes in a three-year period,” he said.
“That is 2009 so where are we now? We are nearly 2020, we were talking about it 10 years ago and it is still a problem today.
He said elite footballers were particularly vulnerable because their movements are so widely known.
“It’s advertised when footballers are away from home because they are playing football. Straight away that leaves them exposed.”
The Ozil incident received widespread coverage because Kolasinac fought off the assailants, but Bomberg says that was the wrong way to respond.
“He did what many young guys would do but he put himself and his friend (Ozil) in danger,” said Bomberg.
“It could have ended in a very different way, we know how many people get stabbed in London every day.”
– ‘Protecting clubs’ assets’ –
Bomberg, whose clients also include celebrities, members of foreign royal families, lawyers and bankers — he will not divulge their identities — says he teaches clients how to deal with such incidents.
He said he tells them if they are with their family in a car and someone is following them, they should ask themselves: “What are we going to do to prevent them trying to stop the car?”
“Do as the footballers did? Get out and confront them or dial the police, or beep the horn to bring attention to yourselves.
“Or drive to the nearest police station or to a garage forecourt where there is CCTV?
“It is knowing that. You have got to start somewhere and I believe footballers are not being given the right advice.”
Bomberg says he believes one of the reasons for such attitudes is a lack of understanding of the concept of security.
“I think that security for a lot of people is a dirty word,” he said.
“They think of an old bloke falling asleep in his hut or some guy wearing a yellow vest.”
Bomberg’s basic entry package costs a cool £400,000 ($490,000) and uses close protection officers who are normally ex-special forces or policemen.
He said the approach of International Intelligence Limited, which he founded in 2002, was high-tech.
“We can put a technical fence round your property.
“If someone is outside and tweeting ‘I am going to (expletive) kill him’ they don’t need to mention the name as that will still flag up to us because they are using profanity and a threat within that ‘geo-fenced’ area.”
Bomberg is unsure where the duty of care for football clubs ends.
“I think the whole football business industry needs to wake up,” he said. “These men and women are the assets of the club.
“Okay the club might have the bricks and mortar of the stadium but these people are the celebrities and what the sponsors are paying for.
“If you have a vehicle worth half a million pounds would you leave it parked randomly somewhere in London?
“They need to start to realise they have a legal duty of care, a responsibility not just to footballers but to families.”