When Game Day Is a Crime Scene

A string of robberies at the homes of soccer stars has cast a spotlight on the wealthy athlete’s newest luxury items: protection dogs, private guards and even panic rooms.

Ángel Di María got the news as soon as he stepped off the field. Pulling him in the middle of a tie game appeared to make little sense, but Paris St.-Germain’s coach quickly provided an explanation: Di María’s wife had called the team’s security officer. He needed to get home immediately. His family’s house had just been robbed.

His teammate Marquinhos received a similar message almost as soon as Sunday’s game ended: A property he had bought for his parents outside the city also had been targeted by intruders, and his father had been involved in a physical altercation with the robbers.

A third P.S.G. player, striker Mauro Icardi, would have understood the emotions each player was feeling: Less than two months ago, Icardi’s home was ransacked while he was away at a game. That day, according to news media reports, the thieves left with designer clothing, jewelry and watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The millionaire stars of P.S.G., though, are not the only soccer players being targeted by criminals for whom matches have increasingly become lucrative opportunities. In recent years, sophisticated operators have mined published match schedules and social media postings almost as a guidebook in their schemes to pilfer the trappings of fame and wealth belonging to some of soccer’s biggest names.

For years, gangs in England have targeted the manicured neighborhoods and luxury high-rises that are home to the stars of clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool. Last May, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez told the police he had lost items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars when his apartment was raided. Only weeks earlier, the Tottenham Hotspur star Dele Alli revealed that he had been roughed up by robbers inside his London home.

But as the latest P.S.G. cases showed, home invasions are not only a Premier League problem. In Spain, the police broke up a crime ring that they said had targeted the homes of players from clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. In Italy, the American midfielder Weston McKennie told ESPN that he had designer clothes and other items stolen while he played for Juventus in a cup match.

The Spanish police broke up a criminal gang that had targeted the homes of players in 2019.

The Spanish police broke up a criminal gang that had targeted the homes of players in 2019. Credit…Nacho Izquierdo/EPA, via Shutterstock

With similar home invasions becoming more common — Everton goalkeeper Robin Olsen reportedly was robbed by masked intruders wielding machetes earlier this month — rich athletes are increasingly expanding their lists of must-have luxury items to include not only expensive jewelry and the latest electronics but also fearsome dogs, private guards and even panic rooms.

It’s become normal, when a client is going to build or restore a property it’s on a list: sauna, swimming pool, four-car garage, bowling alley and a panic room.”

Other players have taken a more warm-blooded approach. Months after Tottenham’s Alli was robbed of watches and other items by knife-wielding attackers, he was photographed walking a Doberman guard dog he had purchased after the robbery.

Dogs like Alli’s are so commonplace among soccer stars that Richard Douglas, the co-founder of a company, Chaperone K9, that trains protection dogs, s