The Premier League and particularly its super rich footballers are on the cusp of a public relations catastrophe, unless they agree to pay cuts, and soon.
Tottenham Hotspur became the second top-flight club, after Newcastle, to furlough non-playing staff yesterday using the emergency government subsidy. As they announced the decision Spurs chairman Daniel Levy urged players and coaches across the league to “do their bit for the football ecosystem".
Some will find the advice difficult to take given he pocketed £7m last year but, of course, he’s right. But the richest clubs, like the one he heads up, should not really be taking advantage of the Chancellor’s rescue measures as, legitimate or not, they clearly weren’t designed to bail-out the Premier League.
As far as the players are concerned, a senior source at one top six club told me that they were still waiting for “centralised guidance” from the players union (the PFA) who are continuing to talk to the Premier League and the EFL about the best way forward. They all meet again today and are under pressure to report some progress.
But there’s nothing to stop players acting unilaterally as Leeds United’s and Birmingham City’s first team Championship squads already have; likewise, players at Barcelona in Spain and Juventus in Italy. ITV News is aware of several clubs who’ve requested their players take a reduction in salary, only to be told they won’t unless advised to do so by the PFA.
Ironically, it’s almost certainly true that many top footballers in England would be happy, keen even, to take a cut or have their salary deferred and are just waiting to be told when and how.
Gordon Taylor, the PFA boss, is resisting a quick, blanket deal, mainly because he believes that in the lowest two leagues, where this crisis will be most financially devastating, unscrupulous clubs will use it as a way of culling the numbers on their pay roll.
Many clubs in those lower leagues argue that even wage deferrals, while helping the cash flow, will only prolong the inevitable and genuine cuts are needed to protect the most vulnerable. Taylor wants to see the data on each club’s financial health before agreeing to anything. It’s complicated and won’t therefore move particularly quickly.
But time is not on football’s side. Clearly it is far from the first thing on people’s minds at the moment and won’t be for many weeks but when the focus returns, if it appears the game whistled and looked the other way when the country was on its knees, goodwill and forgiveness will be in short supply.
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