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Blog: Footballers - greedy or scapegoats?

Wayne Rooney (left) and WBA Chief Exec Mark Jenkins (right) Credit: PA/ITV Central

Two of England's greatest-ever strikers have come out in defence of the Professional Football Association's rejection of a proposed thirty percent pay cut.

Wayne Rooney scored more goals for his country than anyone else, and until Covid-19 came along, was helping Derby County head towards a Championship play-off place. In his Sunday Times column he made it clear how he feels about what he described as a 'no win situation'. "If the Government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I'd be proud to do so - as long as I knew where the money was going," before adding "I'm in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?".

Rooney scored 53 goals for England, Gary Lineker, who was for a long time a star at Leicester City, scored nearly as many with 48. And he made his views clear in a TV interview on Sunday: "Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?".

Certainly the heat is on footballers right now, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in an interview that "It's especially important that a disagreement over players' wages doesn't undermine all the good work that sport - including football - is doing to help the government's efforts to tackle coronavirus". It's not often a Conservative Government weighs in on the earnings of one profession.

The football season is on hold till April 30th Credit: PA
£3.5m
Average Premier League footballer's wage a year
£47,000
Average weekly wage if they took a 30% pay cut before tax

Reports suggest on average a Premier League footballer earns £3.5m a year. Of course there will be those on far more and a few on far less. But to take the average, if they took a thirty percent pay cut, their weekly wage before tax would still be around £47,000 a week. But that is before tax. And as the PFA pointed out, the government would lose out on a huge amount of tax revenue if these pay cuts went ahead. And I'm no financial, or indeed political expert, but right now I would think the more taxed raised, the better...

However, with some clubs, including the highly profitable likes of Liverpool using the furlough scheme for many of their non-playing staff, it is hard to swallow the richest of all not sharing the burden, beyond the tax they already pay.

So why wouldn't players take a cut ?

Well for one, talks were already going on behind the scenes, on a club-by-club basis. It would perhaps be reasonable for any players willing to sacrifice their salary to have some say in where that saved money goes, be it to charity, the NHS or helping those less fortunate who are working for their football club...

Also, no matter what any of us earn, why should any proposed change to earnings be declared publicly before those affected have had a chance to accept, or indeed decline the proposal?

Flag of West Bromwich Albion Credit: Nigel French/EMPICS Sport/PA Images

Wayne Rooney's declaration that this was a "no win situation' for footballers no doubt came from the heart, but I'm not sure he is right. Just look at West Bromwich Albion, where their Chief Executive has just handed himself a very significant pay cut, so significant that he now earns nothing. Mark Jenkins has said his club will need to make big changes to survive this crisis but made it clear that if the club do have to use the furlough system for any of their staff, they will make up the 20 percent shortfall in their salaries.

Other senior managers at the club have offered to take cuts too, largely to protect those earning the least from bearing the brunt. A lesson perhaps for society as a whole. As for their players, he said this: "if we continue to be unable to play football in any format, we will discuss this further with the players who I am confident will want to play their part."

If I was a player at West Brom (Baggies fans will be relieved I'm not), I would certainly feel that an example had been set, and want to play my part, if I was financially able to.

The reality is most footballers are just like you and me, apart from being vastly more wealthy. They will have concerns for their careers, for their families, for the country.

Of course it would seem fair that the highest earners among them should use some of their financial clout to help their clubs and those fighting this terrible disease in whatever way they can, but perhaps it should come from them, and not a one size fits all instruction from 'above'.