The impact of the coronavirus crisis on global sport has been immeasurable. The ongoing pandemic has led to a near-worldwide shutdown of almost all sports, forcing officials of various disciplines to confront an immediate future without one of their primary sources of income: selling tickets.
Several major football teams across Europe have put in place cost-cutting measures by introducing a reduction in player’s wages and furloughing staff members, but there is growing dissent among the footballing community about the perception that it is the players themselves – and not necessarily the clubs – who are being compelled to pay financial penalties.
Several players past and present have sounded the alarm about this current trend.
Writing for an English newspaper recently, former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney said that he would be proud to fund a donation of medical equipment. However, he says that while he is in a financial position to make this happen, some others may not be.
“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,” he wrote.
“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% pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats? How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.”
Indeed, some have noted that – just over a month into the shutdown of European leagues – how it could be that some of the continents most financially successful teams are forced to take such aggressive measures, and why it is that a player’s contract can be amended to benefit the club and not the player.
The stability of a player’s contract is one of the central principles of world football. When signed off by a player and their team, it mandates that it must be adhered to, to a tee. This is what separates a footballer from, say, a more regular profession, in which workers can void their contracts following a pre-arranged period of notice.
Obviously, this is a facility that is not available to footballers, so why, then, are they being asked to take a pay-cut when the rights afforded to ‘regular’ workers don’t also apply to them?
Roy Keane, another former Manchester United captain, added his voice to the chorus of dissent in an interview with UK television on Saturday, in which he said that he would flatly refuse a reduction in pay if he was at a financially stable club.
“I’m not sure how I’d have dealt with it, I have a lot of sympathy for the players out there, a lot of players are getting criticized,” Keane said to Sky Sports.
“Looking at it now, particularly with the way I left United, and I’m talking about players at the really big, big clubs with a lot of wealthy owners, and pressure to take pay cuts, I wouldn’t take a pay cut if I was at one of the bigger clubs.
“It’s nobody’s business what you do with your wages. You take your wages and if you want to be generous, go ahead and do it. There’s a lot of speculation out there, but I don’t think people should believe everything they read about what players are doing, taking 10% or 15%.”
Keane said that he was taken aback by some of the comments from the media who had been heavily critical of some players’ opposition to the pay cuts. Breakfast television host Piers Morgan was severely critical of Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil for refusing a 12.5% dock in pay.
“Some of the younger players, who are on far less money than you, are taking a 12.5% pay cut, a minuscule drop in the ocean for you, and you don’t want to do it because you want to see how the financial situation plays out while you are sitting on your backside on your Playstation every night rather than actually playing football. Really?” Morgan said with typical bluster.
Keane, though, hit back at that particular sentiment.
“I am surprised at the amount of people jumping on the bandwagon and criticizing the players, it’s nobody’s business,” the Irishman said.
“I’m talking about the clubs with wealthy owners, I have sympathy for the lower leagues, you make sacrifices in the lower leagues but the players at the top, where the clubs have the money, stick to your guns.
“They [clubs] are the first to tell you it’s a business. They have billionaires in the background, they are ruthless and they are discussing cash flow problems. I have heard it all before.”
The owners of football clubs can’t have everything their own way. If they are worried for the financial security of their clubs to the extent that they have to reduce the pay of their top players, then it seems only appropriate that the players should also be handed rights to terminate their contracts, just like regular employees.
At the very least, there should be an understanding that teams will not fork out hefty transfer fees for further players until their existing players have been compensated.
But remember, in this age of TV deals and megabucks foreign consortiums buying themselves into the sport, footballers are increasingly seen as commodities or products. Until that changes, the upper hand will always reside in the boardroom.