Players must wake up – football is an empty shop with bills to pay

MARTIN SAMUEL: Players must wake up. Football is now an empty shop with nothing to sell and big bills to pay as Gordon Taylor’s last stand threatens its good name

  • Football clubs can only survive for so long without any money coming in
  • Some clubs can afford to donate salary cuts to worthwhile causes – others can’t
  • Teams face the very real prospect of bankruptcy if coronavirus crisis continues 

Having given up £1million of his salary, England manager Gareth Southgate must have been rather surprised to end up as the villain on Sunday. So too Eddie Howe and Graham Potter, managers of Bournemouth and Brighton, who have also elected to go short. 

This is how warped the rhetoric around coronavirus has become. This is the extent to which altruism has been reduced to another banal round of point-scoring. According to the logic of the Professional Footballers’ Association, those in the game who have volunteered to forego salary in this time of economic crisis are depriving the NHS of vital funds through tax revenue. 

The heroic path of action is to refuse to compromise, no matter the parlous state of club finances, and to demand proof of impending economic oblivion at another round of chaotic meetings.

Gareth Southgate has agreed to give up £1million of his salary as England manager

Players are refusing to agree to pay cuts until they see proof of financial need from clubs

Premier League captains claim they want money from pay cuts donated to charities

There is nothing so urgent that it cannot be dragged out across days, or weeks, an ugly blame game between the extremely rich and exceedingly wealthy over who should do more. The next Premier League conference call is scheduled for Friday week and until then, it seems, clubs are on their own. Each now has to address the playing staff and explain why they are asking for wage reductions — or deferrals if the 2019-20 season finishes in front of crowds. 

The Premier League has as good as abandoned them to this task, saying each contract is between the employer and employee. Anyone who still wonders what Richard Scudamore did for his money should consider this unfolding chaos. Considering who he had to deal with every day, he was probably underpaid. 

Gordon Taylor’s last stand as PFA chief executive threatens football’s good name. The sport could still be paying for its tarnished reaction to the coronavirus crisis a decade from now, as the public turns its back. They do not care for the politicised squabble this has become. They do not care for the PFA’s virtue signalling, the endless ‘he said, she said’ arguments. It is not even that football should be propping up the NHS. More that, if the industry is in trouble, might it not be able to find solutions from within rather than leaning on the increasingly challenged public purse? 

Gordon Taylor (left) is leading the player revolt but football’s reputation is being tarnished

Only Troy Deeney, Kevin De Bruyne and Mark Noble were permitted to speak at latest meeting

Saturday’s meeting, in which representatives from all 20 clubs could listen but only three — Mark Noble of West Ham, Troy Deeney of Watford and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City — could speak, was to consider the prospect of a 30 per cent wage cut and made little progress. 

The PFA then attempted to frame their response as a moral crusade. 

‘The players are mindful that as PAYE employees, the combined tax on their salaries is a significant contribution to funding essential public services — which are especially critical at this time. Taking a 30 per cent salary deduction will cost the Exchequer substantial sums. This would be detrimental to our NHS and other Government-funded services. 

‘The proposed deduction equates to more than £500m in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of more than £200m to the Government. What effect does this loss of earning to the Government mean for the NHS?’ 

Nothing, if you make it up later when it will arguably matter even more. Here’s the thing. Right now, the NHS is probably the best-funded it has been. The Government is pledging whatever it takes to support it through this crisis. Sadly, the system is over-run, over-subscribed and at breaking point, due to a combination of long-term neglect and the short-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Money now cannot change that. Giving 30 per cent of Leicester’s wage bill on Monday does not translate into 100 trained nurses and a ward full of ventilators by Tuesday. 

Some clubs, like Liverpool, have greater financial power but others club fold quickly

Burnley’s majority owner, Michael Garlick, could burn through his personal fortune in months

When this is over, however, the nation will be in desperate need financially. Taxes will inevitably rise. The coronavirus bill will be enormous. 

If the PFA really want to help the NHS, they could throw their weight behind a campaign for a 30 per cent direct input NHS tax on those earning, say, more than £20,000 a week. And not just footballers. All those with a salary above seven figures. Then we would know the union was sincere, and not just indulging in another power play. 

For while some clubs, such as Manchester United and Manchester City, can afford to donate 30 per cent salary cuts to good causes, others will need them just to make it through the summer, if there is no football. The presumption here is that all clubs are financially isolated against this crisis. 

They are not. Some have a finite date on which, unless football resumes, the money runs out. Burnley’s is in August. And Burnley is nobody’s idea of a spendthrift, poorly-governed club. Yes, it could be argued that Michael Garlick, Burnley’s majority owner, has wealth of £50m through his project workforce management company Michael Bailey Associates. So let him cover it. The truth? He probably is already. He is covering issues in his other companies, and issues at Burnley. And he could cover Burnley until his money ran out. 

Manchester City have vowed not to furlough non-playing staff but others can’t afford not to

Yet who would do that? Nobody sinks personal money into a failing business month after month until they end up driving a minicab or moving back in with their parents. They declare bankruptcy. Clubs will declare bankruptcy. Burnley’s monthly wage bill in 2019 was £6.83m. Garlick could burn through his personal fortune in roughly six months of inactivity. 

The bottom line premise that appears to be ignored here is that football, right now, is an empty shop. It has no product. It has nothing to sell. Using the logic that to defer or cut salaries harms the NHS, then really this is all the fault of Sky, BT Sport and the other broadcasters. Why are they expecting refunds for a product that failed to arrive? Don’t they know their money was what enabled the clubs to pay the players their money, and for them to then pay tax to aid the NHS. 

Season-ticket holders, too. It is unfair to expect a rebate if matches are not played. Why? Cos nurses, as Lily Allen might say. And it would make as much sense. If football does not reconvene — and let’s be honest, there’s no prospect of that right now — money will be owed to broadcasters, to fans, to corporate investors and they won’t want it returned in instalments. 

Broadcasters are wrong to expect refunds on games they potentially won’t be able to televise

Eight Premier League teams have five home games left, a 26.3 per cent refund to season-ticket holders, while Manchester City and Aston Villa have six left, which works out as 31.5 per cent. And if you were one of those fans, you would want the cash back now, yes? Not spread over five years. 

So if the players are demanding to know where the money is going before signing up, one imagines most chief executives will be happy to inform. Here’s the empty incomings column; now here’s the broadcast rebate, the ticket rebate, the corporate rebate, here’s your April wage, your May wage, your June wage, your — oh, dear. 

And then the country and the NHS will be in more trouble, because the other strand the PFA appear to be missing is that clubs pay taxes, too. In 2016-17, the last time it was calculated, the Premier League tax commitment was £3.3billion, of which players paid a third — and the Premier League made an additional £7.6bn contribution. That is a lot of nurses, if the game gets this wrong. 

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