Why we're wrong to expect players to cut wages

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Last week, Manchester United legend Roy Keane launched an impassioned but composed defence of Premier League players, suggesting that “it’s nobody’s business and its nonsense” asking those at the top clubs to take wage cuts – and I agree.

A high-profile media case that came to light just a few days ago involved Mesut Ozil, who reportedly declined a 12.5% wage cut at Arsenal – a club owned by Stan Kroenke, who is reportedly worth up to £8 billion.

Almost every report of this will have included the fact he’s on a hefty £350,000 a week packet, resulting in a flood of responses that ‘he is greedy’, ‘he is selfish’, ‘he probably went missing during the talks’ - and the rest.

This bearing in mind that Arsenal isn’t exactly a financially struggling club, they might have lost £27.1m for the 2018/19 year, but they made over £50m the year before, £30m before that. Why should Ozil have to take a reduced wage, surely Kroenke’s deep pockets can plug the holes for the inevitable operating losses this year?

That’s where it gets uncomfortable for me, suggesting players should have to - because if they then choose not to, they face serious media backlash.

Just last summer Ozil pledged for 1000 children to have life-changing surgery, he had already donated his entire World Cup 2014 winners’ earnings to ensure surgery for 23 Brazilian children. He is just one example, of course.

The wage-cuts have been in constant discussion since the start of April, when the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, began a witch hunt by publicly calling out footballers and suggesting they should take a wage cut.

This came just after he had, in the same breath, referenced the ultimate sacrifice of NHS workers who had tragically passed away.

Football clubs are, of course, at the forefront of businesses suffering, with a total loss of matchday revenue which clubs at the bottom of the pyramid desperately rely on to stay afloat.

Football isn’t coming back yet either, certainly not in a capacity to welcome fans into a stadium – some clubs will be able to use the government furlough scheme even for their playing staff, as Sunderland have done, which will pay 80% of their wages up to £2,500 a month.

Despite taking what some might consider an inflammatory position, Keane makes clear the crucial distinction that he is referring to players of the “really big clubs with wealthy owners”.

Footballers' wages have been a chestnut for easy outrage for as long as I can remember with comparisons to NHS and British Army workers’ wages, I’m not surprised they’re at the forefront of it again with a global pandemic.

Obviously, we know now more than ever just how undervalued and underpaid NHS workers are, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who wouldn’t wish that servicemen and women be paid more for their sacrifice, but these comparisons are often made with little consideration to the fact its different funding, public and private sector.

Paul Pogba’s goal bonus isn’t coming out of the Treasury – but it’s absolutely going into it. The PFA stated earlier this month regarding a previous wage cut proposition that a: “30% salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to a loss in tax contributions of over £200m to the government.”

I find myself agreeing with Keane, and not just because I might bump into the footballing hardman in the street one day.

I find it uncomfortable pressuring players to give up their wages, especially as it’s so highly publicised - it’s either accept the wage cut or face a hammering in the press and from their club, just so their billionaire bosses can save a few quid.

I do understand the opposing view though, Man City’s 19/20 squad has an average annual salary of just over £7m, which is an absurd amount, and a wage cut to any of their players isn’t exactly going to cause crippling financial insecurity. The lowest in the EPL, Sheffield United, is exactly ten times smaller but nowhere near a pittance.

That being said, I wholeheartedly encourage those who can afford it to help causes that are desperate at this time, and footballers are certainly in that bracket.

Mind you, they often do and still get hammered for that.

In the last week, high-profile players Gareth Bale and Neymar have each given £1m worth to various causes, and the responses on social media are “that’s only a month’s wages!”.

For smaller clubs where current operating losses mean that it is essential to the survival of the business, it is then a much more difficult case. Of course, whatever needs to be done to protect the livelihoods of every member of staff – not just the playing staff – should be done, if that means pay cuts or deferrals then rightly so.

My team, Bristol City, announced they have deferred players wages 30%, essential retained staff’s wages have been reduced by 20% and they have furloughed all other staff – although there is no mention if they are making up the lost 20%.

According to Forbes, owner Stephen Lansdown is worth £1.7b, but he does own a number of loss-making businesses currently. Club captain Bailey Wright has come out and said all players are behind the decision regarding their wages, but I can’t help but wonder whether we should be using government money at all? Should the deferred wages be used by the club to at least top up the furloughed staff to a 100% package?

As a country we’re quite tetchy about money, I read an article that suggested it was normal to talk about how much you earn on the first date in the USA, which surprised me as a Brit.

Clubs will constantly remind players that they are a business throughout their careers, and those clubs that can afford to honour the contracts signed in confidence.

And certainly, the media should stop the witch hunt on footballers and look at the bigger picture, the bigger wigs.

This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk