How do you incentivise a Premier League footballer earning around £1m gross a month? The answer, according to Manchester City's bonus schedule for last season, is to pay him the equivalent of an extra month's salary in the event of a title-winning season.
To the average British worker, the sums involved in City's bonus schedule, as revealed today in The Independent, are life-changing amounts of money. The £258,333 that was the average paid to every one of the 24 players who had some part in the club's first league championship since 1968 appears to be a huge sum, but when you consider that Carlos Tevez earns around £220,000 per week, the picture changes a little.
City's bonuses are, like those of their leading European rivals, very generous. On a pro-rata basis the £6.2m pool that the City's players split following their thrilling last-day-of-the-season triumph was worth £11,742 per player per appearance. For Joe Hart, the only ever-present, that was worth £446,212. For a relatively peripheral player such as Stefan Savic, who made 11 league appearances, it was worth £129,162.
Even Tevez, who missed five months of the season while he was at loggerheads with the club, earned £152,646 from the Premier League bonus pool. Although set alongside the £9.3m he was fined by City for his unauthorised absence following his failure to come on as a substitute at Bayern Munich in September it is not quite so valuable.
In the days before top-flight English football was awash with money from broadcast contracts and wealthy foreign owners, the win bonus was a crucial source of income for players. The post-match recriminations after defeats, or games that were drawn when they could have been won, were often as much about the money that was forfeited as the points lost.
Now, clubs face a new problem. In the age of the £200,000-a-week plus contract, how do they structure a bonus system for the footballer who already has more money than he can spend? The answer from many will be that players paid such riches should not need any more money to perform.
To an extent that is true. By the same token, anyone who watched the likes of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero last season could see that, whatever the money paid to them, they competed with admirable spirit. But old habits die hard in football and even though wages have gone through the roof in the last 20 years, players still want to be rewarded for winning trophies.
Most in football will tell you that players, when negotiating a transfer or new contract, will ask their agents for a certain net rate. Their bonus schedule is of less interest. But they still want it. According to City's bonus schedule of last season, Yaya Touré for instance, a flagship signing when he arrived from Barcelona in 2010 on a salary of approximately £250,000 per week, would have earned £375,744 for his 32 appearances in the league. It is less than two weeks' wages but still not a bad bonus at the end of the season.
At stake last season was a total pot of £14.2m for the four key competitions that City were competing for (excluding the Europa League which they entered after elimination at the Champions League group stage). With the Premier League just one year away from a huge new television deal which will earn the clubs in excess of £3bn over three years, the value of those bonuses is not likely to come down.
City characterised the extra £1m on top of the £5.2m they paid their players for winning the league as a one-off bonus for it being the club's first of the Premier League era. The suggestion was that it would not be repeated. However, as the money continues to pour into English football, one thing is certain: the leading players and their agents are going to be asking for more, not less, for their services.
With so much money at stake, the big football agencies with the star clients have full-time accountants and lawyers to manage their finances. The players themselves do not have to account for every last penny themselves. But on days such as City's famous title win at the Etihad Stadium on 13 May, after the champagne has been sprayed, the players can reflect on the fact that, aside from the shiny trophy and the glory, they have just earned themselves another big pay-out.
Bonus season: City squad's payout in 2011-12
Finish 1st: £5.2m plus extra £1m
4th: £3.7m (only payable if it meant CL qualification for next season)
£5,000 per player, per point in group stage, only payable if City qualified for last 16 – but they failed to get out of their group
Reach QFs: £1m
Reach SF: £2m
Reach final: £3m
Win CL: £5.25m plus £2m extra