Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told Premier League footballers to take a look at the NHS staff members who have sacrificed their lives in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and called on them to “play their part” and take a pay cut to look after others who are less fortunate.
The country’s leading clubs are coming under increased pressure for cutting salaries of non-playing staff and placing them on the Government’s furlough scheme, with Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth all announcing such measures this week in order to protect the jobs of those who in other circumstances may be out of work. Norwich have promised to pay the extra 20 per cent on top of the Government’s 80 per cent salary to ensure their staff do not lose out financially while Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe along with his assistant coach, chief executive and technical director have all taken “significant pay cuts”, with senior management at Brighton and Hove Albion doing the same.
However, the move has come against a glaring omission from players to do the same, with Premier League players taking advice from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) not to accept requests to slash wages until they have discussed the matter with the union. Talks between the Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and PFA continued on Wednesday where it was made clear that players will need to share the financial pain that is being felt by staff at clubs across the nation, but as yet there has been no announcement on salary reductions in order to protect the jobs of those less well-off.
That has triggered a response from the Government, with Mr Hancock asked about the matter at Thursday’s daily coronavirus briefing.
“I think everybody needs to play their part in this national effort and that means Premier League footballers too,” the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said.
“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”
Mr Hancock’s call came after the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport chair Julian Knight urged the government to apply a windfall tax on clubs who use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to their advantage, with a letter also sent to the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, and he described the matter as “an obscene situation”.
Although talks are ongoing about a universal pay cut across the top flight, Knight believes a deadline of 7 April should be implemented to ensure clubs cut the salaries of those who they pay the most, given the main financial impacts are being felt by those less well-off.
"We are facing an obscene situation where top players who aren't working are continuing to see hundreds of thousands of pounds roll in each week while the staff who keep the clubs going are losing wages," Knight said.
"If the Premier League isn't going to act to resolve this crisis then the Government must step in by imposing a significant financial penalty on clubs to reimburse those hit hardest in the pocket.
"That's why I have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak today demanding that Premier League clubs do the right thing by Tuesday next week or face the consequences."
Knight also wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
"The purpose of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not to support the economics of Premier League clubs," he wrote in the letter.
"Your organisation should be role modelling a responsible approach rather than tolerating divisive practices.
"European clubs, including Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, have shown that it is possible to reach an agreement with players whereby they agree to take pay reductions for a set period.
"I would like to request that the Premier League seek to broker an agreement between member clubs to change their approach."
Labour MP David Lammy labelled the reluctance to take pay cuts “criminal” in a Twitter outburst, while former Spurs striker Gary Lineker criticised his former club for their actions this week in cutting the wages of all 550 non-playing staff and furloughing many.
"The way Tottenham have handled it I don't think has been very good - what they are doing to their staff I don't agree with whatsoever,” Lineker said of the eighth-richest football club in the world, according to Deloitte.
"But that is a separate issue to what the players do. It's the club that has said that the players are going to carry on with their wages, but let's see how the players react to it."
The PFA immediately issued a statement of their own following Mr Hancock’s response, which while it confirmed that the intention was for players to accept an inevitable reduction, called on clubs to pay their own staff, and not rely on the players to do so.
A statement read: ”We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff’s salaries. However, our current position is that – as businesses - if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should.
“The players we have spoken to recognise that the non-playing staff are a vital part of their club and they do not want to see club staff furloughed unfairly. Any use of the government’s support schemes without genuine financial need is detrimental to the wider society.
"In instances where clubs have the resources to pay all staff, the benefit of players paying non-playing staff salaries will only serve the business of the club’s shareholders.
“We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the Covid-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.
“In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.
“We are hoping to reach an agreement with the Premier League and EFL that secures the long-term future of the clubs and protects players.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies