By Jonathan Copping, Lawyer, Stone King, London, UK
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to work from home, employees to be furloughed and pay cuts for retained staff, English Premier League footballers have – so far – avoided any financial restrictions on their salaries.
Unsurprisingly, in the light of the major financial effect that the pandemic is having on ordinary workers, Premier League footballers’ salaries have been thrust into the spotlight.
The issue has been exacerbated by the fact that several Premier League football clubs (Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Norwich City) have furloughed their non-playing staff (who earn a fraction of a player’s salary). Liverpool announced that it was going to furlough its non-playing staff last week, only for the decision to be reversed this week after pressure from the fans.
All twenty Premier League teams met on 3 April to discuss options in response to the pandemic. One of the options allegedly discussed was asking Premier League players to take a 30% pay cut either via a wage cut or deferral. The Premier League is currently suspended and with no date for the league to resume, the income levels of clubs will undoubtedly be decreasing. Players’ salaries are usually the largest recurring expenditure for Premier League clubs.
The meeting followed criticism from the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, on 2 April, when he stated that Premier League footballers should “take a pay cut and play their part”.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (the PFA) also released a statement on the issue, in which it stated that “players will have to share the financial burden”; however, the PFA also went on to state: “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.” Apart from those comments, the PFA also stated that such a cut “equates to more than £500 million in wage reductions over twelve months, and a loss in tax contributions of more than £200 million to the UK Government, which would be detrimental to our NHS [National Health Service].”
Matt Hancock’s comments were not at all well received by players.
Former England captain, Wayne Rooney, now playing for Derby County in the Championship, criticised the comments, claiming that players were “easy targets” and that top-footballers are in a “no-win situation”. Andros Townsend, a midfielder for Premier League club, Crystal Palace, stated: “The Health Secretary, deflecting blame onto footballers, I don’t think that is right. His job is the responsibility of NHS workers.”
As at the date of this post, there has been no announcement by any Premier League club that their players were to take any form of pay cut. It is understood that Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, held a meeting with the captains of the other nineteen Premier League clubs, to look at how Premier League footballers could set up a coronavirus fund to raise funds for NHS staff.
Separately, the Premier League has announced that it will accelerate a payment of £125million to Football League and National League clubs to assist them during the pandemic. The majority of this payment relates to parachute payments due to clubs recently relegated from the Premier League. The Premier League has also made a £20 million contribution to support the NHS and vulnerable people during the pandemic.
Whilst Matt Hancock’s public statement about Premier League footballers was probably unfair, the overriding public view is likely to be that the footballers should look to make some form of financial contribution to help to assist clubs during the pandemic.
Whether this is by taking a pay cut, donating a percentage of a salary to much needed causes, or both, some form of financial action ought to be taken to safeguard the integrity of ‘the beautiful game’ and avoid a public relations disaster!
Jonathan Copping may be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@stoneking.co.uk’