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Deep-seated distrust between clubs and players still lingers

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Derby captain Wayne Rooney

Derby captain Wayne Rooney

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Derby captain Wayne Rooney

Hard to ignore the very strong flavour of the standout line in Chelsea's statement this weekend on the subject euphemistically referred to by the club in these unusual times as "contributing financially" - and known to the rest of us as pay cuts for footballers.

"At this time," so went the deathless phrase, "the men's first team will not be contributing towards the club financially". Later it was the failure of talks between club and players aimed at "finding a meaningful partnership" as if this were the challenges involved in a town twinning-project or marriage counselling. There was a bit said about various laudable charitable enterprises but it was hard to ignore the central concern couched in language that could not quite camouflage it: the Chelsea players are not agreeing to the size of cut their club seek.

Five days earlier it had been the turn of Arsenal and their players - "positive and constructive discussions" we were assured - to reach an agreement on pay cuts. Apart from those in the first-team squad who said they had no desire to do so and have held out nonetheless, splitting the dressing room. The Derby County players collectively rejected a proposed wage deferral deal, with strong evidence to suggest that they had done so on the advice of the Professional Footballers' Association.

"Considered internally and discussed constructively," said a spokesman for Derby captain Wayne Rooney, as that April payroll looms this week for a club stretched financially.

Behind the scenes there are clubs at loggerheads with their players, who are asking why it is they who should bear the brunt of the financial crisis, while at front of house there are increasingly desperate attempts to make it look like an amicable joint enterprise. The problem for clubs pushing for cuts now is that their players are still able to look around and ask why that is not the case for their peers at the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City, as well as less wealthy Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers or Crystal Palace.

There is a deep-seated distrust between clubs and players that will not go away. There is still no agreement among clubs that those who defer or cut wages will be prohibited from signing new players when indeed the transfer window does open. A proposal will go in front of the Football League board on Wednesday, to be voted on later, to prevent the signing of new players by any club with outstanding deferred wages. Equally those who have imposed wage ceilings, as per that one agreed at Leeds United, will not be able to sign contracts with new players on salaries exceeding that figure. Although there is no guarantee the EFL will agree these provisions.

While it might sound absurd that a club in dire financial need would require a rule to be imposed to prevent them from spending the savings made on deferrals or pay cuts on more football liabilities, there are clearly enough in the EFL who think it a sufficient possibility.

As for the Premier League itself, the players have been pursued for cuts or deferrals according to the financial need their club find themselves in. At Chelsea, for instance, there is the signing of Hakim Ziyech, that elegant attacker from Ajax for £37 million whose impending arrival would beg a few questions for those obliged to take a pay cut. The first of which being: is Ziyech included in that too? And what of his transfer fee being subsidised even in part by the proposed salary cuts to his future team-mates?

At Tottenham Hotspur, the same question would be asked of the prospective signing of Thomas Meunier on a free from Paris St-Germain were his new team-mates also asked to "contribute financially" to Daniel Levy's business plan.

The clubs themselves are facing the catastrophe of depreciating assets. The uncompromising analysis on Friday of the current state of football laid out by Ed Woodward, as executive vice-chairman of Manchester United one of the transfer market's central figures, made as much clear. No-one should be under any illusions, Woodward said about the scope of the crisis. "It may not be 'business as usual' for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer," he said.

For most clubs the players they have bought in recent windows are simply not worth what they paid for them. Levy will look at his record signing Tanguy Ndombele as a first-time buyer locked in early-1990s negative equity might have considered their semi-detached starter home. In other words, he should recover his value at some point, but when? There is a mountain of transfer fee debt estimated by some analysts as totalling around £1.5 billion for Premier League clubs alone, a proportion of which will come due in September. There is a credit bubble in football like no other, and every pound, euro or dollar owed is a crucial part of its creditor's business plan. If that system collapses then it will take many down with it.

The question that is yet to be answered for players faced with cuts and deferrals is: what for? If it is to save their club from extinction then there can be no alternative. If and when their club can no longer afford the salaries then their players will be able to walk away as free agents and take their chances elsewhere.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk