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Players can't afford to be naive - they must step up to help their clubs now

Jamie Carragher



Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates took a 70 per cent pay cut. Photo: REUTERS

Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates took a 70 per cent pay cut. Photo: REUTERS

Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates took a 70 per cent pay cut. Photo: REUTERS

The fantastic gesture of Premier League footballers to work together to set up a fund for NHS staff has been rightly applauded but it will not stop the conversation about salary cuts.

There have been two separate off-field issues for players since the coronavirus outbreak stopped football and blocked clubs' revenue streams. What more could the players do to help their communities? What more can the players do to help their own sport?

The players have shown incredible leadership with the first question. Now they must all step up for the second in the same way as some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Bayern Munich's players were among the first to accept a 20 per cent pay cut. Barcelona's reduced salaries by 70 per cent, and Real Madrid's also reached agreement of up 20 per cent cuts this week.

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I suspect Southampton's decision to become the first Premier League club to defer 10 per cent of player wages for three months will start a chain reaction.

Helping out front-line emergency services is wonderful, but it must be separated from the urgent need to ease football's economic burden. A call from UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock for Premier League stars to "play their part" for the NHS was nonsense from the start.

I know many wanted to offer financial assistance to help well before Hancock's remarks. You do not need to look too far to see how players do their bit every season with foundations and community work.

Hancock is opportunistic with no idea what he is talking about, although in a strange way his remarks took pressure off players and the Professional Footballers Association, because everyone with the game's best interest at heart defended the players and had a go back.

Just as we embrace the argument that it is wrong and unfair to brand every footballer in the same way, we should be careful about comments from the PFA about owners' finances, the implication being that they are seeking staff pay cuts for themselves rather than to help or even save their business.

That is a shoddy argument at a time like this: a blame game blurring the reality. It sounds like a lame excuse for not dealing with chairmen and chief executives, some of whom see grave times ahead. Premier League clubs are subsidised by broadcast, commercial and match-day revenue. No live football costs millions a day. Where do players think their wages come from?

Are they naively buying into a strange and unhelpful PFA suggestion that the money goes in and out of the bank account of a billionaire owner? The clubs have a business model which is unsustainable without the three main revenue streams.

I accept that there are some owners who have only themselves to blame for losing the trust of their players and staff. But you cannot seriously look around the football industry now without recognising how many will eventually be in deep trouble if their highest-paid staff do not compromise. That will impact all of us: playing staff, non-playing staff and supporters.

Deals can only be achieved on a club-by-club basis, players engaging with their employers rather than trying to agree a Premier League-wide policy. Attempts to do the latter have so far failed and I do not see that changing. That is why Southampton acted and others must follow suit.

Some clubs have indicated they are financially secure enough to avoid pay cuts for players. Others are desperate to enforce them but have a poor relationship with their staff.

There will be other players who are waiting to see how talks pan out, eager to stand side-by-side with their fellow professionals rather than going alone.

I appreciate the "one for all, all for one" attitude but they cannot afford to keep waiting and must work out individual formulas for their own squad. Before their NHS fund announcement you could sense opinion turning against the players. They need to prevent that happening again over the next few weeks.

Again, each circumstance will be different. A player coming to the end of his contract or career, or a youngster who has just broken into the first team from the academy and received a higher salary, should not be treated the same as the £200,000-a-week 25-year-old with four years left on his deal.

The players have shown their true colours for a noble cause by assisting the NHS. Now they must remember those they wear on a weekly basis to ease the financial burden on their clubs. (© Daily Telegraph, London)