Week five of English football working from home and having shipped out the training-ground gym equipment to their players, or done their online grocery shopping, it now seems some clubs are making strenuous efforts to talk up the financial apocalypse in pursuit of savings.
Could Mikel Arteta be about to negotiate the first pay cut in Premier League history? Certainly the Arsenal manager's address to the players last week seems to have had some effect on negotiations that closed on Monday with them politely declining the club's offer to make Champions League qualification a prerequisite of earning their full salaries. This time last week, the consensus among most of the Arsenal players was that they would not be subsidising the club's unsustainable wage bill, although that did not stop the club trying to change their minds.
A 12.5 per cent, 12-month cut yields around £25m, a considerable amount but hardly the difference between extinction and survival. It may save the next instalment on Nicolas Pepe's transfer fee, or save a month's wage bill but who is doing the saving? "One of the most challenging periods in our near 134-year history," the club described current events, which was troublingly vague. How challenging? Henry Norris moving the club from Woolwich level of challenging? Emirates Stadium financing challenging? Peak #WengerOut challenging? Stan Kroenke putting his own money in challenging? This is, after all, a club who have not been relegated since the First World War. Were it your 12.5 per cent then one assumes you would want to know.
Especially given that the likes of Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Burnley have told their players that only if or when their financial situation becomes unsustainable will they let them know. They have worked on the basis that a non-critical saving will make a small difference to costs in these pandemic days, but long-term costs in goodwill could be much greater.
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It is a question worth asking of Chelsea too as they pursue cuts of around 10 per cent to their player salary bill, emboldened one assumes by reports of a cut at Arsenal. Whatever financial savings have been proposed in that instance will surely have to be reinforced by the details of the harsh reality. Chelsea, like all their peers, have player assets who could be sold to raise money in the short term - although that saving is yet to be considered by clubs as they wait to see how the next two months will play out.
The Premier League is looking anxiously to Germany and the proposed resumption of the Bundesliga on May 9. Should that go ahead as planned then English clubs can ask the their government for permission to do the same, fortified by the advantage that other countries have proved themselves capable. The logistical horror of quarantined teams staying in bio-secure hotels, and the screening of the hundreds of people needed to stage a game behind closed doors for television might just win the backing of government.
By June 30, the end of the season's financial cycle, clubs will have a much better idea of their budgets for next season. Not just the situation with broadcasters but which sponsorship deals are still viable, whether season tickets can be sold, what has been lost on pre-season tours. They will have to amend their budgets accordingly. Then there may be no alternative to asking for pay cuts, but those being proposed currently speak of the anxiety of certain clubs simply to do something immediately rather than wait to see if they need to do anything.
Two weeks ago, there was resolution between the players who represented their clubs around the Premier League's presentation of its Covid-19 disaster document, estimating a £1.137bn deficit. The players agreed not to take a pay cut and later the following week launched their own charity initiative to see off the pressure to make a contribution from government and others. At Friday's meeting of the 20 clubs, there was no mention of that same document proposing a 30 per cent pay cut over 12 months that had been such a matter of urgency two weeks' earlier.
But every club is different and so too every player's situation. Some squads will have those whom management can exert pressure upon, and that manifests itself in different ways. Each career and each contractual position is different, just as there will be some whose status or general disposition makes them impossible to push around. Without the traditional union strength there are few workforces potentially quite so easily divided as a group of famous footballers, all different ages, of varying ability, on different wages - in this era or any other.
The old strength of the Professional Footballers' Association has been eroded over the years, and Gordon Taylor, its chief executive, has much to answer for. He can harangue the clubs and preach caution to the players, but if it turns out that Arsenal's squad can be persuaded to breach the PFA's insistence that they should only accept deferrals, not cuts, then it does beg a serious question of the union. Certainly whether Taylor can hold together all his members, from the best paid to the rest.
At Tottenham Hotspur, Daniel Levy pushed so early with his public challenge to his players to "do their bit" that it seems to have had the effect of uniting his squad in resistance, especially in light of him reversing his staff-furloughing decision. Having originally insisted on placing a fee on Mauricio Pochettino after sacking him, he now wishes for the Argentine to take a cut on his severance pay.
One assumes Pochettino will wish to know in detail just how dire it is for Spurs before he even considers that request. These are questions too, for the players at Arsenal and Chelsea to ask of their billionaire owners, whether they are injecting funds or not. Especially as there are so many other clubs where the pay cut emergency seems still to be weeks, even months, away.
Sunday Indo Sport