IN SPORT, as in life, comparisons are usually made to the best.
Everybody who runs the 100 metres is rated against the 9.58 seconds it took Usain Bolt to do it; how far you can jump is measured versus Mike Powell's record of 8.95 metres and the current worth of an AIB share judged against the €24.40 is once was.
It might be slightly unfair -- particularly in the case of anybody currently holding those shares -- but it's the easiest way of quantifying where things stand.
Football, however, tends to play by its own rules, meaning how much a player earns comes down to the brazenness of their agent or the stupidity of the chairmen trying to sign them. Somewhere after that comes their ability to play the game.
On Saturday, Arsenal strolled about the Upton Park pitch as though they were playing against mannequins. With a few minutes remaining, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it was possible to rewind the coverage and find out that Arsenal had kept the ball for just under two minutes with 36 consecutive passes.
In any other walk of life such a pathetic excuse for effort would be met with official warnings, fines or sackings. Instead West Ham's players -- including the one earning more than anybody else on that pitch -- could pin it on the out-going manager and vow to up their game for Martin O'Neill.
That one player, of course, was Wayne Bridge, who was mostly responsible for all three of Arsenal's goals and who West Ham are paying £90,000 a week as part of his loan from Manchester City. Perhaps anticipating the sack, this was Avram Grant's final act of vengeance to lumber the club with a player who has played 127 games in seven and a half years while all the time picking up weekly wages comfortably in five figures.
Of course, Bridge is not to blame if somebody is willing to pay him that much money, nor is it his fault that for much of that time he was either injured or stuck stagnant behind Ashley Cole at Chelsea. It's just that if he's on that amount of money, those who are at the top end of the game are vastly under-paid.
It's easy to become blasé about how much players earn until the transfer window opens and stories like Luke Young refusing a move to Liverpool because he would only be paid £35,000 a week or clubs being unwilling to match Emmanuel Adebayor's £160,000-a-week wages make it jaw-droppingly unavoidable.
There's no way to justify such salaries but if Adebayor, Bridge or John Utaka -- £80,000 weekly at Portsmouth -- are taken as the base-rate, Cristiano Ronaldo could justifiably demand £1m a week at Real Madrid and Messi, Xavi or Iniesta even more than that at Barcelona.
Madrid shelled out a daft figure of £80m on Ronaldo yet for their investment they have seen a return of 64 goals in 63 competitive games and, by the end of the season, his fee will probably be just under one million a goal. By comparison, Adebayor has 15 for the £25m City paid out for him and he looks like being shipped out before getting the chance to add to his tally. It's not difficult to work out who is getting more value for money.
Of all professions, footballers are beaten with the stick of their wages more than any other. Irrelevant comparisons will be made to the earnings of teachers/nurses/soldiers and, to those who make those references, all players have to do is "kick a ball around".
It's the same with other sports, with the warrior rugby players compared to the fancy-dan footballers while GAA players, we are told relentlessly in the height of summer, have to be up for work on the Monday after a match which makes many of their efforts on the pitch, or in the pubs and nightclubs around the country in the early hours of Monday morning, all the more remarkable.
Those who are outraged by the salaries of footballers may also want to consider boycotting a few Hollywood films in protest at the money their leading stars make when all they have to do is "learn a few lines". At least footballers do their own stunts.
Last year, Johnny Depp took in $75m thanks, in part, to his role in 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4', a series of films which is beginning to make the 'Police Academy' sequels look like 'Godfather II'. (Ben Stiller $52m, Tom Hanks $45m, Adam Sandler $40m and Leonardo Di Caprio $28m completed the top five). Like footballers, the amount these actors earn isn't necessarily connected to their ability, but in how much people are willing to pay to watch them do their job.
Perhaps the next few months will see Upton Park ticket sales increase due to their new signing and Wayne Bridge shirts will fly out of the club shop to bring in some cash to put a dent in the money they are paying him.
But if £90,000 a week for Bridge ever proves to be value for money, the money men at Real Madrid or Barcelona had better have very deep pockets when Ronaldo or Messi come to negotiate their next deal.