Wayne Rooney has criticised the government and Premier League for putting Britain’s top-flight footballers in a “no-win situation” over the issue of pay cuts, with Gary Lineker and Gary Neville also speaking out.
Writing in the Sunday Times (£), Rooney claimed his fellow professionals were being lined up as “easy targets” in the wider response to the coronavirus crisis, and branded government criticism of players “a disgrace”.
The Premier League’s proposed 30% wage cut or deferral strategy for players was discussed in a conference call with the PFA and the League Managers Association on Saturday. The players’ union later issued a statement suggesting such a move could result in a £200m tax deficit.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, led calls for Premier League footballers to accept pay cuts, insisting players should “play their part” by reducing their lucrative salaries. In response, Rooney said he is willing and able to make significant financial contributions, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.
“If the Government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so, as long as I knew where the money was going,” wrote Rooney. “I’m in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position.
“Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30% pay cuts across the board,” the former England captain added. “Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats? How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.
“He [Hancock] was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes. Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his government’s handling of this pandemic?”
Rooney, who is now playing at Championship side Derby County, went to question the Premier League’s decision to go public with their own proposals before talks with the PFA and players.
“It seemed strange to me because every other decision in this process has been kept behind closed doors, but this had to be announced publicly,” he added. “It feels as if it’s to shame the players to force them into a corner where they have to pick up the bill for lost revenue. In my opinion it is now a no-win situation. Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”
Gary Lineker has also said it is unfair to single out high-earning athletes but expressed confidence that action was imminent, citing recent conversations with players.
“Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?” Lineker said during an appearance on Andrew Marr’s BBC One programme. “Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the CEOs, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don’t know.
“Footballers do an extraordinary amount of good in the community, lots of them will already be giving in their own silent ways and I know that plans are afoot to make their contributions to society,” Lineker added. “I expect an announcement to come in the next few days, the next week or so.
“The players I’ve spoken to are all desperately keen to do it. The problem is how you do it. It’s obviously complicated and it takes time. People are always quick to jump on the judgemental high horse, certainly when it comes to footballers but lots of them do lots of really good things.”
Lineker also said the PFA have “not been brilliant so far” in this dispure, and was critical of top-flight clubs, including Liverpool and Tottenham, who have furloughed non-playing staff using the safety net of the Government’s job retention scheme.
“That’s a different matter entirely,” Lineker said. “The big clubs, you’d have thought, would have been savvy enough to perhaps try to help more of their workers when players are earning so much money.”
Gary Neville, another former England international and influential broadcaster, has also been highly critical of the Premier League’s approach.
“The PL are handling the CV [coronavirus] crisis terribly,” Neville tweeted, before outlining a checklist of perceived mis-steps. The Sky Sports pundit said the English top flight had been “slow to lockdown” and had “tried one last weekend of games”.
Neville added that “furloughing straight away [was] a PR disaster, and also accused the Premier League of “turning on players publicly” and “trying to blindside them”. The former Manchester United player also criticised a lack of increased funding for lower-league sides, and said “all stakeholders [are] unhappy with their approach”.
“Football has too many stakeholders with different interests,” Neville concluded. “They all meet regularly [and] say they collaborate but when the ‘shit hits the fan’, the Premier League have the power and go solo! It’s unravelling before our eyes. A realignment for all clubs, fans and the game would be welcome.”