The English Premier League has called on its players to take a 30 per cent cut to their annual pay, in the latest effort to address a deepening cash crunch in the national game caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Footballers are at an impasse with the country’s leagues over demands to accept wage reductions, while politicians have attacked top clubs and players over their response to a financial crisis caused by the postponement of fixtures due the Covid-19 outbreak.
On Friday, the 20 clubs in English football’s top tier announced they had “unanimously agreed to consult their players regarding a combination of conditional reductions and deferrals amounting to 30 per cent of total annual remuneration”.
The Premier League added that the current season would not resume at the beginning of May as it had previously hoped, instead accepting that games “will only return when it is safe and appropriate”.
The demand for an across-the-board reduction increases pressure on the Professional Footballers’ Association, the players’ union led by chief executive Gordon Taylor.
For days, the PFA has held crisis talks with the Premier League and the English Football League, which runs the three professional divisions below. The union has resisted pay cuts, instead seeking a deferral of wages that would mean all playing contracts are fully realised after the shutdown has passed. Discussions continue, with more scheduled for Saturday.
Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, on Thursday called on elite footballers to “take a cut and play their part”. Outside the PFA-led talks, players at teams such as Manchester United, the highest earning club in the country, are in active discussions over waiving a portion of their salaries or making donations to charitable causes, according to people familiar with the talks.
Last week footballers at other leading European clubs agreed temporary wage reductions. Spain’s Barcelona agreed to cuts of 70 per cent, Germany’s Bayern Munich 20 per cent, while at Juventus in Italy, players have waived their salaries for four months.
The PFA said on Thursday that its members were “expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon” but added it wanted to protect vulnerable players, particularly those in the lower leagues, where wages are substantially ess, as well as those working on short-term contracts that are due to end in June.
Some Premier League clubs have declared they will use the UK government’s furlough scheme to fund the wages of non-playing staff, without having first agreed cuts with high-earning footballers.
The owners of these clubs, which include retail magnate Mike Ashley at Newcastle United and Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis at Tottenham Hotspur, have been criticised by the PFA.
“Each club’s financial standing will vary,” the body said. “Our current position is that — as businesses — if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should . . . Any use of the government’s support schemes without genuine financial need is detrimental to the wider society.”
Executives at lower-league clubs have warned that without financial assistance and drastic cost-cutting measures, some are likely to go bust within weeks.
On Friday, the Premier League voted to advance funds of £125m to the EFL and amateur competitions “as it is aware of the severe difficulties clubs throughout the football pyramid are suffering at this time”.
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