‘Stop defending the indefensible’: Premier League and MPs clash over footballer wage-cut row

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The row over Premier League wages escalated on Tuesday after Premier League chief executive Richard Masters responded to Julian Knight MP with a letter defending clubs who have utilised the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, only for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to publish the letter in full.

Knight, chair of the DCMS, criticised Masters’s response and has told him to “stop defending the indefensible” after some clubs including Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth elected to furlough non-playing staff while still paying player wages in full. Liverpool also announced plans to do the same, before performing a U-turn on Monday after a fierce backlash.

A meeting on Monday between the Premier League clubs and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) ended without agreement on a universal player wage cut, with the players’ union instead calling for clubs to reveal their financial details and structure their reductions dependent on their individual circumstances – a move backed up by the players last night.

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Masters responded to a letter from Knight last week to defend the Premier League clubs and stress that English football stands to lose £1bn during the coronavirus crisis, only to receive a firm rebuttal.

“It is frankly laughable to think that clubs are showing restraint on the use of government money to pay non-playing staff and it flies in the face of public opinion,” Knight said in a release. “Liverpool has listened to fans, done the right thing and changed its mind.

“It is time for the Premier League to stop defending the indefensible. They should be working out a way to carry on paying the wages of staff without taking money from the government scheme.”

Both Newcastle and Spurs have indicated that they will not reverse their decision on furloughing non-playing staff, which will see the Government pay 80 per cent of their wages up to £2,500.

In the letter from Masters, it was stressed that neither the Premier League nor PFA has the jurisdiction to impose a blanket wage reduction without full agreement of the players, with a proposal for a 30 per cent reduction rejected by players this week. The Premier League has also donated £20m to the National Health Service and given advanced planned funds of £125m to clubs in the English Football League and National League, while the PFA has given £100m to the Premier League players’ fund for the NHS and charities – £500,000 of which came from chief executive Gordon Taylor.

“I would like to start by reassuring you that we are working hard with all the football authorities to manage the very serious impact of Covid-19,” said Masters. “This of course includes the severe financial implications, to the Premier League, the wider football pyramid and the communities the clubs support, of the suspension of the Premier League’s competition. We do of course fully support the overriding national need to to everything possible to deal with the pandemic.

“The financial impact is significant for our sector and while there is no collective bargaining agreement on player remuneration we have held detailed discussions with the Professional Footballers’ Association and others on how the financial burden might be shared across those involved. In this spirit, a proposal for a League-wide target wage reduction has been presented to them as a guideline for discussions between clubs and players. It is important to note that neither we as the League, nor the PFA, can agree and impose reductions in remunerations, as each contract can only be varied by the parties involved i.e. the player and the club.”


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Masters highlighted how much the clubs expect to lose over the coming months, with losses in excess of £1bn expected across the league that will also filter down the football pyramid and hit the clubs who cannot afford such financial struggles, with their future on the line.

“You will appreciate, like much of the productive economy in the UK, we are losing revenue at an unprecedented level,” continued Masters. “We face a £1bn loss, at least, if we fail to complete the 2019/20 season, and further losses going forward if the seriousness of the pandemic deepens and extends into the future. 

“This would negatively impact not only the finances of the 20 Premier League clubs, but would also have a significant detrimental effect across the whole professional football landscape. For this reason, clubs unanimously agreed to advance funds to the EFL and National League.” 

Ultimately, the very heavy losses that we face will have to be dealt with or else clubs and other enterprises who depend on football for income will go out of business

But Masters did also strike a firm stance over the availability of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been opened to football clubs whether people like it or not, given they have lost their main source of income through playing matches.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley and now Liverpool have said that they will not turn to the furlough scheme, but others will almost certainly have to in order to avoid financially-crippling losses.

Masters stressed: “The furlough scheme announced by the Government is meant for the whole economy, including many enterprises which might be regarded as providing entertainment or otherwise dependent on elite talent. We do agree with you that restraint needs to be shown by all and we and our clubs are doing just that. Individual clubs will need to make these decisions based on their own forecasts, as each club will have its own unique position. The Government’s measures have considered the whole economy. 

“It is important to recognise that these decisions need to be taken with the short, medium and long-term all in mind. Not only is our industry facing losses now, but to be realistic, we must also base our plans on full recovery being some distance away. Ultimately, the very heavy losses that we face will have to be dealt with or else clubs and other enterprises who depend on football for income will go out of business. We do not say this lightly, or to justify clubs’ decisions; it is a very real threat.

“The Premier League, it’s clubs and players generate, in normal times, significant sums for the Exchequer, most recently in excess of £3bn per season including £1bn from players’ salaries. It is also crucial therefore that we as an industry can ensure our future financial viability, so our clubs are in the best position to return to playing football when it is safe and proper to do so. This outcome would be good for fans and for clubs and would be a boost to the economy and tax revenues.”

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