With the whole world in shutdown mode because of the COVID-19 pandemic, football is at standstill both in terms of play and revenue. In the midst of all this chaos, the mayhem at Arsenal has gone to a different level with rift between the club and its players.
The pressure is growing on football’s governing bodies to resume the season and bring it to a conclusion for several obvious reasons.
Firstly, no monies are coming in from the broadcasters (Sky, BT Sport, BBC) who generate the biggest income for Premier League clubs. Any new sponsorship deals are also in jeopardy with the lock-down likely to continue for weeks to come.
Secondly, Premier League clubs are paying ludicrous amounts of wages to players who aren’t playing and in case of Arsenal, initial losses are thought to be around £74.8 million with the club still having to contend with the remainder of their annual wage bill of £230m.
So, it was only a matter of time before Raul Sanllehi, Head of Football at Arsenal, on behalf of KSE, approached the players regarding a pay cut. Arsenal Players have completely rejected the suggested 12.5% pay cut during the COVID-19 crisis and a great many are said to be upset by what they see as a blatant attempt to re-negotiate their salaries under extreme circumstances.
The figure would save Arsenal around £25m with players like Mesut Ozil coining a delightful £350,000 per week. I recognise that the German is an immensely generous individual, known for his charitable donations but it is a vast salary when the club has no revenue from Premier League fixtures.
Lord Alan Sugar came out in support of a player’s pay cut when he said:
“Some clubs just simply can’t afford it, they work from hand to mouth. I know it sounds ridiculous, but they spend every single penny they can on player transfers and player wages and they rely upon the income coming in to pay their bills … and if you stop the income coming in, then where are they going to get the money from?”
“You need to ask the players to help to support their clubs like they have done at Real Madrid”
Real have confirmed that their players are willing to reduce their pay by 20% during the COVID-19 lock-down.
In what is becoming a hot potato, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“I think everybody needs to play their part in this national effort and that means Premier League footballers too.”
However, former England and Spurs striker Gary Lineker said that Premier League players were becoming ‘scapegoats’. Lineker said:
“We do tend to have a go at footballers quite easily, they’re easy game. Yes, they get paid a lot of money, but I’m sure they want to help.”
“They’re consistently very good in the communities and I’m sure over the coming days that footballers will stand up and be counted, either taking pay cuts or making donations to charities or staff workers that are non-playing.”
“So, I’m confident that will happen, but it takes time and everyone here is jumping on the bandwagon. Politicians do tend to do that occasionally, especially at football’s expense — so, if I’m wrong, then I’ll be as critical as everybody else.”
The Premier League and FA are struggling to resolve the situation and there are no plans in place to change the circumstances anytime soon. With that in mind, players and agents may well clash with the paymasters at the clubs and those that feel slighted by the request may even opt to leave after their current contract expires.
It’s thought that the Premier League may have to intervene on a club by club basis to make suggestions to both clubs and players to make substantial savings. The trouble is that the longer the COVID-19 crisis goes on, the harder it’s going to be, especially for clubs that aren’t considered to be a top-six club.
At least, the top six of the Premier League are allowed some form of latitude because of the length of time in the elite league and their ability to generate vast sponsorship deals. With players rejecting most attempts to enforce a pay cut, there is a need for greater clarity between both parties and the clubs can expect to offer details of the projected losses before discussing wage cuts or deferrals.
Clubs will have to look inwardly at the wage structure and that includes non-playing staff, directors, and coaches and also includes any bonus payments that were in place before the COVID-19 outbreak. There’s a lot of work to do while football continues to be absent from our daily lives, perhaps not on the pitch but certainly behind the scenes.