I feel like The Times has put itself in a right old pickle hiring Wayne Rooney as their flashy new columnist. They spent the first week defending his right to write, rolling out the big guns to defend his intelligence after he was unfairly eviscerated online, and to be fair, his work has been solid. He takes a strong line of opinion and backs it as best he can. However, this week, they’ve let him loose on the sticky subject of the PFA and Matt Hancock. It didn’t go well.
Before I jump two-footed into my lunging hot take, I just want to reset people here. Footballers at Rooney’s level are wealthy beyond anything you and I can imagine. Literally, in the top 0.1 percentile of wealth, players like CR7 are in the top 0.01%. When I worked in London, we had a client that sold fractional ownership of private jets, Ronaldo was in the deck as our target (£30m+ of net wealth). Wayne Rooney would also be in that category; his net worth ranges bubble at around $160 million. If you have an error margin of 30%, he’s still in the OH MY FUCKING LORD levels of cash money. So when the papers position these folk as ‘one of us that done good’, it’s a fantasy on par with Mike Ashley being one of the lads because he necks a pint in the stands.
Back to Wayne Rooney. He opens his article asking why Matt Hancock was thinking about Premier League footballers during a botched pandemic response? A fair question, but not when you work for The Times and your colleagues threw a lot of ink at Spurs furloughing their non-sport staff, applying for a taxpayer bailout, all before cutting a single pound note of the players. How did that make it through the edit?
He then goes onto to say that footballers often spend beyond their means, citing an Audi he purchased when he was at Everton he couldn’t afford (I struggle with this cute anecdote because he burst onto the scene at 16, would have been driving at 17, moved to United at 18. Was there really a moment in that 17th year when a £20k Audi would have been a problem?). Anyway, overspending, welcome to the club my man, that’s basically every person in the UK. 12.8m household in the UK have £1,500 or less in savings to access. Average unsecured UK debt before mortgages is £4,600, credit card debt is £2,600, average debt when you include a mortgage is £31k per person. We are all struggling.
Wayne suggests that footballers have short careers, they have to invest for the future and save money, so it’s unfair to ask for cuts. Again, this point is true, but it’s so disconnected to the reality of those in the real world. The UK has 4.8m in the gig economy. Footballers have short careers, no doubt, but it’s still a job and in most cases, it pays a lot more handsomely than a zero-hours contract in a nursing home.
He suggests that football clubs should negotiate salary reductions on a per case basis, reducing wages based on what players can afford. A lovely thought, while local clubs furlough non-sport staff instantly, clubs should painstakingly negotiate salary reductions with Mr 10% to a level where the players can maintain their current lifestyle and financial plan? Fantasy. Again, people in the real world get the e-mail telling them what their new salary is and that’s it.
He also pulls another card that is being used rampantly: What about the others?!
Yes, tax exiles asking for bailouts should be called out. Richard Branson and Phillip Green are a disgrace, no doubt, and they have been attacked, but in this moment whataboutism is the same deflection tactic he’s accusing Hancock of engaging in. My whataboutism would focus on the NFL, what about that league? Just Google it, they’re donating as a collective and they are doing it at a local level. Franchises like the Falcons are protecting hourly workers. What about the NBA? Zion Williams alone is paying the Pelicans hourly workers through the month. Take a read if you want to see what American sport is doing for their people. Why is the player response here so much better?
The thread from Wayne Rooney is pretty clear… a total reluctance to accept that footballers are not special and a real aversion to making a collective sacrifice to save their clubs and the people working in the non-sport areas. It’s disappointing.
To make matters worse, Liverpool, a team that sings ‘You’ll never walk alone’, has ditched 200 workers and leaned in the government furlough, which is a tax break for big firms… one that should really be used as a last-ditch move. In this video, Henderson talks about the song.
‘It means more than words. You can use it not only for this football club, but in many walks of life.’
Well, if the walk of life you trudge through is a low paying job, you very much do walk alone. Quite staggering that a club that made over £100m from the Champions League would entertain the furlough, but here we are.
The final point Wayne and the PFA are pushing is that the lost tax revenue from wage cuts will impact the NHS. This one really gets me, because again, it focuses on the individual players.
‘By refusing me my millions, you are attacking the NHS’
It’s a selfish argument that doesn’t consider the ramifications of why this is happening. Premier League footballers are not being asked to take a salary cut just because the nation hates rich footballers. It’s asking them to take a cut to 1) Save their clubs that are losing all their revenue streams 2) Support the non-sport staff 3) To help support the lower league clubs that might go bust 4) To invest in local causes, like the NHS.
Yes, there will be a loss of tax revenue, but it’s not like clubs are just making bank. They are trying to survive. Diverting the 30% salary cut to the NHS is an absolute luxury only the biggest clubs will be able to afford. The main aim of the reductions is to survive. Survival isn’t just limited to the lower-level clubs, Burnley is going to run out of money by August if something isn’t done.
“The fact of the matter is if we don’t finish the season and there isn’t a clear start to the next one, we as a club will run out of money by August. That’s a fact,”
“I can’t speak for other clubs and I don’t know their financial positions and all I can speak on is our club and our financial position.
“That is why we are very, very determined that when it is of course safe to do so we really do want to finish this season.
“We voted unanimously to finish the season so it’s clear everyone wants to get the job done. It’s crystal clear that finishing the season is by far the best, if only real outcome for the Premier League clubs.”
If a Premier League club can be this cash strapped, imagine what it’s like for a team like Portsmouth?
So in short, angst at the Premier League and its players isn’t misguided. It isn’t classist. It isn’t unfounded. The power players need to speed up the process. Journalists who caused this outrage in the first place need to remind themselves how we got here > their stories about Spurs. The fans need to point to American sport when the whataboutism arguments bubble up.
Arsenal has to make a decision about its hourly workers. Josh Kroenke went out if his way to tell the fans that he wanted to make them proud last year. Let’s see what he has up his sleeve when the month of financial assistance for our casual workers (and non-sport folk) is up.
Hopefully, we lead like we have so far, all eyes on the top dogs. Make us proud. x