KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Liverpool’s decision to apply for government subsidies to help meet their wages bill may eventually cost them fans’ sympathy in their claim for the Premier League title in the event of the season being eventually declared null and void.
In February the Reds declared annual profits of £42m. However they are among five clubs – with Bournemouth, Newcastle, Norwich and Tottenham – who want to take advantage of a multi-million-pound scheme to protect the national economy during the coronavirus lockdown.
Superstar footballers are not the only high earners but they are the most visible and expected to be role models. This may be unfair but it has landed Premier League players in an embarrassing dispute with their own clubs and with the government.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means businesses can claim 80pc of their employees’ wages until June 1 to offset the impact of the pandemic. Staff temporarily out of work are described as being “on furlough.”
Liverpool and the other four clubs as well as all clubs in the lower leagues have each put up to 200 non-playing staff on furlough. In real terms this means the business activities of US-based Fenway Sports Group are being subsided by the tax-paying public.
Responsibility lies with club managements rather than players but the players have been handed much of the blame by politicians, media and fans for not acting more quickly to volunteer pay cuts.
Jamie Carragher, the former Liverpool captain, believes the seventh richest club in the world had lost “respect” by implementing the move. He tweeted: “Jurgen Klopp showed compassion for all at the start of this pandemic. Then all that respect and goodwill is lost. Poor this, @LFC.”
Former Liverpool centre-forward Stan Collymore was similarly critical.
Collymore said: “I don’t know of any Liverpool fan who will not be disgusted at the club for furloughing staff. Furlough is to keep those small businesses from going bust. Every Premier League owner has serious cash and make money from skyrocketing values of clubs.”
Klopp and Liverpool’s senior players’ committee, which includes captain Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk, have been in talks with FSG since March 13 about the repercussions of the pandemic. Henderson has also led discussions with the other Premier league club captains about a united response.
On Friday a video meeting of the Premier League clubs produced a £125m relief fund for lower division clubs and a £20m donation to the work of the National Health Service. It also proposed a 30pc pay cut for all players. This has been resisted by the players’ union, the Professional Footballers’ Association.
One PFA concern is that this move would only put more money into the hands of the club owners rather than lower-paid staff. PFA ceo Gordon Taylor has also pointed out that a cut in top-end wages cuts contributions to national tax which helps find the health service.
Player scepticism was expressed by former England captain Wayne Rooney, now player-coach at second-tier Derby.
Rooney, in a column in The Sunday Times, said: “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.
“The Premier League announced it was looking for its players to give up or defer wages by 30pc despite owners knowing players were already deep in discussion about what their contribution should be. We’re easy targets. What gets lost is that half our wages get taken by the taxman. It’s money that goes to the government, money that is helping the NHS.
“What about the big stars from other sports, who are able to avoid tax by living in places like Monaco — why are they not getting called out? This disaster is hitting the whole world.”
On Friday the Premier League agreed it was impossible to forecast a date for a resumption of matches. If, eventually, the 2019-20 season is lost then sympathy for clubs which looked to government aid rather than dig into their own savings may be in short supply. That, inevitably, would include Liverpool.