Premier League gets its act together at last as clubs finally put on a united front over coronavirus
A prolonged Premier League video conference ended today with a further commitment to finish the season and an acceptance that matches will not resume on before May. The meeting of the 20 clubs also passed a decision to advance £125m to the EFL and National League and agreed to consult with the PFA to reduce player wages with “a combination of conditional reductions and deferrals” that will bring salaries down by 30 per cent while the Coronavirus emergency continues.
The NHS will benefit from a £20m contribution from the club. A long, sometimes fractious meeting ended a difficult week when the top flight received criticism from politicians and the public for their actions during the crisis.
The league last month set April 30 as a projected date for the resumption of football but the deadline was unrealistic. It was symptomatic of the lack of a coherent response to the Covid-19 crisis. The more sensible decision has now been taken to begin playing again “only when it is safe and appropriate to do so.” The return of matches will happen when government and medical advice determines that the danger has passed.
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The meeting of the 20 clubs recognised the threat to teams lower down the pyramid and the cash advance will be welcomed in the lower divisions.
Discussion with players over salaries will continue. A meeting with the PFA is scheduled for tomorrow and representatives of both bodies believe a compromise can be agreed.
It took too long for the Premier League to get its act together as the Covid-19 crisis took hold but – in public at least – the clubs are presenting a united face at last. When it became apparent that there would be a long layoff from games, the owners, chief executives and chairmen should have got together and agreed a common approach. The sport could have projected itself as a force for good. Instead significant public-relations damage has been inflicted on the game.
Within 24 hours of cancelling the fixtures Karren Brady was agitating to have the season voided, which only made sense if the primary issue in these difficult times was to ensure West Ham United’s financial wellbeing. This was despite the prevailing view that the season should be completed. Worse was to come.
Daniel Levy’s reaction to the situation was even more astounding. The Tottenham Hotspur accounts were released this week showing their chairman pocketed £7 million in salary and bonuses. The timing was impeccable, with the news coming on the same day Levy placed all 550 of the club’s non playing staff on furlough to take advantage of government payouts.
The sport is frequently the subject of odious comparisons. The ‘let’s pay soliders/nurses/ doctors footballers’ wages’ brigade can hardly wait to hurl invective at the predominantly working-class young men on film-star wages for playing what some people perceive to be a kids’ game. Yet players have little say in the direction of the industry. The people in the boardrooms, those sitting around the table at the Premier League meeting today, are the ones who determine that. Their lack of leadership set the scene for a situation where Matt Hancock could play to popular prejudices and say that players should take a pay cut to finance the wages of their non-playing colleagues. The health secretary was able to deflect scrutiny away from his government’s poor performance by fingerpointing at football.
It is nonsense. The notion of asking employees to bail out their bosses would not be applied to any other industry. But the likes of Levy – and representatives of the other 19 clubs – have allowed the game to be brought into disrepute by not establishing a common policy.
Jordan Henderson has shown more leadership than the entire group of executives and owners by contacting captains across the top flight to raise money to donate to the NHS. The players have already taken the situation into their own hands. They should not have had to push their own scheme. The owners and the PFA should have been playing the leading role. After today, the hope is that the Premier League will take the initiative.
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