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The Warm-Up: In defence of Premier League footballers

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Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah of Liverpool

Image credit: Getty Images

ByTom Adams
03/04/2020 at 07:14 | Updated 03/04/2020 at 07:47
@tomadams83

The Warm-Up leaps to the defence of the under-fire Premier League footballers in our midst, while the league considers moving to... China?

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Everything probably attains a certain urgent simplicity when you’re battling against a pandemic which is now claiming over 500 lives a day in the UK, your government department is under fire for its mishandling of nationwide testing and NHS staff are testifying that they don’t have the necessary equipment to keep them safe on the frontlines against COVID-19 – equipment that it is essentially your responsibility to provide.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when health secretary Matt Hancock used a portion of his address to the nation yesterday to take a pop at Premier League footballers for having failed to “play their part” by not yet agreeing an industry-wide pay cut in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“I think that everybody needs to play their part in this national effort and that means Premier League footballers too,” said Hancock. “Given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice of going into work and have caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”

‘Give soldiers footballers’ wages’, the clarion call of a certain strain of Twitter user, has become ‘give footballers’ wages to... well, whom exactly?’

That is the point. This is a more complex issue than Hancock would like to convey. At clubs which have admirably already committed to maintaining non-playing staff wages at 100%, including Crystal Palace and Manchester United, players agreeing to take a giant pay cut of around 70%, as they have at Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, would simply enrich the club coffers. Immediately at least. Potentially that money could ensure full wages of non-playing staff are maintained if this all goes on for much longer than feared, or a fund could be set up to help support the NHS, but the first result would be making clubs richer.

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The real issue here is which clubs haven’t taken that stance. At Newcastle United and Tottenham, players taking home every penny of their pay while non-playing staff, some of whom will be on or near minimum wage, having to be furloughed on 80% of their wage seems morally unconscionable. In that dynamic, the players look like the greedy caricatures the media makes them out to be. Except that decision hasn’t been taken by the playing staff, it has been taken by the *billionaires* who own those clubs.

The PFA has clearly not handled this adeptly – allowing your union members to be open to such a blatant bit of political misdirection during the greatest health crisis in living memory isn’t great, let’s be honest – and its statement in response to Hancock taking aim at its paying members was unsatisfactory.

But individual players, or even as a collective entity, can’t be held responsible for their union’s inability to strike a deal with the game’s authorities, or their clubs’ decisions to cut the pay of non-playing staff. Nor, crucially, should they be used as political collateral damage by a government which is being criticised from all sides over its handling of this.

Premier League to return in… China?

Of all the outlandish proposals around how to potentially finish the season, the most ridiculous has now surfaced in The Athletic.

Ahead of Friday’s crunch meeting between the 20 clubs which will help clarify the league’s response to the coronavirus, it is expected that the issue of how to finish the season, and avoid paying nearly £800m back to TV companies, will be urgently addressed.

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And, according to Adam Crafton and David Ornstein, one of the solutions is apparently to finish the season in China.

Yes, one Premier League club apparently expects that having successfully flatted their curve after containing their own outbreak, China would apparently welcome with open arms planes full of people from a country which, sadly, is nowhere near that scenario.

It’ll never happen, but here’s the report:

"Now, Premier League clubs are scrambling, in some cases increasingly desperately, for ideas to complete the season on the field. As the industry seeks to stay afloat, the ideas are becoming more creative. For example, The Athletic learned on Thursday that one club has even suggested exploring the feasibility of completing the domestic season abroad.

The idea centres on the concept of examining the curves related to coronavirus cases across the world and identifying regions where it would be considered both safe on health grounds and feasible in terms of infrastructure to host the remainder of the Premier League season. In this instance, China, considered to be on the path towards recovery after suffering at the turn of the year, was mooted as the destination of choice. The proponents of the idea suggested that taking the Premier League out of the country would be a way to decrease strain on the National Health Service and free up club facilities for use by emergency services and local authorities. The idea may be up for discussion in Friday’s meeting but other clubs have already indicated they will dismiss the concept.

Belgian league set to be finished early

Club Bruges

Image credit: Getty Images

In a possible glimpse into our own future, yesterday the Belgian top flight put forward a proposal which would see the current league season concluded, with existing league positions confirmed.

The decision would mean Club Brugge are crowned champions – pretty uncontroversial given they currently occupy a 15-point lead – but still needs to be ratified at a committee meeting on April 15.

In a statement, the league said: "The board of directors unanimously decided that it was not desirable, whatever the scenario envisaged, to continue the competition after 30 June."

The Belgian league, however, only had one match left before the season-ending play-offs, with a working group set to establish the thorny issues of relegation and promotion.

GOOD NEWS STORY OF THE DAY

You know the kid from the viral video who gets stuck in a drain before scoring a worldy?

Yeah that one.

Well apparently he’s been invited to train with a top Brazilian club.

RETRO CORNER

Because why not, feast your eyes on Dennis Bergkamp’s top 10 goals for Ajax.

Join us again on Monday as Marcus Foley breaks down… well… something.

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