Coronavirus wrap: Wayne Rooney hits out at public pressure on players

Wayne Rooney has criticised both the Government and the Premier League for placing the nation’s top footballers in a “no-win situation” over the issue of pay cuts, branding their interventions “a disgrace”.

The former England captain, now playing in the Championship with Derby, penned an impassioned column in the Sunday Times in which he claimed his fellow professionals were being lined up as “easy targets” in the wider response to the coronavirus crisis.

Rooney made it clear he had both the means and the will to make significant financial contributions, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.

Wayne Rooney has defended his fellow professionals from external pressures.
Wayne Rooney has defended his fellow professionals from external pressures (Simon Cooper/PA)

The Premier League’s suggested 30 per cent wage cut or deferral strategy was discussed in a conference call with the Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers Association on Saturday, but the players’ union later issued a statement suggesting such a move could result in a £200million tax deficit.

Against that background the overt calls on footballers to commit to financial measures from key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, have not been well received.

“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,” wrote Rooney.

“I’m in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?

Matt Hancock instructed Premier League players to “take a pay cut and play their part” (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street)
Matt Hancock instructed Premier League players to ‘take a pay cut and play their part’ (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street)

“How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. He (Hancock) was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes. Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his Government’s handling of this pandemic?”

Rooney went on to question the wisdom of the Premier League in pre-empting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.

“It seemed strange to me because every other decision in this process has been kept behind closed doors, but this had to be announced publicly,” he added. “Why? It feels as if it’s to shame the players – to force them into a corner where they have to pick up the bill for lost revenue.

“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation. Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”

Gary Lineker picked up the theme as he swapped his usual weekend seat on the Match of the Day panel for a remote appearance on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.

Lineker said it was unfair to single out high-earning sportsmen but expressed confidence that action was imminent, citing recent conversations with players.

He said: “Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?

“Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the CEOs, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don’t know.

“Footballers do an extraordinary amount of good in the community, lots of them will already be giving in their own silent ways and I know that plans are afoot to make their contributions to society.

“The players I’ve spoken to are all desperately keen to do it. The problem is how you do it. It’s obviously complicated and it takes time. People are always quick to jump on the judgemental high horse, certainly when it comes to footballers but lots of them do lots of really good things and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.

“I expect an announcement to come in the next few days, the next week or so.”

Meanwhile, a handful of top-flight clubs, including last year’s Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham, have attracted opprobrium for furloughing non-playing staff using the safety net of the Government’s job retention scheme.

The PL are handling the CV crisis terribly -slow to lockdown/tried one last weekend of games -furloughing straight away a PR disaster-turning on players publicly/trying to blindside them-no increase in funding for EFL/Non League-all stakeholders unhappy with their approach

— Gary Neville (@GNev2) April 5, 2020

“That’s a different matter entirely,” added Lineker.

“The big clubs, you’d have thought, would have been savvy enough to perhaps try to help more of their workers when players are earning so much money.”

Gary Neville, another former international and leading broadcaster, was highly critical of the Premier League’s approach.

“The PL are handling the CV (coronavirus) crisis terribly,” he wrote on Twitter, before outlining a checklist of perceived mis-steps.

“Football has too many stakeholders with different interests. They all meet regularly/say they collaborate but when the “s**t hits the fan” the PL have the power and go solo! It’s unravelling before our eyes. A re-alignment for all clubs, fans and the game would be welcome.”

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