Wayne Rooney defends fellow footballers amid pay cut debate

Wayne Rooney believes it is a “disgrace” the way footballers have become scapegoats during the coronavirus pandemic – but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has doubled down on his plea for them to donate money.

Clubs and players have come under scrutiny as the Covid-19 crisis continues to escalate, with the Health Secretary quick to highlight the supposed lack of support being offered by well remunerated footballers.

Hancock urged top-flight professionals to “take a pay cut and play their part” on Thursday, perhaps unaware that Premier League captains were already in discussions about how players could help during the coronavirus outbreak.

But while that fund edges closer to a launch, other matters remains up in the air. The Premier League suggested a 30 per cent wage cut or deferral, only for the Professional Footballers’ Association to issue a statement saying such a move could result in a £200million tax deficit.

Former England captain Rooney said the Government and the Premier League had left players in a “no-win situation” over the issue of pay cuts.

“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 Derby captain wrote in his Sunday Times column.

“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?

Former England captain Wayne Rooney has been forthright in his views during the coronavirus crisis
Former England captain Wayne Rooney has been forthright in his views during the coronavirus crisis (Mike Egerton/PA)

“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 said.

“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.

The former England striker 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.”

But such comments have not led to change of tack from Hancock, who instead once again called on footballers to donate wages to worthy causes.

“I’ve seen that some, for instance footballers, are now making significant donations to charities and I really welcome that, that’s exactly what we need to see,” the Health Sectary told ITV News.

“But instead of having a row about this I think that people should come together and make a contribution.

“The hospices of this country have traditionally been largely funded by charity and charity shops.

“Those shops have had to close so I’m putting more money – taxpayer’s money – into hospices to support them but why don’t our footballers club together and support our hospices and support the national effort that we’re all in?

“I think that is the sort of thing that would go down really well and help bring the country together.”

That interview infuriated ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who challenged Hancock to debate the matter on Sky Sports.

Hey @MattHancock seeing as though you’re focusing on football so much can you come on @SkySportsMNF this week ? Special edition . Questions from the football community / fans will be presented by me , @DavidJonesSky and @Carra23https://t.co/EY5dSexS1M

— Gary Neville (@GNev2) April 5, 2020

“Hey @MattHancock seeing as though you’re focusing on football so much can you come on @SkySportsMNF this week ? Special edition,” he wrote on Twitter. “Questions from the football community / fans will be presented by me, @DavidJonesSky and @Carra23.”

The issue of footballers’ pay has become a hot topic since top-flight clubs started placing some non-playing staff on the government’s furlough scheme.

Liverpool controversially became the fifth Premier League team do embrace that framework on Saturday, but Manchester City have confirmed that they will not be furloughing employees at the tax payer’s expense.

PA understands City’s stance was discussed, taken and approved at board level last week, with staff informed before Liverpool’s position became public on Saturday.

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