Pay cuts for Premier League stars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi giving up millions, fears top flight are not insured for £762m penalty and big clubs to bail out lower leagues – the coronavirus crisis looks set to change the game as we know it
- Football is set for an extraordinary week of wage cuts across the board
- The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both set for large pay cuts
- Premier League could have £762m financial black hole owed to broadcasters
- Those clubs are also set to provide financial support to lower league clubs
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Football is poised for an extraordinary week of wage cuts across the board as the game attempts to forge a way out of the coronavirus crisis at Friday’s Premier League shareholders’ meeting.
Radical measures are being discussed, including wage deferrals across the professional game, with the decision in Italy of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus players to forego a slice of their wages over the next four months amplifying the urgency of the situation.
Juventus announced that all of their players had agreed to a ‘reduction of compensation… equal to the monthly wages of March, April, May and June’.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi is among the players set to take a paycut due to coronavirus crisis
Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo is also set for a temporary wage reduction following the crisis
With Spain’s LaLiga seeing Lionel Messi and players at Barcelona also due to finalise a wage cut this week, the Premier League is likely to follow suit and announce a united position, which could mean huge chunks of wages deferred during the emergency.
Talks are ongoing with the players’ union, the Professional Footballers’ Association, but the English game’s highest-earners such as Mesut Ozil, Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah will all be affected.
There are tentative plans to restart the 2019-20 season when the Government deems it safe, though there is a growing realisation that football will have to be revolutionised in future if it is to return to anything like the current model.
The Premier League’s highest earners, such as Sergio Aguero, are set to be affected by cuts
Next season also needs to be completely redrawn. The unprecedented plans being discussed by a raft of footballing authorities are expected to see:
- An agreement between the PFA and Premier clubs to defer some wages, especially those of the highest earners
- Provisional plans by UEFA to see the Champions League and Europa League settled by summer tournaments in Istanbul and Poland, without travelling fans and possibly behind closed doors
- Discussions about insurance cover after Germany’s Bundesliga admitted none of Europe’s big leagues is covered for a pandemic, which could leave the Premier League with up to a £762m financial black hole owed to broadcasters if the season is ruled void
- Talks about when training can resume, with many clubs expecting mid-May at the earliest and then only under strict conditions
- Acceptance that fixtures could not begin until June at the earliest
- Acknowledgement that the Premier League must make some kind of commitment to support English Football League clubs financially
- A further EFL video summit this week with the majority of their clubs using Government funding to put players and staff on furlough leave, which covers 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 a month
- Compensation for UEFA and national associations to postpone this summer’s internationals and a round of such games next season so 2020-21 can be squeezed in
- Compensation for the FA to agree to no replays in the FA Cup next season, with midweek fixtures reducing the number of weeks required. A similar deal must be agreed with the EFL to lose two-legged Carabao Cup semi-finals.
All parties realise that the health of the nation is the only essential issue at present.
Most clubs are backing local charities and the NHS, the most high profile of which have been offers by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Salford owner Gary Neville to allow health workers to use their hotels for free.
The Premier League are also discussing possible support for EFL clubs most at risk. If lower league clubs rely on Government money for a bail out, the Premier League risk outrage if it does nothing.
The Premier League are also discussing possible support for the EFL clubs that are most at risk
However, top-flight clubs are not in a position to finalise support until they shore up their own finances and need a clearer picture of what has to be done. The key issue is finishing the season or else they will be liable to compensate BT, Sky and overseas TV companies.
If a deal can be struck with the PFA which ensures that the health of players is not compromised, starting fixtures behind closed doors is likely. If by June there is widespread access to tests that show whether a person has had COVID-19, it would be easier to resume safely, as there would be no need for whole squads to isolate if one player had the virus. It would be possible to ensure that all players participating were virus-free.
One Premier League medic said such tests could be a ‘game changer’ for a resumption, while stressing they would have to be widely available so that testing footballers did not put a strain on public services.
Though officially football is only suspended until April 30, most Premier clubs feel the earliest they will be allowed to resume training would be May. And then only so players change, shower and eat at home to minimise contact at the training ground.
An optimistic scenario might be that football could start in the UK in early June with the Premier League completed within a month, if international dates and the FA Cup are sacrificed.
Gary Neville believes that the Premier League season should be finished in a short time frame
Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville said on Saturday: ‘Finish this season in a short time frame when safe; condense next season if needed; open transfer window from May and run it all the way through 20-21 to give clubs agility; extend player contracts to complete 19-20; financial packages for clubs in need, including non-League.
‘It’s not going to be ideal for sports science but it will happen when safe to do so, I’m sure whether we like it or not, for economic reasons. The £750m at stake is too big a number. Some clubs would be in big trouble as they’ve spent it already!’
Such a plan would require extraordinary agreement from the PFA, players and agents to extend contracts which run out in June into an elongated season. Neville said: ‘The PFA will come to a collective agreement and I’m sure players, who are 99 per cent good people, will understand. This is unique and requires compromise.’
Exeter chairman Julian Tagg says that like many League Two clubs they have begun the process of putting staff and players on the Government’s furlough leave and that wage cuts and deferments will have to be considered.
‘I’m sure the PFA will engage positively,’ he said. ‘There are good people there. It’s for the good of football. If no-one compromises there might not be football for many players to go back to.’
He also anticipated fundamental shift to spending throughout the industry. ‘I’m not sure there will be £100m transfers now. Everything will change after this for all businesses and many industries could look very different. We’ve all got the same problems. It’s just that the Premier League clubs have got more noughts after the numbers.’
Wage deferrals are inevitable. Some lower league clubs are well down the line. League Two club Forest Green Rovers announced last week they would use the Government’s wage support scheme ‘to furlough all staff.’
Leeds coaching staff, including Marcelo Bielsa, agreed to a wage deferment to help their club
Mansfield and MK Dons are understood to have done the same. Birmingham City have opened talks about the possibility of deferring wages of the highest paid and Leeds’ coaching staff, including Marcelo Bielsa, agreed to a deferment to help their club.
EFL clubs may this week universally apply for Government money, which will add to pressure on the Premier League to make its own contribution. Premier League clubs will want a collective decision this week.
On the European front, UEFA will consider turning the Champions League and Europa Leagues into one-week tournaments based in Istanbul and Poland respectively, the allocated hosts of the finals.
The remaining games of the round of 16 still have to be played: Chelsea and Manchester City have the second legs to play in the Champions League as do Manchester United and Wolves in the Europa League.
There could then be a one-week Champions League tournament in Istanbul, with quarter finals the first weekend, midweek semi-finals and a Champions League final on Sunday night to end the season, which would mimic the last week of the World Cup.
Istanbul is well placed to host such a week, with four football stadia capable of holding more than 40,000 fans. Similar could be done in Warsaw and Gdansk, where the Europa League final is scheduled to be played. However, there will considerable issues coordinating when teams from different countries could play. In theory, it would be an end-of-season finale, once domestic leagues are completed.
However, Spanish authorities, where there were a further 832 deaths from the coronavirus announced on Saturday, don’t envisage finishing LaLiga until late July and that is assuming they are allowed to restart in late June.
The Champions League alone requires coordination from the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1 in France.
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