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Coronavirus: PFA defends response to COVID-19 crisis as government criticises Premier League stars

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Health secretary Matt Hancock told Premier League players to "play their part" in fighting COVID-19, with the PFA defending its members.
FotMob - over 1 year ago

The Professional Footballers' Association has denied reports that it will block all wage deferrals at clubs as English football's response to the coronavirus pandemic attracted governmental criticism.

On Wednesday, the PFA reported that talks with the Premier League, the English Football League and the League Manager's Association over the appropriate financial response to the crisis were on-going.

However, public opinion had already started to turn against Premier League clubs and their players, after Newcastle United, Tottenham, Norwich City and Bournemouth all took advantage of the government scheme allowing businesses to furlough employees at the state's expense as COVID-19 lockdown conditions remain.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, who himself tested positive for coronavirus last week, called on Premier League footballers to "take a pay cut and play their part" in remarks where he invoked the deaths of National Health Service workers.

That followed Julian Knight MP, the department for culture, media and sport committee chair, writing to the chancellor Rishi Sunak to propose a windfall tax on Premier League clubs to recover money received from the furlough scheme.

In its response to an increasingly hostile climate, the PFA said it did not support widespread use of such government provision.

"Each club's financial standing will vary. We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff's salaries," it read. "However, our current position is that – as businesses - if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should. 

"The players we have spoken [to] recognise that the non-playing staff are a vital part of their club and they do not want to see club staff furloughed unfairly. Any use of the government's support schemes without genuine financial need is detrimental to the wider society.

"In instances where clubs have the resources to pay all staff, the benefit of players paying non-playing staff salaries will only serve the business of the club's shareholders."

Addressing the matter of players taking temporary pay cuts – such as the 70 per cent reductions LaLiga giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have enacted – the players' union highlighted how its initial work to meet the challenges of COVID-19 sought to protect players in the bottom two tiers of England's professional structure.

It explained its position that players should be willing help their clubs and the wider game by sharing the financial burden at this time and that "advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation".

"At this point, our attention was mainly focused on EFL players - particularly League One and League Two - as their need was most urgent. Here, a significant number of players are employed on a relatively short-term basis, with 12-month contracts and salaries closer to the national average," the PFA said.

"As such, many of these players will have contracts ending in June. These are often people with young families, for whom their immediate financial position is uncertain."

The statement continued: "Contrary to some press reports the PFA has never stated that it will block all wage deferrals. What we have sought to put in place is a structured and unified approach to ensure a fair response across the leagues.

"To address this, we called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and EFL - which took place on Friday, March 27. The PFA's primary aim was to ensure that wages for EFL players were protected for that month, this was agreed.

"In addition, a timetable was established to collectively use early April, to reach considered decisions and solutions, with a view for any potential changes and reductions to salaries coming into effect on April's payroll. Talks on this basis are ongoing."

The PFA also highlighted charity work undertaken by members to help the NHS and the wider community, and their stance appeared to win swift support from former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who took umbrage at perceived political points scoring from Hancock.

"I wish I was a player for 10 more mins. The PL players are more than likely working on a proposal to help clubs, communities and The NHS," Neville tweeted.

"It takes longer than 2 weeks to put together. Matt Hancock calling them out when he can't get tests in place for NHS staff is a f@@@@@g cheek!"