English football faces another defining day as the professional game prepares to consider an indefinite suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, while pressure builds for players to accept wage cuts or deferrals.
Premier League clubs will gather via conference call for a shareholders’ meeting on Friday morning, where it is expected they will be briefed on discussions between the league, the English Football League and the players’ union, the Professional Footballers’ Association, concerning player wage cuts or deferrals to mitigate the financial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Consideration will be given to an indefinite suspension of the professional game in England rather than a fixed date, with the landscape having shifted significantly since March 19 when the decision was taken to suspend until at least April 30.
Clubs from the Premier League to League Two have already placed non-playing staff on furlough leave under the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme which pays 80 per cent of an employee’s monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500.
Pressure is mounting on the PFA from the Premier League and the EFL to agree to measures under which players make some form of sacrifice, with Tranmere chairman and former Football Association chief executive Mark Palios saying a collective agreement was “absolutely essential”.
The sport is also facing external pressure, with the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee Julian Knight having written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters calling for action on player wages.
Knight says that clubs which furlough non-playing staff but do not impose cuts on player wages should be subjected to a windfall tax if they do not change approach by next Tuesday, April 7.
“The purpose of the coronavirus job retention scheme is not to support the economics of Premier League clubs,” Knight wrote.
“Your organisation should be role modelling a responsible approach rather than tolerating divisive practices.
“European clubs, including Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, have shown that it is possible to reach an agreement with players whereby they agree to take pay reductions for a set period. I would like to request that the PL seek to broker an agreement between member clubs to change their approach.”
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe and his Brighton counterpart Graham Potter have agreed to wage cuts in the last two days, along with other senior staff at those clubs, but the PFA is under pressure to advise its members to do the same.
From the PFA’s side, its view is that it is representing the position of all of its members, many of whom do not earn vast sums of money and in some cases play for clubs where there has been a failure to pay wages for other reasons in the past.
It favours a consistent approach to deferrals and wants to ensure clubs are asking for them out of genuine need.
As well as cuts and deferrals, the issue of extending player contracts beyond June 30 is also being discussed, with the intention still being to complete the 2019-20 season in the summer months, behind closed doors if necessary.
FIFA and UEFA have set up working groups to look at this issue, with the general secretary of world players’ union FIFPRO Jonas Baer-Hoffmann saying earlier this week that a “harmonisation” was being sought whereby contracts are extended until the point the season actually ends.
Premier League clubs will also have observed developments in France this week, where a further national lockdown and a lack of clarity over when Ligue 1 action might resume has led to domestic rights holders Canal Plus and beIN SPORTS withholding payments until the postponed matches take place.
It has been reported that a failure to complete any more matches would cost Premier League clubs around £750million in broadcast revenue alone.