We're no closer to knowing when soccer might return to action given the global reaction to slowing the coronavirus outbreak, but there's still a lot happening in the broader soccer world. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
Premier League players have been asked to cut wages. What are the clubs being asked to do?
Times like these call for facts, leadership and a shared sense of belonging. The Premier League's negotiations with the Professional Footballers' Association over pay cuts and wage deferments have shown little of the above. Instead, we've had plenty of posturing and a ton of moralizing and easy points-scoring.
It's easy to throw your hands up when talking about multimillionaire footballers and their employers, often multibillionaire clubs, and conclude that "each is bad as the other." That might be what your mom used to say when you were a kid and she walked in on you and your brother beating the crap out of each other. But these aren't kids, and, in a nutshell, we do have some basic facts.
Premier League clubs would like to see their players take a 30% cut in wages -- some of which might be returned later -- during the coronavirus crisis. As long as games aren't getting played, the clubs are losing gate receipts and commercial revenue, and there's the risk that they'll lose a chunk of TV income, too, if the season can't be completed.
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(Note here that we're not talking about a 30% reduction on the nearly $2.4 billion (£2bn) paid out in salaries every year. We're talking about a reduction for the duration of the crisis. And sure, we don't know how long that will be. Assuming the reduction doesn't turn into a wage deferral, which it likely will, at least in part, once football resumes and clubs start earning money again.)
It's really not that big a sacrifice when the average wage in the Premier League is close to $4 million a year. And as long as you make sure you don't penalize the handful of players (mostly youngsters) who make below a certain amount -- say, $500,000 a year -- by all means do it: It's called "progressive taxation" and it's the fairest way. But the issue isn't the size of the reduction; it's where that money goes.
The Guardian's annual review of Premier League finances last year showed 13 of the 20 clubs making a profit. Salaries make up the biggest chunk of a club's expenses -- eating up anywhere from 38% to 80% of revenues -- so as revenues fall, obviously reducing wages (and therefore expenses) is important. Every club is different, not every club is profitable and last year's figures might paint a different picture, but the basic point is that an across-the-board reduction makes little sense. (More on that in a minute.) Simply put: Some clubs don't need it except to prop up their owners' profit margins.
(And while we're on the subject of owners, note that a quarter of the above list are owned by companies registered in places like the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands, where disclosure requirements and tax burdens might not be what they are in the United Kingdom.)
That's why the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA, essentially England's union for soccer professionals) has asked that clubs provide a breakdown of their finances to ensure the money goes to the right causes, aka not in the form of another dividend payment to a billionaire owner.
"I think if they can't do that and explain the position fully, then they have every right to expect players to mistrust what is happening," PFA boss Gordon Taylor told the Daily Telegraph.
He's absolutely correct, of course: That detail and intent has to come first. And the uncomfortable truth is that while every club will be hit, some will be hit much harder than others. We also won't know what the damage is until months from now. That transparency has to come from the clubs. If they have a cash flow issue -- and that may be the case for some -- open up the books, let the players see them and address those issues first and foremost.
One solution might be agreeing to the reduction, but putting the money saved -- around £50m ($60m) a month -- into an escrow fund, handled by an administrator. He or she would then release funds to clubs who can show they need them, whether to meet running costs or to avoid layoffs and furloughs of non-playing staff. The administrator would also be responsible for assessing club accounts to ensure the money goes where it's needed. And when the economic climate changes and the crisis is over, that what's left gets returned to the players. Putting a rider on there limiting ticket price increases -- to ensure that fans don't end up getting gouged as a result -- would help too.
That's all it would take. In a parallel universe, you wouldn't have these issues of mistrust between players and owners. But at a time when club accounts seem designed to reveal as little as possible and when some clubs are controlled by secretive offshore entities, it's not surprising that trust is at a premium.
None of the above, incidentally, has anything to do with the call for players to help support the frontline doctors and nurses battling the coronavirus pandemic or helping lower league clubs who have far more serious cash flow issues. Players have been making donations privately, and arranging something similar for lower division clubs would also help tremendously, as I've noted before. There's no reason that can't go ahead in parallel. But as far as cutting wages, players have every right to be told exactly how that money will be used.
Flick deserves his Bayern extension
Bayern's decision to extend manager Hansi Flick's contract through 2023 is a bit of a no-brainer. Since taking over in early November, the club has risen from fourth to first in the table and won 18 of 21 competitive games. Before the pandemic, they had 14 victories and one draw in their past 15.
It's really one of two things here, or maybe a combination of both. Either Flick is really gifted and it's a systemic failure that nobody in the 15 seasons he served as an assistant, mostly spent with Jogi Low's German national team, noticed that he had the skill set to be a top boss. Or, perhaps, Bayern as a club are so overpoweringly talented and well-run that it doesn't really matter (Niko Kovac excluded perhaps) who's in charge as long as it's not someone who'll screw things up.