Belfast Telegraph

How we can make England players pay for World Cup

By Robert McNeil

I have little comment about England's exit from the World Cup. Not from my lips came the expressions that erupted around me on the night:

“Ya beauty!”; “Payback for 1966!”; “Payback for Culloden!”; and even “This is better than sex!” And all this in a part of the comically ill-named (certainly in football terms) United Kingdom.

If you've no interest in footer, fear not. I don't intend discussing goalmouth technology, the merits of 4-4-2 over 4-3-3, or even where to stuff your vuvuzela. No, I intend discussing money.

Reading coverage of the so-called debacle — how is it a debacle to lose to a top team in the World Cup? whence these expectations of automatic victory? — in the English press, one is struck by the barbed remarks about the players being “millionaires”.

The assumption seems to be that, if you pay someone enough, they cannot lose. They must score, surely, for all that money. England manager Fabio Capello was paid £6m a year, and yet he failed to win the World Cup. What is wrong with the man? Perhaps he wasn't paid enough.

This defeat and its bitter aftermath highlight the serious absurdity of paying humungously disproportionate amounts of money for what remains, at the end of the day (as they say), a game.

Look at John Terry, one of Englandshire's leading players.

He's paid £170,000 a week for booting a sphere about. He also has a £4m contract with Umbro, and appears in several lucrative adverts.

He lives in a £4m, five-bedroom mansion in Surrey.

But life isn't all easy. Every morning, he faces the agonising decision of which Bentley or Range Rover to drive into “work”.

Fellow footerist Ashley Cole, by contrast, is paid a mere £120,000 a week, though he has assets of £10m. He made £250,000 from his autobiography, which sold several copies. His Surrey house also cost £4m, though it had nine bedrooms (maybe he's a heavy sleeper). No angst over the car, though: straight into the £180,000 Lamborghini.

Many citizens have a mental block about money. They rage about someone getting £60-odd quid a week on the dole, but the larger sums of money — the ones with all the zeros attached — paralyse their brains.

Be it businessmen, bankers or footballers, there is — seriously — a constituency of thought that thinks they're worth it. And this free market constituency of thought is generally the same one that bemoans benefits to the needy.

Well, at a time when the rest of us are told to tighten our belts, this madness must end. I don't mean that in a puritan spirit. It's just that it doesn't make sense. To call it disproportionate is itself too small an expression for such gargantuan absurdity. Watch my lips: £170,000 a week for playing football is about 170,000 times too much. Apart from anything else, the costs are passed on to ordinary punters, who can easily pay £600 for an English Premiership season ticket.

George Osborne missed a trick in his recent Budget: he could have instituted a footballers' tax. The money might have been ploughed back into the game, bringing through local talent so that the English Premiership could still remain the best league in the world, only less dependent on the foreign players that currently make it so.

So, come on, George: hit them where it really hurts.

Not in their metatarsals. In their mega-salaries.

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