| 9.4°C Belfast

John Laverty

If we're all in this together, what planet are Premier League bosses living on?

John Laverty


Positive ideas: Jordan Henderson

Positive ideas: Jordan Henderson

Getty Images

Positive ideas: Jordan Henderson

A Long, long time ago - when there was football being played - Manchester United signed a major sponsorship deal with Audi.

A 'perk' of said deal was that every squad member would get a new Audi A4 worth, back then (the Noughties), around £25,000.

All they had to do was fill in a form with their name, address and driving licence number. They didn't even have to collect the damned thing; it would be delivered to their homes by the grateful sponsors.

Only a handful bothered. The rest, to use an Ulster vernacular, couldn't be arsed.

One of the players who used up a few minutes of his precious time to sign up was Carlos Tevez, who was ribbed mercilessly by team-mates after arriving at Carrington in his shiny new Audi.

The Argentinian, who grew up in the poverty-stricken Ejercito de Los Andes area of Buenos Aires, was relatively new to the English game and hadn't yet grasped the 'get it for nothing, treat it like nothing' mentality.

Eventually Wayne Rooney, having accepted that Tevez wasn't 'getting it' with the incessant ribbing over the Audi, handed him a 'more appropriate' Lamborghini, worth in excess of £150,000, gratis.

And while we're on the subject of Manchester players' supercars... City stars used to have theirs valeted, warmed and tuned up while they were training; like, who wants to step into a cold Rangie Overfinch after a rigorous hour and a half at the Campus?

Jermaine Pennant, once of Arsenal and Liverpool - and who, admittedly, was never the sharpest tool in the box - famously 'forgot' he owned a Porsche which sat, abandoned, at a Spanish railway station for weeks.

Twenty-odd years ago, Terry Neill, former Arsenal manager, told me that two dozen of Pennant's ex-Gunners team-mates were millionaires.

When I remarked that such a stat was hardly surprising in this day and age, Terry replied: "I'm referring to teenagers who haven't kicked a ball for the first team yet."

Why am I mentioning this? You know why.

These anecdotes are symptomatic of Planet Bubble where Premier League footballers live; a world where club chefs home-deliver hard-boiled eggs because players don't know how to do it themselves, where LGBT people apparently don't exist and where there's seemingly no end of public humiliation to which 'wags' like Coleen Rooney won't put up with.

Now, however, that bubble has been finally pricked.

Diseased Earth to the Premier Le... no, scrub that.

This is the other way round: "Erm, you know that payment you can get from the government if you furlough your staff; can we do that too?

"Yes, yes, we know we can still afford to shell out £200k a week to our players but, you know, we pay our taxes too.

"Okay, we employ accountants to ensure we give away as little as possible, but don't you guys on Earth have a common-people supermarket that talks about every little helps...?"

It was 'runaway league leaders Liverpool' who finally tipped the public's tolerance scales by following in the footsteps of billionaire-owned Newcastle and Spurs and furloughing their non-playing staff under the UK government's Coronavirus Job Retention scheme.

It led to a barrage of abuse, a classic reverse-ferret and a grovelling apology, but at least they did the right thing in the end.

Yes, major clubs have, like so many other businesses, suddenly been deprived of hitherto guaranteed revenue. Not only that, but they'll have to pay back broadcasters and sponsors who were expecting a lot more bang for their buck.

But there's little sympathy to elicit when, like Spurs, you're still paying your chief executive £7m a year or, like the now chastened Liverpool, you recently revealed an annual turnover of £530m.

Of course players have nothing to do with furlouging decisions, and all 20 EPL club captains are supporting an NHS crisis fund, spearheaded by LFC's Jordan Henderson.

But while the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA)continues to mull over the proposal of a 30% pay cut for its members, other big European beasts like Juventus and Barcelona readily agreed cuts of more than twice that figure weeks ago.

Note, also, that there's no guarantee the money saved from wage deferrals will end up helping the needy, instead of further bloating the greedy.

There's no doubt the furloughing and subsequent procrastination has been a utter disaster, PR-wise, for top-level professional football, prompting the inevitable 'own goal' headlines.

The club owners themselves showed little or no compassion or initiative; instead, like Liverpool, they shamefully vacillated until the proverbial gun, loaded with the bullet of public opinion, was put to their heads.

Now, any 'sacrifice' will be seen as grudgingly reactive rather than refreshingly proactive; again, an unfair slight on Henderson and company who have been making genuine attempts to do something positive.

Back on Bubble - which has been pricked but has clearly not fully burst - the PFA, led by Gordon Taylor (salary £2.2m), claimed that a reduction in players' wages would reduce the Treasury's tax revenue, thus depriving the health service of much-needed funding.

They could have brooked a similar argument for the millions of 'ordinary folk' back in the real world who are either furloughed, unemployed, financially ruined, in hospital or dead.

Belfast Telegraph