The Premier League’s position at the top of world football could be in danger if a solution to reducing player wages during the coronavirus crisis is not found, an analyst has warned.
A week of talks between football bodies and the players’ union, the PFA, has led to little movement before an extraordinary Premier League shareholders meeting on Friday.
Away from negotiations, debate has centred on the tone-deafness of some clubs seeking tax payers’ money to furlough non-playing staff. According to one expert, however, it is also possible that substantial wage bills could hinder the Premier League’s ability to bounce back after the crisis, leaving leading players as easy pickings for rival leagues.
“They have to agree player wage reductions; that has to occur,” said James Barford of Enders Analysis, author of a recent report into the effects of Covid-19 on the football industry. “But if the agreed temporary wage reductions are not adequate, there could be problems.”
This week Barcelona players announced they were taking a temporary 70% cut in their pay. According to Lionel Messi the decision was made in order to “find a formula to support the club”. Players at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have made similar efforts, and Juventus’s first team have agreed to freeze their pay.
As the Premier League’s rivals have taken action, English clubs continue to pay out wages that in several cases – according to the most recent accounts – equate to 75% of revenue, most of which has suddenly come to a halt.
“If the reductions aren’t sufficient but they are in other big football clubs and other big leagues in the world, then the only other option to avert bankruptcy for many Premier League clubs will be to sell their players,” Barford said.
“They could be forced even to sell them at cut prices, perhaps to the Chinese Super League or to rivals in Europe that have got their act together.”
The PFA is believed to have resisted direct calls from the Premier League to consider wage cuts, preferring an arrangement which would defer wages. The union is thought to be sceptical that savings from cuts won’t be used to finance clubs’ future dealings in the transfer market.
Pressure is set to come to a head at Friday’s shareholder’s meeting, but if a solution can be found, Barford believes the Premier League can expect to return with a decent bill of health.
“I don’t doubt the Premier League’s ability to bounce back,” he said, “provided the players are there and clubs are still solvent. People still want to see football and they are missing it.”