Before this week, Tottenham Hotspur, Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Norwich City had already announced that they would be making use of the British government’s furlough scheme.
The new program allows business to place staff on leave and have the state pay 80 per cent of their wages.
Liverpool followed suit last Saturday, announcing that around 200 non-football staff members would be placed on furlough, with the Reds paying the remaining 20 per cent of their salaries to ensure they received their usual pay packet.
The backlash was fierce. Liverpool are the seventh-richest outfit on the planet. Around a month and a half ago they announced pre-tax profits of £42,000,000 and turnover of £533,000,000 for 2018-19.
But more than anything, the Reds market themselves as a club rooted in the community.
“We had this amazing historical figure: Bill Shankly, a Scottish socialist who built the foundation,” Peter Moore, Liverpool’s chief executive, told El Pais last year.
“Even today, when we talk about business, we ask ourselves: ‘What would Shankly do?’”
Criticism of the decision did not only come from those associated with rival teams. The Spirit of Shankly, a prominent supporters’ union, wrote to the club to demand an explanation.
Local MPs Dan Carden and Ian Byrne, and Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, also sought answers from the club.
Under pressure, Liverpool admitted on Monday that they had made a mistake and duly reversed their decision.
“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the job retention scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that,” Moore said.
Charity from players amidst furlough
Furlough was not the only controversial episode of the week. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, came under fire in football circles after calling on Premier League players to “play their part” by taking a pay cut.
Some members of the public backed his call; others believed he was deflecting blame and choosing an easy target.
On Wednesday the 20 Premier League captains did announce a supportive initiative that was in the works before Hancock made his comments.
The argument from footballers throughout has been that such an approach is more useful than an across-the-board wage reduction, which would also lead to a cut in the amount of money the state receives in taxes.
#PlayersTogether hopes to raise more than £4,000,000 to support the National Health Service.
The fund will be administered by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, Watford’s Troy Deeney and West Ham United’s Mark Noble, and has partnered with NHS Charities Together (NHSCT).
“The contributions that this initiative will generate will help NHSCT quickly grant funds to the front line to support in a number of ways, including to help enhance the wellbeing of NHS staff, volunteers and patients,” a statement read.
The issue of pay cuts has not yet been put to bed, however. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has warned that his club’s operations have “effectively ceased” and called on Premier League employees to accept lower pay.
Eddie Howe, David Moyes and Graham Potter, managers of Bournemouth, West Ham and Brighton and Hove Albion respectively, have already agreed to wage cuts, leading to speculation that players will soon be forced to follow suit if their clubs are to remain clear of financial bother.
Prize money and media payments advanced
Southampton’s squad members have agreed to defer 10 per cent of their pay for the next three months to ensure non-playing staff receive their full salaries.
West Ham and Manchester City are reportedly considering a similar move, which was mooted as a potential Premier League-wide act last month, but held up as players sought assurances that the money would not be used to simply benefit clubs’ wealthy benefactors.
Premier League sides are also set to receive some prize money and media payments in advance in order to help with their cash flow.
Money that would usually be received in May will be paid earlier, based on where clubs currently are in the table and the amount of times that their matches have been shown live on television.
Broadcasters, for their part, are being given additional access to players and managers to make up for the absence of games.
It is telling that financial issues now dominate the agenda. A few weeks ago such matters were barely discussed, with the focus instead on the resumption of the season.
The Premier League was initially put on hold until the start of this month, before 30 April was the named as the new target date.
However, there is now widespread acknowledgment of how serious this crisis is, and recognition that there will be no quick or easy fix to this unprecedented situation within football.
EFL season could be complete within 56 days
That said, there has been some movement on the question of what should happen with the remainder of the season.
The EFL has informed all Championship, League One and League Two clubs of a plan it agreed upon following a board meeting on Wednesday.
Clubs in the second, third and fourth tiers have been advised against calling their players back to training before 16 May, with a view to resuming the campaign in June.
There are 113 fixtures still to be played – including play-offs in all three divisions – and the EFL hopes to complete them within 56 days.
This would avoid a lengthy delay to the start of the 2020/21 season, which must be finished in time for the European Championship next summer.
“Whenever the decision is taken that it is safe to resume, we currently estimate that the League will require approximately 56 days to complete the outstanding matches in the season [including play-offs] and we are committed to ensuring that clubs are provided an appropriate notice period to ensure you are able to prepare operationally given the scale and impact of the postponements in place,” said EFL chairman Rick Parry.