The average railway worker in the UK earns £37,500 a year. It’s not easy work, often working under pressure of time through the night.
Manchester United Football Club was formed in 1878 under the name ‘Newton Heath LYR Football Club, the L.Y.R. standing for Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Like many football clubs, they were formed by companies who were willing to allow their employees time off from work to compete in football matches representing the company. ‘Professionals’ were the fortunate employees who were able to play football and be paid to offset the time taken off work.
At modern-day Manchester United, Paul Pogba currently earns over £41k a day.
With the rise of spectatorism, gate receipts grew and it became possible for clubs to pay for full-time players. From these beginnings, modern football grew, with the additions of sponsorship, media rights deals, t.v coverage and ever-increasing commercialisation. Football means money. And in recent times, this is has not been lost on an increasing wave of wealthy foreign ‘investors’ keen to make money out of the enormous financial juggernaut that is the English Premier League.
It would take the average railway worker nearly 8 years to earn what Pogba makes in a week and about ten generations of railway workers working for 40 years each to earn Pogba’s annual salary without even counting the sponsorships, media rights and so on. Although he’s the highest-paid player at United, Pogba barely scrapes by compared the game’s top three players: Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar are all reportedly on almost twice as much. This is a level of wealth far beyond compensating a player for not being able to work on match days, and is repulsive to some. But don’t these players earn it?
How do we square the idea of playing football for a living, a game that millions of people play every week as a hobby, with the ludicrous salaries of modern football?
This week, Alexis Sanchez has decided that he just can’t get by on £130,000 a week, with manager Arsene Wenger admitting to the media today that, “It looks like Sánchez will not extend his contract,” before adding rather tellingly that, “These guys want to win trophies and they want to make money as well.” Clearly, either two F.A. Cups and a Community Shield plus his salary have not been enough to satiate Sanchez or his agent has bent his ear.
It seems clear from Wenger’s comments that Sanchez wants to board the next express to Manchester Piccadilly and has set his sights on a club that can afford the salary he feels he deserves. Whilst Manchester City showed plenty of interest in Sanchez last summer that interest seems to have cooled now it emerges that Manchester United are perhaps keen to derail the City deal and are willing to enter a salary war to secure the player. The fact that United already have numerous players earning more than the Chilean’s current deal at Arsenal gives credence to reports that they may be willing to offer Sanchez a deal worth nearly double his current wage at Arsenal.
The fact is, football is BIG business, with an almost insatiable global market funded by enormous deals for television rights, kit sponsorships, corporate tie-ins and merchandising coupled with the ever-rising gate receipts paid from the pockets of the ‘proper fans’. And with the earning power of clubs comes the desire to recruit the finest players to ensure continued success and market dominance, to protect ‘the brand’ and to ensure debts are paid off for foreign owners who leverage those brands to their own financial benefit.
But it is the players who generate this wealth, and therefore, should we blame those same players for wanting an admittedly sizeable cut from the proceeds? I do not blame any player for wanting to take the fast track to higher earnings in a short career. To paint the typical professional footballer as greedy would be to ignore the entertainment they provide, the commitment required to reach such standards of skill and fitness and to overlook the quiet charitable work the vast majority of them do.
However, I do blame players for allowing agents to turn their heads and persuade them to leave a club for a better deal. I blame them for allowing agents huge percentages of transfer deals which reward disloyalty. A player is completely entitled to ask for a pay rise, but should they hold the clubs that have given them so much to ransom in the knowledge that top players could derail the ability of a club to remain financially stable? It’s a fine line between the rights of a player to chose an employer and the expectation that a player should see out a contract they signed with a club.
I would prefer to see the players made rich than see that money lining the coffers of club owners, but perhaps there could be a cap on the percentage an agent is allowed to take, which might reduce the desire for agents to agitate a player towards an exit.
Common Goal is a scheme aiming to unite the world of footballers behind a shared commitment to give back. The idea is simple. Players pledge a minimum of 1% of their wages to a collective fund which is allocated to football charities that create the greatest impact worldwide.
Perhaps if Sanchez does end up with a big-money move from Arsenal to Manchester United then allowing Juan Mata the opportunity to persuade him to pledge some of his salary to Common Goal might be just the ticket. Perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel.