Football has found itself once again at the center of a media storm this week as critics have been quick to lambast players for their perceived failure to adhere to social distancing on the pitch.
The same criticism it must be said, which was not levelled at professional rugby players as they crouched, touched and engaged in the Autumn Nations Cup.
The criticism which is so often levelled at football feels increasingly as though it comes from a place of classism, particularly in the United Kingdom. These young working-class footballers who have devoted their entire young life to their profession and are seemingly begrudged the financial rewards that their endeavors entitle them to.
In the following sections we will debunk the many myths surrounding a footballer’s wages and attempt to conclusively answer whether they are paid too much or not.
The Top 1%
When someone wants to bemoan the amount of money that footballers make, they invariably pluck an example from the top 1%. No-one will start that argument by highlighting Fleetwood Town winger Wes Burns who earns £72,000 a year before tax.
No, it’s far easier to point to someone like Lionel Messi, who earned £26 million from his basic salary last year. On the face of it, the wages earned by the top 1% in football by stars such as Messi look preposterous.
However, when you factor in the money that Lionel Messi has generated for Barcelona over the years, his salary doesn’t look anywhere near as preposterous. Between 2018 and 2019 Barcelona generated almost $1 billion in revenues.
The majority of that (84%) came from broadcasting rights and commercial deals which were undoubtedly as lucrative as they were because of Lionel Messi. Had the famous number 10 shirt been worn by Wes Burns, Barcelona’s revenues would have been nowhere as high.
It could be argued in fact, that the top 1% of footballers do not earn enough considering the value that they bring to their clubs. Players and players alone fuel the influx of cash into the sport that comes from football betting, broadcast rights and commercial deals.
There are People Struggling
In the Spring of 2020 Health Minister Matt Hancock stuck the boot into footballers when he said, “I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”
At the heart of Hancock’s argument was the belief that people in this country were struggling financially, and as such footballers should recognize that and donate a portion of their salaries to the NHS. What Hancock was effectively outlining was a fair taxation system, something which is already in place.
Every person in the UK who earns over £50,001 a year must pay a minimum of 40% tax on earnings over that threshold, which includes the majority of Premier League footballers. As a result of this tax limit, Premier League footballers paid over £1.3 billion in tax last year.
And that is considerably more than Somerset Capital Management – a fund management company partly owned by Jacob Rees-Mogg – paid last year despite holding over $7 billion in assets. It is also a lot more than billionaire Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft has ever paid in tax.
Double standards and self-interest aside, it is clear to see that the argument that footballers should be doing more people who are struggling is facile. That is the job of the government, not individuals.
The fact that Premier League players bandied together under the #PlayersInitiative last year to donate £200 million to the NHS should be seen as a shocking indictment of the government. If the health service was funded properly in the first place, it would not have to rely on the generosity of sportsmen.
Football isn’t a Job for Life
When we think of footballers and their wages, we usually cast our minds to the top players in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga. In reality, life for the average footballer is usually spent in the lower divisions.
Down there the wages do not even come close to those earned by Messi or Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. As alluded to earlier in the article, the average League One footballer like Wes Burns earns between £50,000 and £100,000 a year.
Those earnings are limited too, with most footballers earning salaries like that in the middle of their careers. When they are starting out in the game their wages are markedly lower, and likewise when they are nearing the end of their careers, their wages drop off too.
This means that the average footballer has roughly 5-7 years of top earning potential, for a career that has required far more work and dedication than similarly paid career paths.
For example, to become a doctor you have to dedicate 7 years of study and hard work to be earning as much as a League One footballer. From this point on, earning potential remains pretty stable for 30 or 40 years.
Whereas footballers, who have dedicated their lives to the game from as early an age as 6 or 7, only have half a dozen years of high earning potential. After this, when they retire, they are left with no transferrable skills and as a result, very limited career paths.
To say that the wages of average footballers are inflated is to do a disservice to the footballers who have put in the effort to get to where they are.
Footballers are in general paid well for the work they do, but their salary is often commensurate to their skill and market value. At the top of the scale, huge commercial entities like Messi and Cristiano- just think of the CR7 brand- bring in more in terms of revenues than they take out in salaries.
Lower down the scale, footballers are rewarded for their life commitment to the game with good salaries that correlate to their relatively short careers.
Finally, the most striking point about footballers’ wages is that the game is awash with money. This is because people all over the world adore football and will pay to watch their favorite team or players in action. Football is the main sport in most of the countries around the world with a few exceptions such as the United States…
If footballers – who are the main reason for spectators – were to take lower salaries, which ‘deserving’ person or persons would reap the financial rewards of the game? Would it be the owners or the CEO? The chairman perhaps, or the top director?