If the coronavirus crisis leaves one lasting impression on football, it should be that we fully realize just how ludicrously the game rewards many of those at its highest levels.
Juventus announced this weekend that their first-team squad would be taking a pay hit to cushion the Covid-19 blow for the club.
The move will see Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. forego payments for March, April, May and June in a move that will supposedly save Juventus €90 million ($100 million).
Elsewhere, Barcelona have announced similar measures, although they are reportedly yet to thrash out the details with their first-team stars.
Fellow La Liga giants Atletico Madrid are taking the same step, and players at German titans Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will also have their incomes trimmed by 20 percent.
The English Premier League could collectively follow suit when teams hold a virtual meeting on Friday to discuss potential measures.
The coronavirus crisis has taught us many things, but in football terms perhaps the rudest awakening of all will be just how ridiculous the cash washing around at the top of the game really is.
Barcelona are a prime example. The Catalans have the highest wage bill of any team in world sport – the average salary of a Barca player is a staggering $12.28 million, according to a recent study.
Is it any surprise that – as teams face the terrifying prospect of loss of TV income from incomplete seasons, zero gate receipts, and sponsorship cutbacks in an age of coronavirus-induced austerity – we are seeing Barca and others like them scrambling to trim their astronomically inflated payroll?
True, the Covid-19 calamity has hit businesses the world over hard and fast; it’s unlike anything we have seen before, a ‘force majeure’ that is incredibly hard to mitigate against. But with grossly bloated wage bills, certain clubs appear to have left themselves even more vulnerable to the fallout.
Such is the coronavirus carnage, there is talk that the game will not be the same again, that gone are the days of $250 million transfers such as the Neymar to PSG deal of 2017, that the era of mega-money TV deals and sponsorships are over.
But football has grown far too fat for far too long by gorging itself on these riches, inflating a bubble that now looks ready to burst spectacularly.
This Covid-19 crisis has put into perspective just how bloated football’s elite have become, both inside clubs and at the organizations that run the game, at the same time laying bare the struggles of those further down the footballing pyramid who scrimp and save for their very existence, even at the best of times. If the likes of Juve and Barca appear desperate, imagine the fears currently gripping clubs in lower leagues around the world.
Yes, many individuals – Messi and Ronaldo among them – have made substantial personal donations during the coronavirus crisis. But put these into context of the staggering wealth that players at the top of the game enjoy. Messi is estimated to have netted $140 million in the past year from various sources, while Ronaldo coined in just over $127 million.
Players cannot be blamed for taking the money that has been thrown at them, but that makes it no less galling to see footballers (and sometimes very average ones) see out their coronavirus lockdowns in luxury environs, while millions around the world slum it in far more cramped confinement.
All the while, the real heroes of this crisis, the overworked and underpaid frontline healthcare workers, expose themselves to the dangers of the coronavirus on a daily basis. The footballing elite’s staggering riches seem even more absurd in that context.
The same argument can, of course, be applied to fat cats in the world of business or Hollywood stars holed up in their Beverly Hills mansions.
But just like them, football is finding itself dangerously exposed to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and staring at significant changes to its financial landscape.
It is a moment of reckoning, and one in which the stupendous sums of money thrown about at the top end of the game could finally be reined in. And not before time.
By Liam Tyler