Footballers and their advisers both guilty of scoring own goals

It has not been a great week for professional footballers.

Jack Grealish: The Aston Villa captain urged people to stay in – and them promptly went out himself in Birmingham last weekend.

It kicked off with reports of Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish crashing his car into a number of parked vehicles on Sunday morning, on his way back from visiting a friend.

Hours earlier he posted a social media video urging fans to stay at home.

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By Thursday, players were accused of living in a “moral vacuum” by Julian Knight. Grealish’s MP wants a windfall tax on Premier League clubs paying players while furloughing other staff. Tax is a specialist area of Knight’s – his 2004 book Wills, Probate and Inheritance Tax for Dummies contains advice on avoiding it.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, not unreasonably, told Premier League players to “take a pay cut and play their part”.

I get to meet a lot of footballers and most are good guys. Not all of them, just as not all plumbers, shop workers, teachers or even doctors are, but most.

This week the decent footballers have been let down. Knight chose the right word – not “moral”, but “vacuum”.

While clubs have been furloughing non-playing staff, we have heard too little from those representing the players. There have been lots of meetings, but precious little beyond uninformative statements about “constructive talks” until yesterday’s action by the Premier League. By then, it felt like too little, too late.

ROLE MODEL: Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has helped 600,00 meals reach children no longer at school.

A £20m donation to help “the NHS, communities, families and vulnerable groups”? Very welcome, but £1m per club will not go far.

Advancing £125m to the Football and National League clubs? It could be the difference between a club folding or not, but is only money paid early.

Consultations about 30 per cent wage deferrals for all players? A common sense move, but concrete actions would have been better than more talks.

It felt the situation had run away from the Premier League and Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA), that footballers had grown sick of being “painted as villains” as Andros Townsend put it. Sheffield Wednesday’s Josh Windass was one of a number on Twitter yesterday highlighting what his colleagues are doing.

In the afternoon it was revealed Premier League captains began discussing an NHS coronavirus crisis fund before Hancock spoke, and the response was “wholly positive”.

Last week Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti video-called a motor neurone sufferer in isolation, constantly chiding the Toffees fan for calling him “Mr Ancelotti” as they swapped Netflix recommendations: “I’m Carlo.” Marcus Rashford wrote to a six-year-old and helped distribute over 600,000 meals to children no longer at school.

It emerged the much-maligned Neymar anonymously donated £775,000, but not which Liverpool player gave Alder Hey children’s hospital £25,000.

These and other stories jarred with the deferrals deadlock. The PFA rightly pointed out the legal difficulties making uniform agreement a slow process but should not have waited until yesterday evening to stress “the PFA has never stated it will block all wage deferrals”, and is “expecting to contribute financially to any solutions”.

Sheffield United’s Chris Basham said last week he wanted to help but the clubs would have to come up with ideas. We often complain modern football lacks leaders and independent thinkers. Leeds United’s players did not wait for the PFA before agreeing deferrals.

Many of us Yorkies like to be seen as shrewd with our cash but when Bradford City, Doncaster Rovers, Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday furloughed staff, putting them on leave with the Government paying 80 per cent of their wages, they promised to pay the rest. Some Premier League clubs have not.

York City are on Conference North income but chairman Jason McGill will pay the 80 per cent himself if the furloughs outlast Government funding.

There are plenty of good guys in football. Perhaps when we return to normal they should think about those supposedly looking out for them.

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