Southampton agree wage deferral, pressure on Sheffield United and co to follow

Southampton's players have become the first in the Premier League club to announce a wage deferral, increasing the pressure on those at Sheffield United and the other 18 clubs to do likewise.
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It is eight days since talks between the Premier League, Football League and the players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) ended without agreement over wages, and six since the Premier League agreed that its clubs would consult players over a 30 per cent wage deferral.

In that time political and public pressure has mounted for the players to make a financial sacrifice to help against the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

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DEFERRAL: Danny Ings (right) and his Southampton team-mates have agreed to hold back three months of wages, putting pressure on the likes of George Baldock (left) to do the sameDEFERRAL: Danny Ings (right) and his Southampton team-mates have agreed to hold back three months of wages, putting pressure on the likes of George Baldock (left) to do the same
DEFERRAL: Danny Ings (right) and his Southampton team-mates have agreed to hold back three months of wages, putting pressure on the likes of George Baldock (left) to do the same | freelance

On Thursday evening, the players made their first gesture, collectively setting up a charity to help fund the NHS, and Southampton's have become the first squad to sign up to a deferral.

On Thursday Southampton confirmed the first-team squad had “agreed to defer part of their salaries for the months of April, May and June to help protect the future of the club, the staff that work within it and the community we serve”. The directors, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and his coaches will do the same.

Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Bournemouth and Norwich City have all furloughed non-playing staff in the last eight days, and that has set uncomfortably with them continuing to pay astronomical amounts to footballers who are training, but not playing. However, the PFA has established itself as a powerful union and cutting a player's pay without prior agreement makes them a free agent, automatically wiping huge assets off the books of Premier League clubs.

Liverpool backtracked in the face of fierce criticism from former players, fans and the wider public when it announced it would furlough some non-playing staff. Sheffield United had been close to announcing they would do the same, but are taking a step back to consider their options in light of the response to the Anfield decision.

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Southampton also guaranteed they will not furlough any staff until at least the end of June. Manchester City, Manchester United and Burnley had already said they would not go down the route of asking the Government to pay 80 per cent of an employees' wages so they could be put on leave, rather than lose their jobs.

Premier League clubs have incomes which dwarf those of other leagues across the world, with all its sides receiving nine-figures sums annually from a central pot. However, the vast majority of that comes from broadcasting deals and with no certainty about if, when or how the 2019-20 season will be completed, those deals are currently in some doubt.

As well as the Premier League clubs relying on them, the league makes huge solidarity payments to those lower down the pyramid. It has advanced £125m due to Football League and National League clubs in August to help their situations.

One of the issues in the negotiations was the players were worried holding back their wages would only benefit the billionaire owners of their clubs, and that the taxman would be deprived of huge revenues. Some wanted to contribute directly to the NHS, but even this was problematic with a huge number of players from overseas who wanted to see money directed towards relief efforts in their own countries.

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On Thursday a breakthrough was reached with the founding of #PlayersTogether, a charitable fund based on player contributions designed to help those most closely involved in tackling covid-19. It hopes to raise in excess of £4m.

Former Sheffield United player Harry Maguire, now at Manchester United, is one of four Premier League captains who will administer the fund.

Contributions are a percentage of pay, although bigger donations are accepted.

The scheme is an addition, not an alternative, to wage deferrals.

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Lower down, some clubs - most notably Leeds United - had already agreed deferrals and Doncaster Rovers were amongst those to have furloughed players. Hull City have asked its squad to take a 20 per cent "salary sacrifice", which has so far been agreed by the coaches but not the players.

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