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MARTIN SAMUEL: Gordon Taylor is fighting a battle he can't win

por Cliff Noble (2020-05-23)


Gordon Taylor is not a stupid man. He must know how bad this looks. He must appreciate how rapidly his members are falling from favour with the rest of the country. Astonishingly, he doesn't seem to care.

If the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association continues down this path, if he refuses to compromise in the face of financial crisis, the industry may never fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Unless footballers are allowed to demonstrate some understanding of the pain the country is feeling, when the game returns the appetite for it will be roughly on a par with cock-fighting.  






Gordon Taylor is not a stupid man - he must know how bad the PFA's current actions look


The subscriptions that have been cancelled will not be taken up again. The grounds that have laid empty will no longer be full. This much-vaunted festival of football will be met with the hollowest laugh and rejection. 

Unless the PFA relents on playing hardball over salaries, unless those on £200,000-a-week are seen to care, the reputation of footballers will suffer irreparable damage.

It seems unfathomable, therefore, that Taylor is still refusing to strike a deal that would save football clubs from ruin. It is unfathomable, that Taylor apparently believes clubs are crying wolf, exaggerating their difficulties to take advantage of the situation. 

It is now being speculated that any decision on wage reductions has been put back another week at least. If this is the case, Taylor is deluded. Certain clubs - Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea - may be protected from the worst by wealthy owners or a powerful commercial arm, but the majority are terrified for their immediate future. 






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And while the problems in the lower leagues are well documented, do not imagine the Premier League is immune. Without the next tranche of television revenue, and merit money, many wage bills cannot be met. That four Premier League clubs have already placed the non-playing staff in government-funded furlough is not just rank opportunism. 

Take Tottenham. It may seem appalling for the state to be picking up even the tiniest portion of their wage bill; but do not think the crunch in football is any less real. Some sources place Tottenham's monthly salary commitment in the region of £12.33m, plus a suffocating mortgage on the stadium. 

How is that to be met without a revenue stream? The decision of Canal+ and BeINSport to withhold rights money while Ligue 1 remains suspended in France is a stark warning of what is to come. 

If Taylor imagines Premier League clubs have a secret stash hidden away, he is mistaken. Much of what is earned is out on the field; much of what comes in is already accounted for. 






Tottenham have, according to some sources, a monthly salary commitment of over £12m


This is not the 1950's - a ceiling on wages and grounds full to the rafters. These days, we know where the money goes.

So let's think kindly and imagine the delay has only occurred because Taylor has rhinoceros hide, is tone deaf or has lost his mind. Perhaps his union wishes to agree the parameters of any arrangement with clubs, so that arbitrary wage cuts across the industry do not arrive by the back door. 

It may be that football's finances are very different at the end of this, that contracts are not as lucrative, that transfer fees are suppressed, and no union would agree to its members taking a 50 per cent hit, without the prospect of deferment, repayment or a return to normality in future.

In that case, Taylor's strategy may appear greedy and callous, but it isn't entirely surprising.

Yet football has become an easy target because of Taylor. Politicians, noisy celebrities, those living on social media, know they can win approval by giving the game a kicking right now. 

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, waded straight in on football's greed this week. 'It sticks in the throat,' he said. 'This exposes the crazy economics in English football and the moral vacuum at its centre.'  






If Taylor thinks Premier League clubs have a secret stash hidden away, he is mistaken


Talking of moral vacuums, do you know how Knight makes his money? He writes. One of his biggest sellers was a 2004 guide on how to avoid tax. One of the chapters advocated emigrating to escape inheritance tax; another showed how to avoid inheritance tax while still getting free local authority nursing home care. 

Another book by Knight, on obtaining British citizenship, pointed out: 'Becoming a British citizen means enjoying full voting rights and access to all sorts of benefits.' 

Government sponsored furloughs, maybe? On Thursday, Knight called on the Chancellor to impose a windfall tax on any Premier League club that refuses to cut the salary of its players. If he does, perhaps the head of the DCMS Committee can then advise on how to avoid it.

Actually, any salary cut undertaken without agreement awards the player a free transfer, so Knight's plan would quite literally ruin football clubs overnight. If Tottenham cut Harry Kane's salary without negotiation he would be a free agent. 

One might think in Knight's position he would know that, but empty political leadership is surely no revelation. Matt Hancock, health secretary, was on football's case too, on Thursday. 

You'd think he'd have more important things on his mind, the government having tested just 0.4 per cent of key NHS workers for coronavirus up to April 1. This isn't to say football shouldn't be judged; more that it's sobering to know who is doing the judging. For the game would not be alone in playing the system on coronavirus.  






DCMS chief Julian Knight has waded straight in on football's apparent greed this week


Take supermarkets. As has been widely reported, panic buying and the prospect of a long-term lockdown have combined to create a shopping bonanza. The figures for the major stores are even better than Christmas. Yet supermarkets have been given the same rates and VAT holiday the government has awarded to small businesses, whose premises have been ordered shut. 

Is that right? Is that fair? Couldn't that revenue be put to better use in this crisis? Yet barely a murmur on this anomaly. Even the banks withholding government money and sending small businesses to the wall do not attract the column inches of condemnation levelled at footballers and football clubs.

Taylor should take heed. This is not a battle he can win, certainly not for hearts or minds at this stage. There is a very real risk intransigence will bankrupt football clubs while this attempt at brinkmanship will further alienate an angry public. 

Coronavirus is an enhancer and it has already made the debate over footballers' salaries a defining issue of this new age. Taylor was caught out by the scandal over brain injury in his sport - following when the PFA should have been in the vanguard of study and investigation - but to be wrong-footed by this is, if anything, worse. 

The strength of feeling is obvious and only a fool would ignore the public mood. Taylor either does a deal today, or the clubs and his members should do the right thing without him. 






Taylor should take heed - this is not a battle that he can win amid the current circumstances




 




Baseball here is a no Khan do 
Very sensibly, Major League Baseball has cancelled the matches between Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals due to take place at the London Stadium in June.

There was little prospect of the games going ahead, and if they had the risk and capital expenditure would greatly outweigh any benefit. 

Equally, it will have been recognised that West Ham had primacy rights to the stadium, which would have to be reconfigured at huge expense for what is, in effect, a vanity project for Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor. 

MLB seem more attuned to present circumstances than UK Athletics and their vain and forlorn pursuit of the Anniversary Games.






MLB have cancelled the matches in London, which are a vanity project for Sadiq Khan




 




Isolation? A piece of cake with the right dessert 
We're in this together, so having recommended music, books, computer games — now, cake.

We should do all we can to support good, small businesses in these times and Ben Knell is making the finest cakes known to humanity at Ben's Bakery in London. You can get him via website There's an Instagram page if you want the pictorial proof and he even delivers.

And, yes, plenty of exercise, too. But isolation doesn't have to be wholly miserable. Stay safe.



 




Virtual Grand National will only serve to show why we miss sport 
Point Barrow went off joint favourite for the 2007 Grand National. It had won the 2006 Irish Grand National with Philip Carberry on board and the pair were teamed again. Trainer Pat Hughes was unhappy with the handicap but that did not deter punters and Point Barrow was backed into 8-1, with Joes Edge and Monkerhostin.

He fell at the first. Jumped well, but landed awkwardly, got a bump from the horse beside him and rolled over. It happens.

Not on Saturday it won't, though. The Virtual Grand National is not going to allow Tiger Roll, the favourite, who would have been going for an unprecedented three straight wins, to suffer early calamity. The algorithm may have the capability to introduce a random factor, but there is no way bookmakers can refuse to give those staking the maximum £10 on the favourite a run for their money, even with all proceeds going to the NHS.






Point Barrow, the favourite for the 2007 Grand National, fell at the first fence that year


And that is why sport truly is the best reality TV — because anything can happen.

No algorithm would produce a first-fence fall for Tiger Roll, or Leicester's title victory, maybe not even Buster Douglas's win against Mike Tyson. It wouldn't produce the New England Patriots taking the 2017 Super Bowl from 28-3 down in the third quarter, or Liverpool's comeback in Istanbul.

Sport's random factor is greater than the imagination of any AI, because it would not be fair to run Saturday's race with extreme possibilities. Tiger Roll may not win, Tiger Roll may even fall, but not at the first. Stuff like that only happens in real sport, which is why it is beautiful and we miss it so.



 




Cast of extras do not add up, Wayne 
How football finishes the season — if it finishes at all — is unknown and complex. Many of the logistical issues, however, are pure common sense.

Expanding squad numbers to afford maximum flexibility: common sense. Permitting five substitutes to guard against injury if matches are crammed into a short space of time: common sense. Extending loans so that clubs, particularly in the Championship, are not suddenly denuded: common sense.

Even some issues that appear problematic at this juncture may be more easily resolved than is imagined. Take the list by Wayne Rooney of people who are required to make a match, even one behind closed doors — players, coaches, technical staff, physios, camera crews, media, bus drivers, ground staff, chefs, ambulances, doctors, paramedics and police.

Really? Police? Without a crowd there are thousands of football matches played across the country every weekend that do not require police presence. Let's say we trust both teams and both benches not to behave in a way that necessitates police involvement.

As for the media, Serie A's plan was a host broadcaster, and one agency photographer. No need to open the press box, we can watch it on television. The Sun is banned from Liverpool and Everton, but reports of their matches appear every week in the newspaper just the same. It's not ideal, but nor is a global pandemic.






Wayne Rooney's list of extras for holding football matches behind closed doors do not add up


Chefs and bus drivers? Not for the home club. Yes, under normal circumstances, a team might travel together to a home fixture and eat pre-match in a hotel prior to the journey, but it's hardly essential. There's no traffic. You've got the car park to yourself.

Surely it is not above the wit of any player to make scrambled eggs on brown toast and car pool. Only the away team needs a coach and maybe not always.

Wimbledon once turned up for an FA Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane in a fleet of private cars and a mini-van driven by manager Bobby Gould. They won, too.

Finally, coaches and technical staff. Are they all absolutely necessary? We know they like to think so and the two rows of tracksuits plus six in the stand on computers are absolutely vital to the efficient running of a team who are 17th in the league, but could clubs not agree on a limit of, say, four? One to do the warm-up, one to agree with the manager and one more to look at the numbers on screen and argue with the fourth official. And the smaller the operation, the fewer match-day staff required, too.

Of course, issues remain around health and 토렌트 safety. As it stands, any ambulance or medical staff present seem unnecessarily diverted. An equal problem surrounds injuries. If a player was unfortunate enough to suffer a broken leg, would his employers be happy transferring him to a hospital dealing with coronavirus?

These are questions nobody can satisfactorily answer just yet and football may delay its return again at Friday's meeting, as before. Yet some forward planning is common sense, and little else.






RELATED ARTICLES


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The PFA sent letters to players telling them NOT to agree to... Gordon Taylor is football's fattest cat... the PFA chief is... Football's PR disaster: Politicians, ex-players and fans... Pay cut stand off: Agents and PFA's Gordon Taylor advise...




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