Loadsamoney!

For my own self-preservation I should probably start by making it known that I do not follow football.  Unless I am playing (badly), football is not something which appeals to me.  Add to this the fact that so-called Premier League ‘superstars’ are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week for what seems like quite a charmed life and it is unlikely that I will ever become a convert.

Before every avid football follower kicks off, take for instance the recently announced news regarding Didier Drogba.  As the star of the Chelsea team, Drogba has no doubt been instrumental in helping Chelsea to win numerous Cups, titles and trophies.  And as a trouble-free and committed player, Drogba is seen as a good role model to football mad youngsters who dream of competing on a professional level.  However, despite such accolades should one man be worth the eye-watering £270 000 a week that the Chinese football club Shanghai Shenhua were rumoured to be signing him for?  In a country where poverty is widespread and the average person only earns $5000, the suggested wages are astronomically ridiculous.

I do not doubt that a career as a footballer is hard work.  For every successful Premier League footballer there will be thousands of others desperate to take his place – the effort required to remain at the top of the game and away from the piranhas below is substantial.  By the very nature of the career being a sport, a footballer needs to remain physically fit, free from injury and eat relatively healthy foods.  Again though, does this really justify such a substantial wage?  Many ‘ordinary’ people eat healthily, keep fit and participate in sport without the need for payment.  They simply play for the sheer pleasure of playing.  Likewise, Championship players are paid nowhere near as much for an almost identical role.

Despite being in the depths of the worst financial crisis since 1929, some English clubs are now awash with Arab oil money and investing heavily in players; often paying wages which even before the economic crisis would have been classed as absurd.  Wayne Rooney is purported to be on around £250 000 a week.  Fernando Torres receives an estimated weekly wage of £220 000 and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure earns £220 000 a week.  For Manchester City, the wage demands of players in 2010 led to them spending an estimated 107% of their annual revenue on player salaries.

It has been argued by some that this focus on money has made the game inaccessible to ordinary families and unsustainable in the long run.  With the cheapest adult match tickets now priced at an average of around £35 to see a top-flight football match, the decline in the number of families attending games has been remarkable.  Instead of the family occasion it used to be, it could be argued football has now become a Saturday afternoon jolly; one dominated by wealthy professionals, corporate sponsors and devout followers from the working class.

It is somewhat ironic then that some of the wealthiest people choose to participate in a game played by 22 people and containing thugs such as Joey Barton and Wayne Rooney.  As the ‘star’ midfielder for QPR, Barton has been accused and convicted of common assault and actual bodily harm, yet still manages to commandeer a weekly wage of £60 000.  For a man universally disliked, is he really worth twice as much per week than the average soldier, fire fighter, police officer or nurse is paid in a year?

Joey Barton. Is this serial brawler really worth £60 000 a week?

It is not just footballers who share the unfortunate perception of being overpaid and out of touch.  Within the City of London, executive pay can often reach stratospheric amounts.  As former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin oversaw the meteoric expansion of the bank.  Conversely, because of the actions he took as Chief Executive, Sir Fred Goodwin also oversaw the largest annual loss in UK corporate history; an estimated £24bn.  However, despite his failings resulting in RBS requiring a financial bailout from the taxpayer, Goodwin was awarded with a severance package and pension deal worth an estimated £16m.  The reward for failure had never looked so good.

So, can this be solved?  In the wake of recent public outrage the Coalition government has promised to investigate excessive executive pay.  However, before the righteous get excited it is unlikely that action will be taken because without global agreement, any action to limit executive pay would just be a shambolic and damaging gesture of goodwill designed to appease struggling families.  Legislation would simply force investment abroad, creating further problems for an already economically bruised Britain.

We should also be uneasy about the idea of government intervention to limit top executive pay.  To intervene would have all the hallmarks of a Stalinist state.  It would also risk opening the door to further government intervention regarding pay and bonuses – this affecting the very core of Western civilisation and the capitalist system on which we all depend.

The solution may be much simpler.  Perhaps executives, footballers and high earners should just adopt some common sense and implement some morals.

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