Do modern footballers really justify their wages?

According to the Professional Footballers’ Association, a top England player would have earned a total of around £1,600 a year in wages, bonuses and international match fees in 1957. Nowadays that money is the equivalent of about £75,000, or the amount that many average Premier League players would earn in a week.

Manchester City’s Yaya Toure is reputed to earn more than £250,000 a week, along with Wayne Rooney and teammate, Carlos Tevez. What’s more, the Ivorian apparently receives £823,000 as a bonus if Manchester City, as it seems they will, qualify for the Champions League this season, and a further £400,000 if they win the competition, plus a £1.65m annual salary for his image rights. Toure is certainly a top-class talent, and has proved an important purchase for the current campaign, but it is worth mentioning that City signed the midfielder following a season in the shadows at Barcelona where he only started 13 games for the Catalans. He has played for the likes of Olympiakos, Monaco and Beveren previously, but is now amongst the highest paid players in not just the Premier League, but Europe.

The consensus opinion has relaxed recently, a contrast to the day when Bryan Robson became the first £1,000 a week footballer in 1981 to the backdrop of public outrage, and extortionate wages are considered an accepted part of the modern, global footballing phenomenon. Football has no wage cap, unlike the wealthiest sports in America, and clubs can pay what they like, buy who they like and sell who they like, which begs the question, how can such excess ever be justified in the name of football?

The counter argument is that the current nature of the sport implies that footballers are entertainers on a similar scale to singers or actors, and are therefore earning legitimate sums when compared with their Hollywood counterparts. In February, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, defended the size of his union members’ wage packets at a government inquiry in to the running of football. Taylor explained: “The game is about players. It’s the players who people pay to watch. I don’t think anybody goes to see a film and complains about Brad Pitt’s wages, or a potential Oscar winners’ wages, and the same if you go to an Elton John or a Take That concert. I’ve never heard a fan yet say it’s terrible the money they get.”

Like actors, a footballers’ value fluctuates based on form or what clubs they have or do play for, or the equivalent of what films an actor has recently starred in. The problem, however, isn’t necessarily the amount a player receives for his services, but the length of time he is contractually obliged to perform. It doesn’t make sense that a footballer can maintain such exorbitant wages when the quality of their performances alter month by month. It is common for a player to demand a pay increase following even a handful of good performances, but they are never quick to accept a wage reduction for poor form.

This point came to my attention last weekend when the Argentinian striker, Franco di Santo, scored his first Premier League goal in 18 months, a 90th minute consolation in Wigan’s 4-2 defeat by Sunderland. This is di Santo’s third full year in English football and he has now recorded a goal ratio of one every year-and-a-half, having failed to find the net for Chelsea, but did score once on loan at Blackburn – a header in a 3-2 victory against Burnley in October 2009. Ordinarily, I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate the worth of a striker based purely on goal-scoring, seeing as there are several other important aspects to the trade, but di Santo’s record represents a disgraceful return for a forward who contributes very little in other departments too. The Wigan number 7 definitely takes home a healthy sum considering his incompetence at the job he makes his living from, and in fact was denied a loan move to Feyenord before he joined the Latics last summer because the Dutch club couldn’t even afford a percentage of his wages.

The wage structure in England, despite several incongruities, is probably a lot closer to being fair than not. The best players are entrusted with the most confidence and are subsequently offered the most money for the longest time. A journey down the Premier League table, and even further down the football league ladder, demonstrates that the lower the quality of player, the less he will be earning for a reduced amount of time, which in theory is completely logical. In practice, this may be harming the room for lesser clubs to expand and improve, but isn’t different from the principles evident in any other branch of the entertainment industry, from working on Hollyoaks to working in Hollywood.

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