Sport

IAN HERBERT: Spurs and Liverpool’s furloughing of body of workers used to be an unmitigated PR crisis

IAN HERBERT: Gareth Bale on £200,000 per week at Tottenham and Liverpool signing £20m Thiago only proves Premier League clubs’ decisions to furlough staff was an unmitigated PR disaster

  • The decision to take public money to furlough staff never was a good look
  • Both clubs reversed a furlough decision amid wholesale public indignation
  • Spurs secured a £175m taxpayer-backed loan through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility
  • Now they are paying out £200,000-a-week on Gareth Bale’s wages
  • Liverpool faced a tide of protest from their own fans but have now moved to seal £20m signing of Thiago Alcantara 

Premier League clubs’ decision to take public money to furlough their staff never was a good look, whatever nonsense being propagated by some in the depths of the first lockdown. 

The frenzied whirl of the transfer merry-go-round these past few days has only gone to prove the point.

The Tottenham MP David Lammy encapsulated it all in a couple of tweets. 

Gareth Bale was all smiles as he arrived at Tottenham's training ground ahead of his move

Gareth Bale was all smiles as he arrived at Tottenham’s training ground ahead of his move

Liverpool unveiled £20m new boy Thiago Alcantara after sealing deal with Bayern Munich

Liverpool unveiled £20m new boy Thiago Alcantara after sealing deal with Bayern Munich

He declared a few days ago that Universal Credit applications are up 120 per cent in the district of North London and declared himself ‘terrified’ by the effect on unemployment created by the end of the furlough scheme. 

On Friday, he tweeted a photo-shopped image of the Tottenham Hotspur stadium with golf bunkers imposed to encapsulate ‘the #GarethBale status for my constituents.’

The club reversed a furlough decision amid wholesale public indignation, then secured a £175m taxpayer-backed loan through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). Now they are paying out £200,000-a-week, give or take, on the player’s wages.

To be fair, Tottenham acted with more propriety than most, in the final reckoning. They eventually reimbursed their staff the 20 per cent of the salaries which were cut. The only officials at the club to have taken a reduction have been the directors.

Liverpool moved decisively to seal the capture of midfielder Thiago on Friday afternoon

Liverpool moved decisively to seal the capture of midfielder Thiago on Friday afternoon

Bale is expected to be on £200,000-a-week when he completes his return to Spurs

Bale is expected to be on £200,000-a-week when he completes his return to Spurs

And where the ensuing transfer business is concerned, it may ultimately prove to be one-in, one-out: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for Kyle Walker Peters and Matt Doherty for Serge Aurier, should he leave for one of the clubs expressing firm interest: Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. 

Sergio Reguilon’s arrival may see Ryan Sessegnon leave on loan and Danny Rose will also be off the books. The transfer pay-out for Reguilon is, in fact, absolutely minimal in the first year. 

Bale, meanwhile, will be on no more than parity, and probably marginally less, than Tottenham’s £200,000-a-week top earner Harry Kane. This is less outlay than Manchester United would have had to pay for Bale, because of the extremely tight relationship his agent Jonathan Barnett and his Stellar group have with Daniel Levy.

With some justification, Spurs might point to other clubs, whose moves are more incongruous than their own. Arsenal laid off 55 staff and then secured Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future on £250,000-a-week. 

Newcastle United furloughed their staff at tax-payers’ expense – to ‘safeguard the club’s future’, they claimed at the time – yet that existential crisis has not prevented them shelling out £20m for Callum Wilson and the best part of £15m for Jamal Lewis.

Another club forced into a furlough U-turn were Liverpool, who faced a tide of protest from their own fans among others. Yet they have been able to conclude the £20m acquisition of Thiago Alcantara.

Daniel Levy and Spurs were forced to go back on decision to furlough staff during lockdown

Daniel Levy and Spurs were forced to go back on decision to furlough staff during lockdown

Liverpool (pictured, owner John W Henry) also faced a tide of protest from their own fans

Liverpool (pictured, owner John W Henry) also faced a tide of protest from their own fans

They can point to the fact that they did not move for Timo Werner, who cost Chelsea £47.6m. But the new acquisition and wages, with Wolves’ £41m Diogo Jota in tow – put the choreography of last Spring in perspective.

Their own decision not to move for Werner is mirrored by Manchester United stepping back from any move to bring in Jack Grealish from Aston Villa. 

They have indicated they do not have the funds for a £70m acquisition, bearing out Ed Woodward’s declaration in April that ‘nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of the challenge’ because of the pandemic.

Clubs will argue until they are blue in the face that there is no correlation between the cash required to pay staff and to buy and fund players but the optics are terrible. From start to finish, furloughing was an unmitigated PR disaster.

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