Chairman’s diary: PFA setting a bad example in their stance on players’ wages

This has been a week of highs and lows for football. Stories have emerged of players such as Neymar making incredibly large donations to the fight against Coronavirus. But there have also been less flattering stories of players continuing to take home pay cheques of hundreds of thousands of pounds per month, when the staff at the club they play for have been furloughed on 80 per cent. Something has gone wrong somewhere when people even try to argue that this inequality has any justification whatsoever.
Fraser Wishart, chief executive of PFA Scotland, whose position over wages led to a strained relationship between many players and their clubs. Picture: SNSFraser Wishart, chief executive of PFA Scotland, whose position over wages led to a strained relationship between many players and their clubs. Picture: SNS
Fraser Wishart, chief executive of PFA Scotland, whose position over wages led to a strained relationship between many players and their clubs. Picture: SNS

Sadly, in my opinion, the players’ union, the PFA, must shoulder much of the blame. I understand that they are there to look after the players. That is why they exist. But they cannot and should not be both blind and deaf to common sense, reasonableness and the public mood.

On a personal level, I remain deeply disappointed at how PFA Scotland appear to have gone about their business during this pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of good people in their ranks that I respect enormously, but somehow, somewhere, the organisation adopted a pied piper-like approach and marched everyone off down a dark tunnel of defiance and intransigence.

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Right at the outset they promised that they would “do their bit and consider all reasonable options including wage reductions or deferrals”. Clubs started the dialogue with their players on this basis. In most cases, those initial discussions proved fruitful, with clubs and players adopting loose agreements at an early stage. Then the wheels fell off. Suddenly, those verbal agreements were back off the table. Discussions stalled. There was a sea change in relationships.

My understanding is that PFA Scotland had stepped in and gave players three instructions; don’t agree anything, don’t sign anything, and don’t take any wage cuts.

The overwhelming majority of clubs, outside of the Scottish Premiership, offered players the government’s new Job Retention Scheme, thus guaranteeing them 80 per cent wages. It was as though this scheme was tailor made for footballers as it is designed for the situation where there is no work for an employee. With no football allowed, there is no role for footballers. Players would be able to bank this money without having to do anything for it. But the PFA was still advising players to attach conditions.

They wanted the clubs to pay the additional 20 per cent of pay from an income that had all but disappeared.

At the same time, many clubs were witnessing fan groups stepping forward and launching fighting funds to help the club survive. People on no more than a basic pension were sending in a fiver or tenner to do their bit for their local club. In stark contrast to all that generosity and goodwill, it seemed to many that the PFA was unwilling to compromise. The only concession it seemed they were willing to make was to defer some wages. Call it what you like, this was still a 100 per cent wage demand, with clubs asked to take on a five-figure debt which would be carried over into the next season. A season that starts who knows when, and when clubs are very likely in poor financial health.

Thankfully, over the past few days it appears that the PFA’s position is starting to unravel. Many players are choosing their own path. Many want to help their club, and a number want to be part of football’s solution, and not another problem for the game.

In some cases though, clubs have been forced to take far tougher positions in terms of player contracts. Heart of Midlothian, led by Ann Budge, have been vilified for their approach. Ann is a formidable and extremely successful businessperson. She perhaps saw the financial impact that football faced before anyone else and her only crime was to be the first to act.

Many other clubs were forced to adopt a tougher stance with the PFA through their players. All because of this pied piper-like strategy that the PFA had adopted.

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In the end agreements are now being reached in most cases because players broke away from the PFA advice and compromised, negotiated, and worked with clubs on their own. The sad thing is, in some cases, the relationship between players and clubs has been strained due to tense negotiations that need not have happened that way. And now? It is down to players and clubs to pick up the pieces.

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