Are football players really worth their wages?

Players need only to have one decent contract to never have to work again

Gregory Wilcox

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It’s all too easy to read about Gareth Bale’s new super-sized, eye-watering Real Madrid contract and want to bang your head against a very hard brick wall at the sheer absurdity of it all.

The Welsh wizard is set to earn $22 million a year, which is $749,000 a week, $2,567 per hour, and equates to roughly $55 for every second he plays on the pitch. To say he’s doing well for himself is to rather understate the sheer magnitude of the deal. To put it another way, if Bale was to drop a $10 bill on the street, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up as by the time he’d stooped down to collect the cash he’d have already earned roughly 10 times the amount.

You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool socialist to think that with many countries imposing austerity, refugees being treated like animals having escaping horrors back home, and with poverty levels still way too high for the 21st century, that the world has somehow got it priorities seriously messed up if it can justify paying someone that much.

Indeed, if there’s one common gripe about football from fans and critics alike it’s that players get paid way too much, that, for kicking a ball, the remuneration is ridiculous. Players need only to have one decent contract to never have to work again. Awash with money they inhabit a reality so different from the fans that the crucial link between them and supporters is becoming more frayed with every new mega-deal thrashed out by the money-hungry agents.

But while it’s easy to be envious and question the amount of money players get paid, it’s even easier to forget that players get paid what they do because fans allow it, and any outrage is hollow and hypocritical.

It’s an age in which it is easy to get outraged. Twitter and Facebook make misinformation and anger so simple to spread and stir up. This week in the UK there’s been a huge debate about whether FIFA is right to ban England and Scotland teams wearing the poppy when they face each other on Friday. There’s been moral indignation from newspapers and the horde of bored people who seem live their lives on social media have protested at something which no one gave a damn about when England played Scotland in 1999 and didn’t wear the symbol of remembering the country’s war dead.

But that’s populism for you. It’s fun and fatuous while it lasts until the next big issue arises for the outraged masses to froth at the mouth about and smash their fists down on the nearest table at. What populism doesn’t really allow for is nuance - the annoying detail that, at least in some part, means the very same horrified horde are forced to stare their hypocrisy in the face.

Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Leganes at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP)
Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Leganes at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP)

It’s become popular to claim there’s a disconnect between players and fans. In some ways there is - fans love their clubs and follow them through thick and thin, on the other hand players kiss the club’s badge only for as long as a rival team doesn’t add another zero to their salary. But generally speaking there is no disconnect: players are rich because we as fans have allowed them to be, it’s easy to throw hands up in the air and say the astronomical wages are an outrage - partly because who needs to be paid $22 million a year? But to travel further down that argument would be to appreciate and acknowledge that fans have not only sanctioned the mega deals, they’ve also signed the check.

So long as supporters continue to pay the high prices for match tickets, buy every replica shirt going and happily pay for their satellite TV, then any anger at players’ wages is pointless and merely cosmetic. Until fans regularly protest that the extra money in the game isn’t going to reducing the costs tickets and shirts, rather than into the ever-deeper pockets of the players, then wages will continue to rise – it’s simple cause and effect.

Some fans have begun to express horror at ticket prices – Liverpool fans walked out during the Reds’ match against Sunderland last season, calling the owners greedy as they did so. And there are reports that viewing figures for matches so far this season are down compared to previous years.

But until those two occurrences become real trends rather than blips, then players’ wages will doubtless rise. And as if to illustrate my point, since I started writing this it’s been reported that Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale’s Real Madrid team-mate, has just signed a new deal to stay at the Bernabeu, and is on more money - one report has him on $500,000 a week after tax.

So if that makes you question your love of the beautiful game (and I’m not saying it should) don’t go on Twitter and rage, instead just don’t go to the game or pay over the odds to watch matches on satellite TV, otherwise any anger you express is pointless.

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