Former Premier League footballers have rushed to the defence of their profession after politicians suggested they should take a pay cut while the game is halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Professional football in England has been suspended until April 30, at the earliest, due to the pandemic with some top-flight clubs putting non-playing staff on leave.

Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday that players should take a pay cut and “play their part” after he was asked about the morality of clubs using the government’s job protection funds for non-playing staff, while still spending huge salaries on players who are sat at home on full pay.

Prominent opposition Labour MP David Lammy had earlier said: “It’s criminal that Premier League footballers have not moved more quickly to take pay cuts and deferrals.”

The players’ union, the PFA, is continuing talks with the Premier League on Friday, hoping to find an agreement on how to respond to the situation.

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, now a television pundit and businessman, defended the players and turned on the health minister. “The PL players are more than likely working on a proposal to help clubs, communities and The NHS. It takes longer than 2 weeks to put together.

Matt Hancock calling them out when he can’t get tests in place for NHS staff is a f*****g cheek!,” he wrote on Twitter. Ex-Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton, now manager of League One (third tier) Fleetwood Town, said Hancock was diverting attention on to football.

“NHS under funded and mismanaged for decades? That will be the Premier League footballers fault. Wake up! This is about shifting the focus away from the government handling this pandemic horrendously,” he wrote on twitter. Ex-England striker Gary Lineker, now presenter of the highlights show Match of the Day, said the players deserved time.

 

Responding to arguments that players in Italy and Spain had made greater sacrifices, Lineker said: “They’re a few weeks ahead of us in Spain and Italy as everybody knows. Give the players a chance to help the situation. I’m positive they will do what’s right. If it transpires that they don’t, I’ll be their harshest critic. Let’s see before we judge.”