When Gareth Southgate took the England job, one of his key ingredients for success on the pitch was to re-engage with the fans off it. It led to the unusual step to engage with the press in an American Football-style media day whilst on the pitch the players embraced the support like never before.
Since then the likes of Raheem Sterling have become figureheads behind not just driving change for the better in football but in society as well. This hasn’t always been the case as players are so often viewed through a cynical microscope due to their wealth and status. As television revenues and finances in the game continued to boom, the relationship between football fans and players continued to fracture.
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the world football to its core with the suspension of all competitions, including Euro 2020. Naturally, heads began to turn to those best equipped to help, leading to calls from the health secretary Matt Hancock for footballers to do more to play their part.
His comments have been met with widespread criticism for singling out footballers since it has since emerged that Premier League captains led by Jordan Henderson had already been holding discussions. Suggested wage deferrals touted would see hundreds of millions lost to tax revenues and players were concerned that wealthy owners of the clubs could use it as a form of profiteering.
There have been cases of irresponsibility and hypocrisy, notably Jack Grealish and Kyle Walker, but the vast majority of Premier League stars show that status can be put aside in the most serious crisis this country has faced since wartime.
Yet many Premier League clubs are now threatening to undo this good work by furloughing staff. This is not an easy time for any business, football clubs included. But the scheme, set up to largely support smaller businesses who fight day in, day out financially, was never designed to support multi-million pound football clubs in one of the world’s richest leagues.
At a time when the collective integrity of this generation of Premier League footballers is being questioned, it’s desperately disappointing to see wealth motivated owners of top-flight football clubs fleece the country, including their own supporters, of critical funds.
In the years to come football needs to be remembered as playing its part and not for depriving those who make the game what it is out of sheer greed.