Wayne Rooney made a winning start to life at Derby. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Wayne Rooney has spoken out against both the Premier League and the UK government amid the ongoing saga over players in England taking pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

The former Manchester United and Everton star says the debate has placed Premier League players in a ‘no-win’ situation and the handling of the entire affair has been a disgrace.

The debate has been going on for weeks with government officials saying that Premier League players should take the salary drop to help the country, while on Sunday there was a warning from players’ representatives that National Health Service coffers could suffer due to the amount of tax players pay.

Former England skipper Rooney, now with Championship side Derby County after a year in the MLS with DC United, used his column in the Sunday Times to claim that the players were “easy targets” in the response to the coronavirus crisis.

Rooney said he can afford to help and wants to help, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.

The Premier League’s suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 per cent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players’ and managers’ representatives on Saturday.

Initial talks were already ongoing before key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, called for action.

“If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so — as long as I knew where the money was going,” wrote Rooney.

“I’m in a place where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats? How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.”

The Premier League has been seen as lagging behind other European leagues in its response to coronavirus and was accused by one British lawmaker of operating in a “moral vacuum”.

But Rooney questioned the wisdom of the Premier League in pre-empting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.

“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation,” he said. “Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”

England defender Danny Rose, on loan at Newcastle from Tottenham, told the BBC players were “keen to make something happen”.

The Professional Footballers’ Association said its members wanted to play their part but warned that a projected 30 per cent salary reduction would cost the country 200 million pounds in lost tax payments.

A PFA statement released on Saturday following the conference call said the combined tax on player salaries was a significant contribution to funding essential services.

“Taking a 30 per cent salary deduction will cost the Exchequer a substantial sum,” it said. “This would be detrimental to our NHS and other government-funded services.”

Liverpool v Norwich
Liverpool players have not been asked to take a cut yet

Furlough row

A handful of top-flight clubs, including last year’s Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham, have opted to furlough non-playing staff using the safety net of the government’s job retention scheme.

But former Liverpool players Jamie Carragher and Stan Collymore strongly criticised the move by the European champions, who in February announced pre-tax profits of 42 million pounds for 2018/19.

Rooney’s former England and Manchester United teammate Gary Neville, now a leading broadcaster, was highly critical of the Premier League.

“The PL are handling the CV crisis terribly,” he wrote on Twitter, before outlining a checklist of perceived mis-steps including their slowness in imposing a lockdown and the “PR disaster” of furloughing.