BY HARRY DUNFORD
Modern day football is ruled by money. More and more SKY television subscriptions are sold each season, lining the pockets of the Premier League footballer even further. Even those that aren’t considered the top ‘elite’ players in the league are more than comfortable with the amount of money they are earning. In this world of hyper-commercialised football, are these players really worth their salaries or is it a case of the media and other marketing machines conning us into thinking so?
The Premier League has progressed immensely since its formation in 1992, it has become the most watched league in the world as well as the richest, resulting in many, arguably, naming it the best on offer. Parallel to the growth of the Premier League ‘brand’, players’ wages and the image rights that are attached to specific players have intensified dramatically. Since the 1980s, the development of advertisement and sponsorship in football has grown, but it has advanced radically since the formation of the Premier League. The connotations of certain sponsors to certain clubs are now imbedded into our minds; furthermore, some individual players have sponsorship deals with a company that brings them even more money on top of their weekly salary. The question is, however, are the players paid substantial amounts of money by sponsors because of their footballing talent, or do supporters just believe a player is worth so much money because of media hype and exaggeration?
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are obviously exceptional talents, the rare phenomena of their generation, in the same bracket as players that have gone before them such as Maradona, Pele and Best. Comparing the salaries of Messi and Ronaldo to Pele and Maradona is obviously an invalid argument as the global economy, let alone the football economy, has changed vastly in the time between their careers. However, the principle that an individual footballer can earn so much money through commercial revenue, as a result of supporters being conned into paying for television subscriptions and merchandised items, is creating the myth that these footballers are worth millions of pounds.
Even if you were of the opinion that Ronaldo and Messi are worth every penny they earn because they are at the top of the chain in terms of being the best football players on the planet, there are so many other players that earn ridiculous amounts of money, in return for very poor footballing performances. In the Premier League alone, where the average wage is around £30,000 per week, how many players really put in a performance week in week out that demands that salary? Yet, because supporters continue to invest into the Premier League product via SKY and BT television subscriptions, the media continues to fuel the myth that elite professional players are worth so much, and supporters continue to believe it.
The hierarchy within the world of football players seems to be completely out of sync. For example, a player’s salary will always be compared to that of the best talent, such as Messi and Ronaldo; let’s say they earn £150,000 per week. Beyond this, Premier League players such as Hazard, Rooney and Aguero are often branded as the top players in the world, but not quite on the level of Messi and Ronaldo, yet still earn exceptionally high salaries. Although I’m not condoning their bloated salaries, their skillset on the pitch does at least provide some reasoning for why they earn so much money.
My issue is that because the very best players are paid far too much, players much further down the talent spectrum within the Premier League are still paid ridiculous amounts of money in relation to their talent. If the very best players are earning over £100,000 per week, then who can blame the lesser players for trying to bump up their salary out of principle. The issue here lies with the consumerist product that the Premier League has become, where supporters continue to believe that even the worst quality players should be earning up to £50,000 per week.
This is of course scandalous, a player such as Glenn Whelan, for example, shouldn’t be paid £50,000 per week just because the state of football says the top talent are paid £100,000. The salary should still be relative to a player’s ability, therefore the ‘worst’ Premier League players should be paid accordingly. It is continuously accepted that sub-standard football players should earn mega salaries, as this culture compounds the problem of the players’ egos swelling further (Raheem Sterling being a good example) and the market value for very average players continues to rise.
A player’s ability is not determined by how much money they earn, their talent would not diminish if supporters stopped paying substantial amounts of money, if suddenly they refused to pay for individual players merchandise or stopped buying SKY subscriptions, the companies would have to re-assess how much money they invest into the game and the players, yet the league would not stop, despite what they might want you to believe, and the players abilities certainly wouldn’t change.
The most talented players in the world will always demand the biggest salaries, as is the case in all sports. We’ve just created a circumstance where the top players are paid far too much money for their talents because we believe they deserve it, which in turn creates a belief that other players are extremely talented and valuable, when in reality they are very average footballers. If the marketing machine continues to exaggerate how much a player is worth a week, the next generation’s superstar, for example Paul Pogba, will earn astronomical amounts.
Highly talented players have graced the game before for much smaller salaries, before the age of hyper-commercial imaging rights. Therefore, as long as supporters continue to pay over the odds for admission fees and TV subscriptions, and continue to be duped into believing those players are actually worthy of it, the longer the inflation of players’ weekly salaries and annual earnings will continue, regardless of their actual talent.