Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has angrily hit back at health secretary Matt Hancock after the politician publicly called on Premier League footballers to take a pay cut and ‘make a contribution’ to the fight against the coronavirus crisis.

While players at Barcelona recently took a 70% pay cut and other clubs across Europe have had to take action, Premier League wages are untouched. Rather than cut player wages, Newcastle, Tottenham, Norwich and Bournemouth have opted to furlough non-playing staff instead.

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton - Premier League 2

“Everybody needs to play their part in this national effort and that means Premier League footballers too. Given the sacrifices many people are making, the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part,” Hancock said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday.

Hancock’s comments have generally been popular with the public, who are well aware of the vast sums professional players earn at the same time as normal people start to struggle.

Yet the issue is more complicated than the ‘footballers are greedy’ narrative that has now been pushed by the government, some say to deflect attention from their own failings in this crisis.

Many footballers are incredibly charitable, giving up their time, money or both throughout most of the year to help with various projects, whether through their clubs or personal foundations.

Neville called Hancock’s comments about footballers a ‘f***ing cheek’ on Twitter, insisting the likelihood is that talks over doing so are already ongoing - in Spain, Lionel Messi took exception to Barcelona players being put under pressure when it was was already their intention to help.

“I wish I was a player for 10 more minutes,” Neville said.

“The Premier League players are more than likely working on a proposal to help clubs, communities and The NHS. It takes longer than two 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.”

Neville himself has offered his hotels to NHS staff free of charge to support workers.

Others have questioned why footballers - who pay vast levels of income tax in the highest bracket - were specifically targeted by the health minister, instead of far wealthier business magnates or financiers, or even the Royal Family.

Journalist Melissa Reddy called Hancock’s comments ‘populist’, suggesting that footballers are being ‘scapegoated’ by the government because they are an ‘easy’ target.

“Uncomfortable with PL players being singled out so emphatically by so many - especially opportunistically in government,” The Independent reporter ​tweeted.

“Populist and easy. They are not responsible for the decisions [of] clubs, billionaires, or authorities make. They're willing to help, PFA have told them to wait.

“Really dislike the promotion of the generalisation that players are detached. Many actively involved in the areas they’re from and now work in, are aligned with charities and do plenty of good work away from the press. Lots advocate for equality, tackle environmental issues etc.

“They are being conveniently scapegoated. 'Hey, don’t look at this giant mess over here or there and ignore all these mega rich mates of ours, what about those player salaries?’ There has been willingness for deferrals/cuts, which is being talked through, albeit slowly.”

As things stand, the PFA is responsible for actively warning professional footballers in England against accepting pay cuts, citing a need to fully review all of the potential ramifications and iron out any inconsistencies between clubs.

“As the players’ union, we have a duty of care to our members and advised that players should not sign any contractual amendments, particularly when being put under significant pressure, without being fully informed,” a PFA statement this week read.

“Contrary to some press reports the PFA has never stated that it will block all wage deferrals. What we have sought to put in place is a structured and unified approach to ensure a fair response across the leagues.”

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