Wayne Rooney has claimed it is a “disgrace” in the way footballers have been demonised by politicians and the Premier League.
Rooney, 34, has launched a blistering attack on Health Minister Matt Hancock and league bosses for trying to publicly shame players when they were already in deep discussions about setting up their own charity.
Former England captain Rooney, now at Derby, said: “How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. First the health secretary, Matt Hancock, in his daily update on coronavirus, said that Premier League players should take a pay cut.
“He was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes. Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his government’s handling of this pandemic?
“The Premier League then announced it was looking for its players to give up or defer wages by 30 per cent. This despite owners and the Premier League board knowing players were already deep in discussion about what their contribution should be.
“It seemed strange to me because every other decision in this process has been kept behind closed doors, but this had to be announced publicly. Why? It feels as if it’s to shame the players — to force them into a corner where they have to pick up the bill for lost revenue.
“The first thing to say is that if Derby County needed me to take a pay cut to save the club I would understand and look to support them in whatever way I could.
“And 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.
“But I’m not every player. I’m 34, I’ve had a long career and I’ve earned well. 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?”
Rooney insisted players will be happy to give generously but maintained that not every player could afford it and to try and organise one blanket round of cuts and deferrals was grossly unfair on young players and those at the lower end of the game.
Ex-Manchester United star Rooney, writing in the Sunday Times, said: “The EFL will probably wait to see what is agreed at Premier League level and so, as Derby captain, I might face similar discussions to those Premier League captains, who were asked to agree reductions on behalf of their whole squad.
“But as a captain, how would I know the financial background of my team-mates?
“The Championship is different from the Premier League. We have one player who lives with his mum on a council estate — not that that matters — who I imagine has responsibility for paying the bills for his whole family. He’s a footballer but he’s facing the same circumstances as lots of people in our country today.
“He’s a youngster and hasn’t had time to build up any security to fall back on. A cut might be fine for me but what about him? Thirty per cent of £2,000-a-week would lose him £600 — and that could be what his family needs to live on.
“Remember, players’ careers are short so they have to make investments or have savings, with most facing retirement at 35 but — unlike a previous generation — unable to draw a pension until much later.
“Of course, Premier League pay in most cases is higher but there will be younger players who just aren’t on the kind of money where they can be forced to lose 30 per cent.”