With no football to focus on, some stories are snowballing way out of control.
Football has been suspended in England for six weeks now, and it’s unclear when action will resume as the country continues to battle against the global pandemic.
Lockdown is still ongoing, and there’s a very real prospect that the season ends up being abandoned. Clubs are also taking measures to cope with the financial impact of the pandemic, with Preston vowing to pay all who can still do their jobs in full.
That includes playing and non-playing staff, with North End taking a strong stance to protect staff as things stand. Of course, that situation could change, but other clubs have taken different measures.
Leeds United players and staff have agreed to a deferral of their wages for the ‘foreseeable future’, with Brentford players taking a ‘significant’ cut for now, aiding their clubs in the short term.
Others have furloughed staff, with Cardiff City, Derby County, Luton Town, Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday taking that route. That means that the government will pay 80% of their wages, and it’s then up to clubs to decide on topping up the remaining 20%.
Now, Preston boss Alex Neil has found himself at the centre of a storm. The North End manager suggested that it would be difficult to watch other clubs splash cash having cut wages, furloughed staff or deferred payment.
“If people are taking wage cuts or deferrals then people are putting cases forward that they shouldn’t be allowed to sign any other players,” said Neil to Lancs Live. “Because if they can’t currently pay the players they have got then why should they then be allowed to use the money they have deferred from wages to then invest in their squad to bring better or more players in? I don’t think that clubs who have run their finances in an organised and good manner should then be hampered and hamstrung when other teams are maybe slashing wages and then the window opens and we get out-bid for a player that they have brought with money that they have deferred from another player. That cannot be fair. So it will be really interesting to see how that comes out in the wash,” he added.
We’re not going to blindly back Neil here; the point on deferrals is up for debate because the money will still be paid to the players, just at a later date, so it’s not as if they’re saving money long-term. Furloughing staff and taking wage cuts is a little different, and Gary Neville recently agreed that clubs taking such measures – failing to pay staff fully during these difficult times – should result in transfer sanctions.
Additionally, receiving financial help from the government may have to factored in to Financial Fair Play down the line, and Neil understandably wants to make sure that Preston aren’t suddenly watching Championship rivals splashing the cash.
Yet the comments have been spun throughout the day, snowballing way out of control. Almost every headline relating to the quotes is now about how Alex Neil ‘wants a transfer ban for Leeds United’. Not once did Alex Neil mention Leeds United, not once did he mention any club.
He hasn’t singled Leeds out, he hasn’t directed any of his frustration at any other club. The actual quotes note that ‘people are putting cases forward’ for transfer restrictions, and the only thing he said was unfair was the idea of a club saving money now to then splash on big-money signings in the future.
The reality of the situation is that Leeds United are a big driver of hits. Leeds have a huge fanbase, and throwing their name into headlines if often a strong source of views and clicks, helping websites tick over in these tough times without football. Leeds fans outraged about something? That will drive hits.
Yet in this case, it’s all gone too far. We’ve all seen Leeds fans on Twitter saying Neil has ‘embarrassed himself‘, with Whites supporters piling on Neil having read all the headlines claiming that he suddenly wants Leeds to be unable to sign players. Neil was merely discussing a wider impact of furloughing and wage cuts. It wasn’t necessarily directed at Leeds, and that they’re the only team mentioned despite numerous clubs taking such measures says a lot.
Neil hasn’t called for anything to happen, he doesn’t hate Leeds, he isn’t embarrassing himself. The quotes have been taken so far out of context, and it’s sad that this is the case.
Neil is, of course, protecting Preston’s interests, but whilst his deferral point may not wash, the theme of the quotes is correct – and something the Football League must consider moving forward.