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Top paid footballers, let’s talk about them (again)

BBC app on footballers wages

The other day, I came across a slightly depressing app on the BBC Sport site which calculates how long it would take a regular guy to earn as much as the world’s top footballers (have a go here).

Of course, such comparison feeds into the everlasting debate on player salaries, and whether they’re earning too much more specifically. Anyway, thought I’d take this as an excuse to get my views across..

The average annual UK salary currently is around 26k currently. For Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, this amounts to about 14 minutes work. But hey, cheer up, you can get there one day. Precisely, it would take 712 years for you to earn Ronaldo’s yearly salary. Had you started in 1303, you would’ve got there by now (and obviously would’ve managed to survive the Great European Famine of 1315 too, so you’re winning!)

Cristiano Ronaldo Ballon d'Or
Cristiano Ronaldo is so rich he has golden balls

Of course, I understand why people think footballers are overpaid for ‘just kicking a ball around’. Footballers fall within the entertainment category (yes, that includes Tom Cleverley), and some people find it outrageous to see them earn more than people who save lives/risk their own for a living, like doctors or firefighters.

It’s also often argued that such money should be re-invested elsewhere, helping clubs develop their youth facilities and improve conditions for their most loyal fans, for instance offering reduced ticked prices, support for away fans and even investment in poor local communities more generally. In an ideal world, that would be great, but that’s a pretty naive view.

I have a few issues with such arguments. First things first, I’ve always questioned why it’s footballers we as a society have a problem with. In other sports, particularly in the US, insane salaries for sportsmen are a pretty common occurrence. Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s top earner with over $23/year, and there are in total 56 players earning over $10m in the league.

Looking across at other kinds of entertainment, we don’t seem so bothered about big earners. Sure, Beyonce’s worth millions if not billions, but she’s hot and ‘Drunk in Love‘ is a pretty awesome video, right? And Robert Downey Jr is probably the coolest actor around, and so deserves every penny of his $75 million estimated worth. Why the difference? Footballers earn ridiculous wages for their age, and many of them are spoiled, dumb, poorly behaved and immature. But we shouldn’t allow this to make us biased.

Beyonce picture from a music video
Beyonce, rich but worth it

The other thing to take into consideration is how short and uncertain a footballer’s career can be. Most footballer’s professional career spread across a decade, or slightly over. In theory, that’s the only time bracket for them to fulfill their personal ambitions and make serious money.

While the top, top players earn enough in a few years for anyone to live off comfortably for the rest of their lives, all in all the average football doesn’t earn THAT much. Your unknown Championship footballer for instance, might earn 10k a week, or just over half a million a year. On the assumption that they can sustain this level for a decade, that’s 5 million made over an entire professional career – that’s great don’t get me wrong, but not insane.

In addition, footballers can rise and fall very quickly, and their careers are more uncertain than many. All it takes is a bad injury (or a game against Stoke City), and the dream could be over. In fact, many retired or failed footballers suffer from mental illnesses like depression. Football is an intense high risk/reward job, like other professions such as investment banking.

Ultimately,it doesn’t matter whether we think they deserve it or not. It all comes down to one thing: demand and supply. We all complain about footballers’ salaries, but we love the game more. We complain about ticket prices, but attendance has never been higher.

Football fans at arsenal
Football attendance has never been higher

Doctors don’t earn more than football players, because we don’t spend billions towards them. When Real Madrid broke their transfer record to buy Ronaldo for £80 million in 2010, the transaction was paid off by shirt sales alone within a few months. When we stop providing for the system, perhaps it will start to take our complaints seriously.

Last week, a new record agreement was made for the Premier League’s TV right, with Sky and BT paying £4.2 and billion and £960 million respectively for the rights to show the games.

That estimates the price of each game (including that shit Middlesborough-Crystal Palace we’ll get next year) at over £10 million. The money is there, and if it doesn’t go to the players we love, it’ll go to owners and agents we don’t care about. Football isn’t a charity foundation, and it’s not here to save the world. Many teams do a lot for charity and it’s a great thing, but they don’t have to.

How we distribute and share wealth is a big issue, perhaps more than ever. But it’s one we should discuss as a society, not as a sport. Too many people see football money as capital confiscated from starving African kids and homeless people. Such argument is unrealistic, demagogic and unhelpful.


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