Because I’m worth it: the phrase must pop into Gary Neville’s head whenever he checks his bank balance. But at least he’s not afraid to admit as much in public.
The Manchester United defender, one of the more articulate members of his profession, was asked about the stratospheric wages of top-flight footballers. Do they deserve their fortunes?
Neville’s reply was candid: ‘Others earn billions selling the rights and 75,000 come to watch us every week. There’s a product there that people love. Fans are crucial, but without the player you have nothing.’
He’s half right. Without the player there would be no ‘product’, as he calls it, that much is true.
But equally, without the fans, those players would have nothing either. They would be kicking the ball about in front of one man and his dog and worrying about their mortgage.
Footballer Gary Neville (R) of Manchester United
Worth it? United's Gary Neville is an outstanding pro
I don’t take issue with Neville’s general point on financial rewards. Footballers draw crowds, sponsors and a huge global business is built on the back of their talent. What’s more, he is an outstanding professional performing at the world’s biggest club.
But like comedy and tackling, the secret of defending fat pay packets is timing. Without coming over too Che Guevara about it, this really isn’t the best time to start championing footballers’ rights to be multi-millionaires. It jars somewhat with the prevailing mood as unemployment bites and local businesses close down.
Neville is smart enough to know he is on dangerous ground. People are utterly obsessed by footballers’ salaries, for some reason. And that obsession soon turns to resentment. We’re happy to pay to watch them, it seems, but hate that they are paid so much when we do.
At this point it is customary for a newspaper to draw a direct comparison between the wages of a star player and a typical nurse and ask why a sportsman earns 300 times more than someone who saves lives?
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We ignore the fact that every day there are countless people earning wages far in excess of their supposed talent (present company excluded). And every day there are countless members of the human race who earn considerably less than they deserve (present company included).
At least I have a choice about whether I contribute to Neville’s pay packet through the turnstile or satellite subscription.
Personally, I’d rather see him receive a £60,000-a-week wage on the free market than, for instance, Anne Robinson, who is paid the same amount from my licence fee even though she has turned Watchdog into Don’t Watchdog As It’s About To Be Put Down.
Equally, I cannot recall an editorial lambasting Simon Cowell for earning too much money, even though his shows are derivative, exploitative pap. The obvious answer is he gets away with wheelbarrows of cash because people like watching his derivative, exploitative pap so, for the time being at least, he is screwing everything he can out of it. Good luck to him.
Blackburn Rovers' Senegal midfielder El Hadji Diouf
.El Hadji Diouf, however
And remember the radio phone-in fuss when Johnny Depp collected £22million, the biggest payday in Hollywood acting history, to star in the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean film? No, me neither. But if Cristiano Ronaldo buys a new car, the sky falls in.
Look through a list of Britain’s 100 richest people and you won’t find any footballer’s name. There’ll be Lords, Sheiks, perhaps a porn baron or two. You’ll see the people who own the clubs and milk more money out of them, but none of the men the industry actually revolves around. So I don’t begrudge them what they earn.
It’s the sense of entitlement that players stuff into their wallets that grates most of all.
Big wages do not have to be accompanied by arrogance. The ‘because I’m worth it’ attitude translates into an overblown conceit, as everyone around them makes excuses for their transgressions and feeds them the idea they have a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for whatever they do.
I’m not landing all football’s ills at Neville’s door. On any occasion I’ve met the man, he has been bright, committed and well able to argue his corner. In fact, I happen to think he regards himself very fortunate to be where he is and is precisely the type of character who would play for nothing if he had to. I just wish he’d say it out loud and often.
Safe to say he’s worth it, then. But I can’t say the same for that El Hadji Diouf, or Emmanuel Adebayor, or…
F1 doesn’t need the ‘colour’ Briatore brought
We all know how it works. First, hit the cheat with a big ban and drum up some positive headlines. Then wait for the fuss to die down, hustle up an appeal and quietly reduce the sentence when everyone’s focus is elsewhere.
Flavio Briatore’s little chum, Bernie Ecclestone, has opened the door to a grubby compromise by revealing details of the trade-off being discussed behind the scenes of this scandal.
Never mind the ex-Renault boss is one of the biggest cheats in sporting history. Apparently, he has already received a call from FIA president Max Mosley suggesting he might wish to appeal against the sentence imposed by the, er, FIA.
Risked lives: Briatore
Risked lives: Briatore
Bernie is practically signing it off already. The Formula One ringmaster said: ‘Flavio could have handled it differently, the panel would have said you are a very naughty boy and that would have been the end of it.’
He saw the verdict as ‘harsh and unnecessary’, adding: ‘If I were Flavio I’d appeal the ban, go to the FIA and get it overturned.’
Best of all, Ecclestone claimed: ‘Formula One needs colourful characters and Flav was one of those.’
Yes, what sport doesn’t need characters who are quite happy to play with the prospect of killing drivers, marshals or spectators with their little schemes? How colourful of him. Sponsors just love ‘colour’ like that, which is why they have been fleeing Renault in droves.
But when Ecclestone was informed Briatore might take legal action against the FIA, he quickly changed his tune: ‘That would be stupid of Flavio. If he goes to a civil court, the FIA will say he sent a young guy out to what could have been his death. It wouldn’t go down too well.’
So, if he’s nice, he’s a naughty boy and colourful character who receives a slap on the wrist on appeal.
If he’s awkward, he goes down as a potential murderer. You’re either with Bernie and Max or against them. I’ll bet they loved their Mums too, just like the Krays.
Rather than leave this kangaroo court run by preposterous old men to sit in judgment, why hasn’t Briatore been hauled before a proper judicial body?
In the UK, reckless endangerment of life carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. Were he to be held to account in Singapore, the potential punishment is far more severe.
Leave a toilet seat up in one of Singapore’s public lavatories and you are fined. For relatively trivial matters, such as selling fireworks or overstaying a visa (look out Baroness Scotland), you are flogged.
This doesn’t strike me as a system that concerns itself unduly about whether a man who actively risked the life of innocent people is a ‘colourful character’.
But we can see the FIA’s true colours shining through.