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Liverpool make U-turn over furlough scheme after clubs slammed


London (AFP) – Liverpool were forced to apologise as the Premier League club ditched their controversial plan to furlough non-playing staff during the coronavirus on Monday, while FIFA urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions.

Liverpool faced stinging criticism from fans and former players after revealing over the weekend that they wanted to use the UK government’s furlough scheme.

Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s US-based owners, wanted to put around 200 staff on enforced leave during the pandemic while the government paid 80 percent of their wages.

Fellow top-flight teams Tottenham, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich have already furloughed staff, but it was table-toppers Liverpool — with pre-tax profits of £42 million ($51.7 million) for the 2018-19 season — who came in for the most criticism, in part due to their reputation as a club with a strong bond to the working-class community on Merseyside.

The fierce backlash sparked a sudden climbdown as Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore wrote an open letter to supporters announcing they would no longer persue the furlough route.

“We have consulted with a range of key stakeholders as part of a process aimed at achieving the best possible outcome for all concerned,” Moore said.

“We have opted to find alternative means despite our eligibility to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher tweeted: “Well done @PeterMooreLFC @LFC a big mistake initially & thankfully now it’s been put right.”

With the Premier League postponed indefinitely because of the virus, Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, said they would not be using the government’s job retention scheme, with Manchester United set to follow their example.

Liverpool’s U-turn came as England’s top-flight teams, among the richest in the world, were under increasing scrutiny, with government ministers warning bosses and players they should “think carefully” over their next moves.

The highest-paid Premier League players such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne command eye-watering salaries, reportedly nearing £20 million ($25 million, 23 million euros) a year.

– Pay-cut impasse –

FIFA on Monday urged clubs and players to reach agreement on taking wage reductions in order to protect clubs who are suffering financial damage, sources at world football’s governing body said.

It also recommended that players’ contracts be extended until the end of the interrupted football seasons and that the transfer window should not open until that time.

The call from FIFA comes as Premier League clubs are locked in talks with players and their representatives about taking pay cuts.

The English top flight is lagging behind other European leagues. 

In Spain, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid players have agreed to pay cuts of 70 percent.

Many politicians have urged action from the Premier League and in a poll conducted by British polling company YouGov last week, 92 percent of respondents said they backed a pay cut.

But some leading players resent the political pressure. Former England captain Wayne Rooney has criticised the government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a “no-win” situation.

“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation,” Rooney said in a newspaper column. “Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”

In the latest sign of the financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus, England manager Gareth Southgate and the Football Association’s top earners have agreed to take wage cuts of up to 30 percent.

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