There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the money earned by footballers – by which, of course, I mean those in the topmost bracket of the Premier League, the Paul Pogbas and Diego Costas of this world. They are indeed fabulously wealthy and utterly cosseted – and rarely British. In the current Corbynite climate it is worth noting that they are also supremely arrogant and increasingly dismissive of loyalty to the clubs that pay their wages.
Pogba’s weekly wedge costs Manchester United £290,000 a week. A teacher in England with ten years’ experience can look forward to an annual income of around £30,000, He or she would have to work a little under ten years to earn what the 24-year-old midfielder picks up in a week. Having played competitive football since he was six, the Frenchman rakes in more on an afternoon off than most Britons earn in 12 months of often hard and repetitive slog.
Or consider Wayne Rooney. The Everton striker, who this season returned to his boyhood club after 13 years with United, is reported to be worth something like £100m and can expect to earn a further £25m or so before he hangs up his boots. No wonder he is keen to repair the damage done to his marriage after he was arrested on a drink-driving charge while in the company of a young woman he had picked up in a pub.
The rules of the market economy are clear. Footballers at the top of their profession are paid a fortune (including lucrative endorsements) because they have skills that are in high demand across the world. If fans weren’t prepared to shell out as much as £200 for match tickets, and if Sky TV didn’t think they would make a return on the £600m a year they currently pay out for television rights, footballer’s wages would plummet. But they are and they do, with the result that those in the top bracket can afford to laugh all the way to the bank.
What ought we to think about this? First, bear in mind, other celebrities can make even more. Elton John, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Simon Cowell, Sacha Baron-Cohen and Adele, among many others, are hugely wealthy, while J K Rowling could end up worth in excess of £1 billion. If we object to footballers earning absurd amounts, why not complain about Paul McCartney, who makes more from his back catalogue each year than most of his fans in a dozen lifetimes? Is it because so many “stars” of a certain age evolve into National Treasures?
The political Left rarely point out the inequities of celebrity wealth. Be assured, if Tottenham’s Harry Kane, currently struggling along on £120,000 a week, announced he had joined Momentum, Arsenal fan Jeremy Corbyn would be licking the young striker’s boots. That said, the Labour leader revealed in January that as prime minister he would impose a “fat cat” tax not only on bankers and the business élite, but on multi-millionaire footballers. How that would go down with supporters, one can only guess. The mooted levy, of up to 5 per cent of earnings above £500,000, would be equivalent to a week’s wages for the stars of the game. But at least it might mean more English players recruited to English clubs.
“Socialists,” however, much prefer to point the finger at bankers, hedge fund managers, property developers and FTSE 100 executives, whom they regard as just one rung down from the ranks of absolute evil. Plutocrat celebs, like Bono or Russell Brand, who speak out against inequality and injustice, are placed in a different category, rich almost in spite of themselves, with honorary life-membership of the working class. The sentiment is a nonsense, but it is widely shared.
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So what do the “real parasites” earn? According to City AM, top hedge fund managers in the UK were typically paid around £300,000, including bonuses, in 2016 – a week’s wages for Paul Pogba. Of course, there are stars who make much more than this. Michel Platt, co-founder of BlueCrest Capital Management, reportedly made more than £500m in 2015. Paul Marshal, whose son Winston is busy making a fortune of his own playing the banjo in the hit-band Mumford & Sons, trousered over £100m as half of the managing duo running the fund Marshal Wace. But these are truly standout performers, rather like Cesc Fabregas or Philippe Coutinho, no more representative of the sector than Ronaldo as a footballer if Real Madrid were bizarrely drawn against the journeymen of Accrington Stanley.
British bankers, you will not be surprised to learn, do okay for themselves. But they would have a job to recruit Wayne Rooney, just as he would have a job understanding what they were on about. Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays, pocketed a total of £4.2m in 2016 – though he is expected to earn more this year, including a long-term incentive bonus. Stuart Gulliver, the top man at HSBC, did rather better: £5.7 million, excluding what in football would be called future add-ons. At the helm of Lloyds, the Portuguese Antonio Horta-Osorio had to scrape by on a measly £5.5m after a downturn in the bank’s fortunes and unwelcome publicity arising from an extra-marital affair.
All three men, and their associates, have spent their lives in banking, moving up the ladder from the Southern Conference, via the Championship, to Big Money’s Premier League. It is undeniable that banking came out badly from the 2008 crash, which revealed astonishing levels of recklessness and greed. But no one could pretend that banks, properly regulated, are not essential to both society and the economy. Jeremy Corbyn would not last five minutes in a City boardroom; this does not stop him regarding bankers as wankers.
Outside of the Square Mile, Britain’s top execs pulled in an average, in salary and bonuses, of £4.53m in 2016. The market leader, as ever, is Sir Martin Sorrell, the head of advertising and communications giant WPP, whose remuneration package last year totalled a tidy £48.1m. Sir Martin is not so much the Harry Kane as the Gareth Bale of British business (Bale, you might recall, is paid £600,000 a week, before tax, by Real Madrid and could end up worth as much as £250m by the time his contract expires in 2022). But Sorrell has rivals, no more than half of whom, as in football, are British. Pascal Soirot, the French CEO of AstraZeneca, scored £13.4m; Rakesh Kappor, boss of Beckitt Benckiser, took home £14.6m; Erik Engstrom of RELX got by on “compensation” of £10.6m. If they go on like this, the Premier League will have to raise ticket prices again.
Is it all too much? Literally too much? Yes, it is. If the market says that the sums I have quoted are what these men (and they are all men) are worth, then the market is an ass. We need to get back to the 1960s, when a company CEO earned maybe 40 times as much as his lowest-paid employee, not 400 times, rising soon to 500 times. Naming and shaming, as suggested by Theresa May, isn’t going to do it. Too many top earners have no shame.
If big business and banking – and football – won’t put their houses in order – then the taxman must surely intervene. Would a footballer or hedge fund manager who retired worth £30 million be any less well off, in a practical sense, than one who amassed £40 million? Or is it all about money as a means of keeping the score? Not, I hasten to add, that I am suggesting football should go back to the “good old days,” when players waded through mud on a Saturday afternoon, kicking a pigskin sphere that, when rain-soaked, could weigh as much as a cannonball, and all for 7/6d a week. Footballers should be well rewarded. They are gifted entertainers whose careers are over by the time they are 35. But £200,000 a week? Who do they think they are? Mick Jagger?