Are modern footballers wages really as ridiculous as we assume? It's time to defend the indefensible.

The only thing we love more than admiring our footballing heroes is despising them.  This hate derives from the usual source; money.  Most Fosters fuelled public house rants about the state of the nation, the despicable stooges which inhabit Parliament' and 'kids these days' include some comment on 'those overpaid muppets' - referring of course to the crass, indignant playboys which grace our fields of green every Saturday afternoon.  But is it so deplorable?  Are Barry and Mike, the loveable and discursive pub-goers correct in their social commentary when one points out that Rooney is an overpaid so and so who 'should be able to put it in the net a lot more than he does for 200k a week'?  The idea that footballers are undeserving of their astronomic wages is almost universally held, and is not a new thing - punters have been complaining about footballers wages ever since the proffesionalisation of the game in the late 1800's.  But are modern footballers wages really as ridiculous as we assume? It's time to defend the indefensible. 

There are 500 professional footballers playing in the Premier league this season, the average wage of whom is £23,253.  Over one year, these Premier League stars will earn between them a whopping £604 million - and that's before the end of season bonus or sponsorship deals come into it.  Of course, unless they've been naughty boys and established their own business in an attempt to rid themselves of pesky tax payments like Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott last year, they will have to collectively pay an estimated £232 million in taxes - enough to buy a few new whiteboard markers at a local school, perhaps.  So this leaves our footballers with a lofty figure of £400,million, almost £1million a piece, but of course some players will be on far less than this, and some drastically more.  'Extortion' I hear you cry, but, as they are the reason why the Premier League functions, is their slice of the pie really that lucrative?  The three year overseas television deal alone is worth £3.4billion to the Premier League, whilst computer games, merchandise etc easily contribute a further £1billion.  And in terms of the clubs themselves, we can hardly blame the spiralling losses of some organisations on the players' themselves, rather we should blame the system that allows greedy egomaniacs to assemble 'the best toys' as quickly as possible so that they can partake in the immersive experience of owning a 'boutique' club.

A good benchmark for how society warms to the achievement of others is the work that that person put in to get somewhere in life.  The phrase 'I worked hard to get where I am today' is rarely scoffed at, and almost universally respected.  We can all picture that neat, unspectacular, suited middle aged man describing how from humble beginnings he opened his own Drycleaning business, and it's something we notice and acknowledge as a deserved achievement.  It is curious then, that a similarly respectful demeanour is rarely cut by laymen discussing footballers.  I can guarantee that most of the 500 Premier League players today will have spent longer practising football than a Doctor has spent studying for a degree.  Of course, we are not debating the importance or difficulty of one over the other, but the fact is that in terms of hours spent and dedication exhibited, footballers are stupendously above what people seem to assume; most professional footballs are blessed with somewhat of a 'gift' whether that be in bicep bulging genetics or perfect hand eye co-ordination, but these skills would be nothing without thousands of hours practising keepy uppies, free kicks and ball control. 

Even if someone is to put in that hard work growing up, it is still a rare event to make it as a professional footballer, let alone one that makes enough money to buy a diamond encrusted toilet seat.  Let's just look at how cataclysmically unlikely Leo Messi's current situation is.  He is (almost) undisputedly the best footballer playing today, and in 2010/11 he earned £32 million, £16million as a salary from F.C. Barcelona, and a further £16million from various endorsements including fronting for moneybags companies' Pepsi and Adidas.    If the young Leo Messi wanted to earn £32million pounds a year as a child, if that was his aim, he went about it the hard way - he competed with hundreds of millions of children worldwide whose sole aspiration was, and probably still is, to be the greatest footballer in the world.  If little Leo wanted to make big bucks, perhaps a more sensible goal would have been to emulate the exploits of a certain Tom Cruise, who appeared in macho romp 'Top Gun' the year before Messi's birth.  Why not?  Mr. Cruise earns around £40 million per movie, and arguably had less competition to his enormous success.  Not to mention that iron-jawed Tom doesn't get kicked, prodded, pushed and pulled by lumpish Sporting Gjion centre backs every week. 

Don't get me wrong, acting is an admirable talent, and a classically impressive discipline - I am not suggesting that big Tom, or another Hollywood movie star doesn't deserve to be highly paid for the work they do, but when we bring it down to the base details, doesn't it seem somewhat odd that the public and the media vilify 'ridiculous' footballers wages, when movie stars get paid for 'pretending to be someone else infront of a camera' for a bit.  That's a laughably simple representation of the effort and sophistication of acting, I know, but is it not strangely reminiscent of those all too common assertions that footballers just 'kick a ball up and down a field' for their millions?  This infuriating quip ignores the fact that these ball kickers happen to have proved their worth in an arena that the majority people in Europe and South America aspired to do themselves.  It bypasses the physical temperance required, the intellectual and emotional maturity demanded of 16 or 17 year old kids thrust into the public spotlight, and it omits the buckets of talent, poise, determination, concentration (sit down, Titus Bramble) and drive these people exhibit whilst around 30,000 angry (insert region) folk mock and provoke you in any way possible.  Not forgetting the millions upon millions sat down to Sunday lunch around the world who flick on the t.v. and expect you to step up and perform every time because they might 'have a fiver on it' - don't tell me footballers don't work for their money. 

With the amount of effort he has put in over his entire life, I wouldn't even begrudge smarmy, hair-gel glutton Cristiano Ronaldo the enjoyment of the fruits of his excessive labour.  There are swathes of talentless goons Ice dancing, Geordie shoring and Hello Magazining their way across the nation, picking up pay cheques most of us would wrestle a bear for, and yet an incredulous majority detest Ronaldo for the millions he earns - why are the same cries of outrage not directed at Peter Andre, who makes a large proportion of his substantial earnings on ITV2, simply whoring out his daily life.   The undeniably handsome Ronaldo reportedly completes 2000 sit ups a day, not just in order to lather the rather chiselled and physically gifted figure he now cuts in his mid-20's, but to strengthen his core and boost his physicality.  Cristiano has now worked so hard that he can jump over 3.9 feet from static, which is more than the average NBA player - the determination of the elegant slickster is even more boggling when you consider the wealth he has amassed up to this point, and that the desire to compete and to win is still more pressing than the desire to buy a castle, take copious amounts of mind-altering narcotics and live off the interest for the remainder of his life, as many rockstars, celebrities and formerly incarcerated hoteliers do without the slander that poor Chrissy receives.  Of course, young Ronny doesn't need our sympathy, I am merely attempting to highlight some fairly standardised hypocrisy. 

Shortly after the World Cup in 2010, lampooned Gerrard, Rooney and co. for picking up £500,000 in what they described as 'just two days work at a gladatorialesque skills competition', referring of course to the England national team's summary failure in Africa.  The article details the assets and spending habits of some of England's most well known footballing icons.  Frank Lampard, for example, is purportedly worth £13 million.  He owns a Chelsea town house of around £8million in value, as well as a Ferrari to boot.  Within this information is the small column entitled 'The Red Card', inside which is a few lines dedicated to public mishaps made by the footballers in question.  Frank Lampard's hideous demeanour is 'Drunkenly offending American tourists' - John Terry's Red Card section is a little more poetic: the former England captain and general handshake renegade, worth £4million in Umbro sponsorship alone, is described as a 'Serial boozer, gambler, brawler and womaniser.'  Heaven forbid that the money magazine mention that these very public figures are actually being paid by third parties for possessing a discernible skill, rather than, say, violently robbing the Russian people of state assets during a time of political turmoil and using the proceeds to buy a football cub - not naming any names, of course. 

Business analysts at Deloitte said clubs paid out a 'worrying' 67% of their revenue to players in wages last year, up from the 58%-62% range over the past decade.  Rather than point out that its the clubs themselves which choose to pay this inflated figure, or perhaps lament the introduction of the agent as the greedy middle man, the report goes on to lambast footballers every penny, demonising them for trivial and insignificant 'evils.' 

In a time of recession, it's quite natural to hate the rich.  But if we do paint them with the economists brush, then footballers stack up extraordinarily well in economic terms.  Unlike many investment bankers, financial analysts and other mystique-ridden money magicians, footballers actually spend their money.  It was incredible to see, during the brief witch hunt of Sir Fred Goodwin in 2009, just where the absolute banker made his residence - a modest townhouse with a fairly nice yet unassuming Mercedes parked out front.  Clearly, then, Sir Fred keeps most of his £700,000 a year pension in numbers and screens invisible to most people.  Compare this to Frank Lampard's reported expenditure of £8million on an extravagant town house - someone had to build that.  Someone, or more likely a group of highly skilled architect's, decorators and interior designers etc benefited directly from Frank's project, money which they can now spend at ASDA and down the pub - creaking the gears of economic movement back into life, is there nothing you can't do Frank?  And it's not just Mr. Lampard - footballers are constantly splashing the cash on highly unnecessary and ludicrously expensive goods and services.  John Terry forked out £80,000 for a watch, whilst Rooney's motoring hobby has cost him upwards of £1million.  If you're a small business owner, just think, next time some wild eyed and excited looking young man comes into your establishment waving wads of £20 notes and paying over the odds for whatever your selling him, maybe JT has just been into H.Samuel and bought a watch, and it's your turn to reap to knock-on rewards. 

With the gap between rich and poor widening in the United Kingdom, it seems unthinkable to most of us what life would be like on footballers wages.  Perhaps this is where the resentment comes from, but I think that to blame athletes themselves for the ludicrous expansion of the financial rewards of football is damaging.  It's damaging to the relationship between fans and players at all levels, it's also damaging to the motivations of youngsters learning the game.  The unfortunate derision of footballers for their earnings is a way of conveniently dodging the issue.  The rocketing figures cannot, surely, keep rising.  Something will have to give, and it is those who control the game who need to give it, rather than the players themselves.  And so, whilst it is very, very challenging to look someone in the eye and explain that Bobby Zamora has earned his £80,000 this week, just remember, it's not his fault.