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It's time for more Premier League footballers to start following Juan Mata's example

On week when Raheem Sterling reportedly agreed a new £300,000-a-week deal, more focus needs to be put on how the sport spends its vast sums.

Manchester United's Juan Mata.
Manchester United's Juan Mata.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THIS WEEK, IT was reported by the BBC, The Guardian and others that Manchester City star Raheem Sterling had verbally agreed on a new £300,000-a-week contract with his employers.

There is a weird and unwarranted tendency to focus on certain aspects of Sterling’s private life in sections of the British media, and this new deal may well be used as another stick to beat the 23-year-old with.

And while it would be fair to suggest Sterling doesn’t deserve to earn £300,000-a-week in the sense that no one really does, if you are to examine it in the context of the ludicrously skewered figures of the football market, it seems a reasonable reward for the influential role the England star has played in helping Man City to become the Premier League’s dominant force.

After all, based on recent form, does Sterling not deserve to earn at least as much as other £300k-a-week earners, such as Man United pair Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, or DC United’s Wayne Rooney?

Yes, these astronomical figures seem to be getting crazier by the year, but the situation is unlikely to change dramatically anytime soon.

Complaining about footballers’ insane wages can feel tiresome, mainly because it is an argument that has been repeated ad nauseam, in addition to the sense that they are by and large a relatively innocuous group of people in comparison to certain less reputable figures in society who earn large amounts of money through shady business dealings et cetera.

But without wanting to single out or cast aspersions on Sterling, there is a growing sense that a number of footballers could contribute more, or at least extricate themselves from the bubble it can be tempting to inhabit as millionaires.

Simple acts can often go a long way. A recent David Hytner piece in The Guardian opened with a lovely anecdote about Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and the manager’s desire to inject a sense of humility into the club.

“The new Leeds manager wanted to find out how hard the average supporter had to work to pay for a ticket to watch the team,” the article read. “How many hours did he or she have to put in? It was unclear what kind of calculations went into the answer but one was provided. It would be about three.

So the Argentinian called his players together and he told them that, for the next three hours, they would be picking up litter from around the club’s Thorp Arch training ground. He wanted them to learn a lesson; to appreciate how the fans laboured to fulfil their passion.”

Rather than moaning about the inevitable fact that elite footballers earn more in a week than many people will see in a lifetime, perhaps it is time to change the focus and encourage the individuals — and indeed wealthy figures outside of football — to put these astronomical funds to better use.

Juan Mata is one trailblazer in this regard. In September 2017, together with streetfootballworld, he helped launch the Common Goal project. 

The aim was to donate money to “high-impact football charities from around the world,” with an international network of 120 such organisations that “tackle social issues ranging from gender equality in India to peacebuilding in Colombia to refugee integration in Germany”.

The long-term aim of the project is to “unlock 1% of the entire football industry’s revenues for grassroots football charities that strengthen their communities through sport”.

Mata consequently has pledged to donate 1% of his salary to the project, while calling on others to do the same.

Over 50 players, including some quite high-profile footballers and figures within the game, have agreed to take part. At the time of writing, they include Giorgio Chiellini, Mats Hummels, Shinji Kagawa, Julian Nagelsmann, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.

But while there are some notable exceptions, such as Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels and Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, the relatively meagre number of representatives from England’s top flight, which is comfortably the richest domestic league in the world, is disappointing.

There are caveats, of course. Some footballers undoubtedly have justifiably opted out as they are focused on their personal charitable initiatives. Emmanuel Adebayor is one example of a Premier League footballer from recent years who has shown considerable altruism in helping the less fortunate with a series of initiatives. Similarly, this week it was announced that the Liam Miller Tribute Game had raised €1.5 million thanks in part to help from a number of high-profile ex-Premier League footballers.

Yet you cannot help but suspect others can do better, given the slightly underwhelming response to the Common Goal project a little more than a year on from its creation.

Nevertheless, there remains scope for optimism. As Jason Burt of the Telegraph pointed out recently, Uefa and Fifa’s full backing would make a significant difference to the initiative.

As Mata wrote in an article for The Players’ Tribune: “Every time someone signs for a team, when the salaries are paid, when the accounts come in, at clubs, federations, agents and associations, one per cent goes direct to social projects. No one looks at it and says: ‘Hey, what’s this one per cent?’ because everyone knows.”

So rather than the tired sense of outrage over ‘player x getting too much money,’ surely it is time to switch the narrative to focus on how this immense level of wealth is being used.

With the various Fifa bribery and corruption scandals highlighting the greed afflicting football in recent years, the game’s image is currently far from healthy, and justifiably so. Humanitarian efforts such as Mata’s can help restore people’s faith in the world’s most popular sport, but only if they receive the necessary backing.

Premier League fixtures (all matches kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)

Saturday 

Bournemouth v Man United (12.30pm)
Cardiff v Leicester City
Everton v Brighton
Newcastle v Watford
West Ham v Burnley
Arsenal v Liverpool (5.30pm)
Wolves v Tottenham (7.45pm)

Sunday

Man City v Southampton (3pm)
Chelsea v Crystal Palace (4pm)

Monday

Huddersfield v Fulham (8pm)

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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