MARTIN SAMUEL: Proper leaders wouldn’t allow these wage disputes to fester 

Marilyn Dubinski Chelsea FC

It is a familiar trope that there are not so many great captains in football these days. Never will that have been more keenly felt than at the top of the Premier League on Friday morning. 

The news that Manchester City, plus the three biggest clubs in LondonArsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham — are still to agree temporary cuts or deferrals with their playing staff, can be viewed in many ways: but a failure of leadership is certainly one of them. 

When Jordan Henderson launched his charity initiative earlier this month, he did so by contacting the captains. All are seen as figureheads in their dressing rooms. 

Wage disputes are still ongoing, so where are the great Premier League team captains?

Wage disputes are still ongoing, so where are the great Premier League team captains?

Wage disputes are still ongoing, so where are the great Premier League team captains?

Jordan Henderson contacted all the team captains to start a charity initiative this month

Jordan Henderson contacted all the team captains to start a charity initiative this month

Jordan Henderson contacted all the team captains to start a charity initiative this month

Mark Noble will go down as a West Ham legend... when he speaks, the dressing room listens

Mark Noble will go down as a West Ham legend... when he speaks, the dressing room listens

Mark Noble will go down as a West Ham legend… when he speaks, the dressing room listens

Yet it seems those same individuals cannot command such authority in the equally important conversations about wages. Arsenal have been wrangling with their players all week, and while Manchester City first appeared to be leading the way, discussions since have hit an impasse. A lot was made of Tottenham players’ anger at the club furloughing non-playing staff, because they felt it made them look bad, but since that decision was reversed: nothing. Nor at Chelsea, where a number of senior players are out of contract at the end of the season. 

All will have their reasons for stalling, and the owners of these clubs are some of the richest in football. 

KEY QUESTIONS FOR FRIDAY’S MEETING 

  • Is there a deadline for finishing the season? 
  • Will games be played at neutral venues or home stadiums? 
  • What are the implications for titles, relegation and European qualification if the season is voided? 
  • Will broadcasters honour contracts if the season is curtailed? 
  • Any agreement on not signing each other’s players while the season is live? 
  • What’s the earliest date for fans to return to stadiums? 
  • Will players be allowed to train while the rest of the country is in lockdown? 
  • How many days are needed for ‘pre-season’ and to complete the campaign? 

Even so, close on two weeks after the captains were called to a meeting with the Premier League and shown a bleak forecast, only a handful of clubs have successfully convinced their staff of the growing emergency. One was West Ham, where the influence of Mark Noble was said to be crucial. 

It was Noble who attended a meeting with senior management, and several team-mates, before going out to explain the club’s position to the rest of the squad. 

The result was an agreement on cost-cutting measures, only the second in the league after Southampton. Yet Noble is a West Ham loyalist, around the club since 13, the youngest player to appear for the reserve team at 15, making his first-team debut at 17 and now closing in on 500 appearances across 16 seasons. 

Noble will go down as a legend of the Premier League era for West Ham. When he speaks, the dressing room listens. 

Can the same be said of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal? The worst kept secret in football is that he is eyeing a way out come the end of the season. What does he care for the longterm financial stability of the club? In many ways, it would almost suit him if they were troubled enough to require a quick sale. 

Arsenal’s suggestion was a 12.5 per cent pay cut over 12 months — but what difference does that make to a player who would view still pulling on an Arsenal shirt in 2021 as a career failure? 

It is hard to see a great former captain like Tony Adams (left) allowing this situation to fester

It is hard to see a great former captain like Tony Adams (left) allowing this situation to fester

It is hard to see a great former captain like Tony Adams (left) allowing this situation to fester

Before the wage announcement, before the captain’s charity was formed, Noble had donated £35,000 during the coronavirus crisis to help vulnerable people in Basildon, Essex. 

The last time Aubameyang was in the news was five days ago when Pierre Alain Mounguengui, president of the football federation in his native Gabon, said he should quit Arsenal to join a more ambitious club. He was subsequently linked with Real Madrid. 

And this is not to blame Aubameyang, or any of the captains, solely for the stand-off that has developed. More that it is hard to see leaders such as Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira allowing such a harmful situation to fester. Kevin De Bruyne was apparently a powerful voice when the Premier League met the players two weeks ago, but David Silva, the captain of Manchester City, is not believed to have participated in that meeting and is leaving the club at the end of the season. 

The cosmopolitan, and temporary, nature of the Premier League will certainly not have helped the clubs in persuading players to consider the long-term future when so many are simply passing through. And this is not just about foreign players, either. 

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made no secret of his desire to leave

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made no secret of his desire to leave

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made no secret of his desire to leave

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is captain of Southampton, who were the first to agree wage reductions. He is now in his fourth season there. He’s not Matt Le Tissier but he must carry some clout. 

So nor is it purely about longevity. Harry Maguire is only in his first year at Manchester United and has emerged as hugely influential, while Henderson has clearly grown into the captaincy role at Liverpool having succeeded Steven Gerrard in 2015. 

Both men have led the way at their clubs during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Yet when other members of the elite fall on the mercy of the Premier League and Professional Footballers’ Association as mediators in this time of crisis, it is hard not to think what might have been achieved with better leadership; or a sprinkling of men who saw their club as more than a career move. 

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