Gary Neville has criticised football’s response to the coronavirus crisis and says the reaction of the sport ‘has been a mess’.
The Sky Sports’ pundit reckons football has missed an opportunity to set an example during the pandemic, slamming the sport’s delays in reacting to the crisis and criticising decisions from the authorities – including public calls from the Premier League suggesting players should take a wage-cut.
“I think football should have dealt with this a lot quicker,” the former full-back told Sky Sports. “Jamie [Carragher] and I did a programme a couple weeks ago to say that football has an opportunity to set the tone. Football is such an important part of life, an important part of what England transport around the world, billions watch it.
“There was a strong chance that if football set the tone, others would follow and do the right thing. I think what we saw at the end of last week was the start of an unsavoury episode over the weekend.”
Neville initially reacted angrily to public demands for players to take wage cuts, with many stars also reportedly left angered at the suggestion that they were unwilling to financially contribute during the current crisis.
Jordan Henderson is already believed to be behind an initiative to raise significant funds, the Liverpool midfielder having reportedly made contact with each of the Premier League’s other club captains as part of a bid to fund a coronavirus ‘crisis fund.’
That news came after Manchester United‘s Harry Maguire urged his teammates to contribute 30% of their wages to charity and local hospitals, and Neville believes the authorities have failed to approach the situation sensitively following the Premier League’s echoing of health secretary Matt Hancock’s comments that footballers ‘must play their part’.
“The first thing I’d say is players do want to contribute to the NHS, to the lower leagues, to the non-playing staff, to ensure that their money does go somewhere that is helpful to the people they want to support,” he added.
“If you want to bring people on a journey with you, to take a wage cut, you have to land that softly. Trying to bully them by announcing it mid-afternoon Friday and calling them to a meeting on the Saturday with their manager and owners is probably not the best way to land the blow as hard as that would have been, to the players.”
Neville added that football is in a position to both contribute and influence during an unprecedented period of uncertainty, but believes the sport has lacked a ‘leader to bring football together’ and play a significant role in bringing aid during a global crisis.
“Football will be judged, we want it to be judged differently, because the power that it has to influence people is enormous. Those players, those badges, are steeped in history. It means so much to everyone around the world.
“The idea that we don’t want football to be judged differently? We do want football to be judged differently. There’s an opportunity here for football to do an amazing thing.
“What we saw on Friday afternoon was a collaboration of maybe a couple of weeks, but then I thought the Premier League went solo. They didn’t increase the funding for the EFL and non-league, they advanced money but didn’t give extra funding which those clubs so desperately need. They gave a £20m fund to a good cause, which I think is welcome but I think it could have been more. They asked players for a 30 per cent pay cut, which equated to around £550m.
“I think there was an opportunity for the Premier League to stand tall and do a number of things. One was to distribute to a good cause quickly. Second was to increase funding for EFL and non-league. Another was to go to the players and have meaningful discussions with the captains of the clubs for how they could work together to support not just the local cause but the national cause, and nobody has been able to bring together football, a leader to bring together football in this time to find the right decision.”