Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend has accused the British government’s Health Secretary of “deflecting blame” onto footballers after Matt Hancock said they should take a pay cut during the coronavirus crisis.
Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth have said they will use a government scheme to guarantee 80 percent of salaries for non-playing staff up to a maximum of £2,500 ($3,100, 2,850 euros) per month.
Such moves have prompted angry responses from politicians given no cuts have so far been agreed for high-earning players.
Citing the “ultimate sacrifice” made by staff in Britain’s National Health Service who had died from the coronavirus while treating patients, Hancock called for players, in some cases earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, to take a pay cut.
He said: “I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”
Talks between the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and clubs over pay cuts are ongoing, with the PFA insisting Thursday they are aware their members “must share the financial burden”.
But Townsend said footballers, many of whom have already made significant charitable donations during the crisis, were an “easy target” for ministers.
“Football is trying to do a lot of good,” he told Talksport radio on Friday.
“To wake up yesterday and see footballers being painted as villains was a bit of a surprise.
“The Health Secretary, deflecting blame onto footballers. I don’t think that is right. His job is the responsibility for NHS workers.
“NHS workers have been underpaid for years. Only 2,000 of them have been able to be tested for coronavirus.
“He (Hancock) is coming out and deflecting onto the easy targets, the footballers, and that doesn’t sit right with me.”
The Eagles winger accepted, however, that footballers had a role to play at a time of economic hardship.
“We are in a very privileged position,” he said.
“The community effectively pay our wages. At a time like this we need to give back.”
Townsend added he agreed with the PFA’s position that if clubs can afford to continue to pay their non-playing staff without furloughing, then they should.
“If the players end up agreeing to a pay cut or deferral and a few days later the PFA find out that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff and are choosing not to, then who benefits?” he said.
“The NHS are not benefiting, these heroes are not benefiting.”
English football is currently suspended until April 30, but a Premier League meeting on Friday is expected to further delay a return to action with Britain in a state of lockdown in a bid to combat the spread of the virus.