Wayne Rooney has criticised the UK government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a "no-win situation" over proposed pay cuts after players were urged to make sacrifices during the coronavirus crisis.
The former England captain, now playing with Championship side Derby, penned an impassioned column in the Sunday Times saying his fellow professionals were "easy targets" in the wider response to the pandemic.
It came after the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) said a proposed 30 percent pay cut could hurt Britain's state-run National Health Service (NHS) because it would hit tax receipts.
Rooney said he had both the means and the will to make financial contributions, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.
The Premier League's suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players' and managers' representatives on Saturday.
Initial talks were already taking place before key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, called for action.
"If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators, I'd be proud to do so -- as long as I knew where the money was going," wrote Rooney.
The 34-year-old added: "I'm in a place where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 percent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?
"How the past few days have played out is a disgrace."
The Premier League has been seen as lagging behind other European leagues in its response to coronavirus and was accused by one British lawmaker of operating in a "moral vacuum".
But Rooney questioned the wisdom of the Premier League in preempting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.
"In my opinion it is now a no-win situation," he said. "Whatever way you look at it, we're easy targets."
He said the Premier League's contribution of £20 million to the NHS was "a drop in the ocean" compared with the amount clubs would save with wage cuts.
And he questioned why stars from other sports were not the focus of similar attention.
Former England striker Gary Lineker echoed Rooney's sentiments, telling the BBC that footballers he had spoken to were "desperately keen" to offer help but were an easy target.
"Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?" he said.
"Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the CEOs, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don't know."
- PFA warning -
The PFA said its members wanted to play their part but warned that a proposed 30 percent salary reduction would cost the country 200 million pounds ($245 million) in lost tax receipts.
England manager Gareth Southgate has reportedly taken a 30 percent pay cut, although the Football Association is yet to confirm the move.
A handful of top-flight clubs, including last year's Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham, have opted to furlough non-playing staff using the safety net of the government's job retention scheme.
Former Liverpool players including Jamie Carragher strongly criticised the move by the European champions, who in February announced pre-tax profits of 42 million pounds for 2018/19.
Manchester City said they would not be furloughing employees. Britain's Press Association said the club's stance was approved and staff informed before Liverpool's position became public.
"We remain determined to protect our people, their jobs and our business," City said in a statement.
Rooney's former England and Manchester United teammate Gary Neville, now a leading broadcaster, was highly critical of the Premier League.
"The PL are handling the CV (coronavirus) crisis terribly," he wrote on Twitter, before outlining a checklist of perceived mis-steps including their slowness in imposing a lockdown and the "PR disaster" of furloughing.
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said he was concerned about the way the talks had progressed.
"Football must play its part to show that the sport understands the pressures its lower-paid staff, communities and fans face," he tweeted.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Adrian Dennis