Reading FC have reportedly taken the decision to furlough a handful of Under-23 players in a bid to ease cash flow problems during the coronavirus pandemic.
After Mark Bowen, Nigel Howe and other senior non-playing staff deferred a “substantial” amount of their wages for the next three months, the Daily Mail write that the club are deciding to use government money to ensure youth team players get paid. Some members of the Royals’ non-playing staff are already on the scheme.
No names have been released and only a certain percentage of the U23s are included, understood to be those not near first-team action. The furlough scheme ensures 80 per cent of their wages are paid by the taxpayer, up to a maximum £2,500 a month.
As with every decision football clubs make these days, this move has been described as “controversial”. And to some extent it is, Reading have wealthy owners based abroad and run a large wage and transfer budget, not particularly within their means at the best of times.
But these players are not paid ridiculous wages, a professional contract worth £500-a-week is not at all uncommon for such prospects and that is pretty much bang on the government furlough limit. And obviously no one is demanding these youngsters take a self-enforced pay cut in this time.
So the argument comes down to should a club like Reading take a tiny cut of government money to pay players who are not vital to the team’s immediate future?
Ideally they wouldn’t need to, but here we are. Earlier on in the pandemic, Millwall suggested furloughing their senior players. This felt like a far more drastic measure and they were ultimately unable to as workers cannot legally continue to work under the system. Certain Premier League clubs making use of it when they rake in far, far more than Championship teams was even more silly - and they unsurprisingly backtracked.
What’s more, Reading lost £21million last season. They are not making any money right now. Who is to say the thousands of pounds saved here won’t swing their ability to stay afloat, maintain a community asset and continue to generate revenue for the economy in the future?
There are much bigger fish to fry than to get overly concerned about the government paying the wages of a financially wobbly second-tier football team’s youth players. First and foremost, we are awaiting the plans of Reading’s senior earners - who do take home a pretty penny - and any action there will welcome news.
For more on the state of Reading’s finances, listen to Olly’s podcast chat with football money expert Kieran Maguire.