The Evening Standard

The PFA’s £1m-a-year boss prefers to castigate the leading clubs rather than tick off some of his members for their off-field antics.

It is the Carling Cup Final and Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, is sitting next to Fabio Capello at Wembley. It is their first meeting since Capello removed John Terry from the England captaincy, following disclosure of his affair with Wayne Bridge’s former partner.

Terry and Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole have been guilty of dragging the reputation of football’s top earners through the mud in the past month with their off-the-field antics. So worried was Capello about the conduct of his players that before the friendly against Egypt he was moved to say that today’s Premier League stars receive too much money.

Taylor is the highest-paid trade union leader in the country, earning in excess of £1million-a-year, and, initially, during our hour-long conversation, shows a reluctance to talk about the riches earned by some of his PFA members.

It is only after the 66-year-old reveals that he was once paid £12 a week when he signed on as a schoolboy in 1960 with Bolton Wanderers, that I finally get him to talk about his salary and the astronomical sums earned by Terry and Cole that puts them on another plane to the common man.

Taylor’s genial raconteur turns into that of the embattled trade union leader as he says: “Why is it a problem if you get a good salary because you are a trade union leader as opposed to a captain of industry? Mine pales into insignificance compared to that of bankers.”

What really annoys Taylor is the charge that paying high wages to players means that money is going out of the game and that, because they enjoy such huge financial rewards, they will misbehave.

“You don’t hear a film director saying money mustn’t go out of the industry to actors,” he says.

“You don’t hear a concert promoter saying we must make sure that money doesn’t go out of our industry to Elton John. Some people in football seem to think, never mind the players, let’s get on with the game. People don’t pay to watch the directors, the agents or the bank managers. Players are the game. That’s who people pay to watch.

“It doesn’t follow just because people are well paid they have to behave. Look what’s happened in the banking world.

“There are people who enjoy the life in England but don’t pay a penny in tax, whereas my footballers pay more than half their income in tax.”

With that Taylor laughs at the thought that Terry might occupy a higher moral — or at least tax level — than the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft whose tax status as a non-domicile has caused such a huge public outcry.

But, while he accepts that today’s footballers are role models and some of his richer members attract dubious advisers and “the attention of a lot of young females”, Taylor also warns: “If we are not careful we will be judging footballers as though they are all the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Taylor prefers to talk up the good work being done by his members and, to be fair, many give a lot back to their communities with a quarter of players in the top flight having their own charity foundations.

He is also concerned by the terrible wastage in football and the youngsters left on the scrapheap who will never earn £100,000-a-week. Taylor’s estimation is that more than 80 per cent of players who join professional clubs at 16 have been lost to the game by the time they reach 21.

“This is creating a real black hole for youngsters who, if they don’t make it at 18, vanish,” Taylor says.

He has a particular beef with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, who the PFA chief does not feel is giving local talent a fair crack of the whip.

“His teams won the Youth Cup and I said: Where are these lads getting the chance?’ He replied: They’re not good enough to go straight in.’ I said: But how are they ever gonna be good enough unless you give them time?’”

The reduction in opportunities for the country’s youth has been matched by the growth of the Premier League and the foreign talent it has attracted, leaving Taylor to reflect on what he sees as the decline of the Football League.

“The Football League was formed on an equal distribution of income. Rochdale got as much as Manchester United but we could not hold on to it,” he explains.

And, while he accepts the top flight has been a very successful commercial concept, he is worried by the lack of competition. “The Premier League is almost three leagues within a league,” he adds. “We need to make the Premier League as competitive as possible, that is a very serious issue.”

Taylor’s problems are not with “rich uncles” buying success like Jack Walker, who took his local club Blackburn for a “magic carpet ride” but clubs with massive debts.

“Manchester United and Liverpool have been bought with huge leverage and we’ve got Roman Abramovich at Chelsea who can turn his loans into shares,” he argues. “It is really important for the Premier League to ask itself: if a club is being bought on such a mountain of debt, isn’t that a possible recipe for disaster for the future?”

The Premier League’s argument is that it can only change the structure of ownership if the all clubs agree to a change.

In the absence of any intervention, Taylor can see supporters groups like the Red Knights removing the Glazers from Manchester United.

“If that movement is strong enough it will succeed because the roots of Manchester United’s owners aren’t particularly where the supporters’ roots are. You can’t just transfer emotions and feelings from abroad.”

But, surely, I ask, if the Premier League will not act on ownership what about Football Association? They authorised the break up of the old Football League and have a golden share in the top division.

The main problem, says Taylor, is that: “The Football Association have always acted more as a referee than a governor. And the FA, aware the Premier League provide players for the England team, have always had too gentle a hand on the tiller. The result is that the Premier League are the tigers in the English football jungle everybody’s scared of.”

Taylor, though, is not worried about giving the tiger’s tail a gentle tug himself. “I have told the Premier League, look, you are the strongest league in the world but you’ve got to accept responsibility, and with that comes accountability. They have to appreciate the strength they have. And that’s why I’m upset by their failure to act.”

He would like to see not only “a fit and proper person test, but also a takeover test.” He adds: “It is no use saying we can’t do that because of the law of the land. Within football you can do lots of specific things so long as they are agreed by all parties and are for the good of the game.”

Germany are the example that Taylor believes we, in England, should be looking at. Our European neighbours have a rule in which all clubs in the Bundesliga have to demonstrate they have the finances to survive a season — a requirement that would have prevented the disastrous events that have seen struggling Portsmouth fall into administration.

Taylor now hopes that what has happened at Fratton Park may act as a catalyst for club chairmen to have a “serious rethink”.

He fears, though, that the Premier League are not yet ready to accept UEFA president Michel Platini’s proposals on regulating football finances even if they are “very much a step in the right direction”.

So back to Wembley. The two men get on well and Taylor is a big fan of the Italian, but just what did Capello tell him about the Terry saga with Bridge?

“He sacked Terry in order to balance the situation between one player who felt very aggrieved and another player who was his captain,” reveals Taylor. “Fabio hoped that by doing that Wayne would stay with the squad.”

On the eve of the World Cup in South Africa Capello, Taylor feels, is worried about the English obsession with knocking down our heroes. “He kept wondering what’s going on? Why all this fuss? In England, Fabio feels he has to deal 80 per cent with what’s going on off the pitch compared with what’s on the pitch.”

Taylor still hopes Bridge will change his mind and play for England this summer even though his attempts to set up a meeting between the two former Chelsea team-mates failed.

The left-back, he worries, will regret his life-changing decision.

Taylor has only one regret: that he turned down the chance to make millions out of toilet paper.

Former Manchester City chairman Francis Lee, then his colleague at Bolton, offered him a partnership to make toilet rolls. Instead, Taylor went to university to take a degree and Lee eventually sold his stake for £8million. “Lee told me there’ll always be a future in that business,” smiles Taylor.


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