Football is entertainment, and as a rule entertainment costs money. Hollywood actors get paid tens of millions to star in films, whilst its common to spend large sums on seeing bands perform live at music festivals and gigs. Fans watch football religiously and pay through the nose for the pleasure of doing so. So is there anything wrong with this money going into the pockets of those who millions (or hundreds of millions) love to watch it? Football, now a multi-billion pound business, generates serious debate when it comes to money – and most often when it comes to player’s pay.

As an Arsenal fan, I know all about Nicklas Bendtner. Once said to be a gifted teenager, the Danish striker is now a washed-up 27-year-old who, despite once claiming to be, “The greatest striker in the world”, has failed to follow-up on his potential.

To many, he is symptomatic of the main problem that football has been facing since the advent of the Premier League in the early 1990s; that is unjustified astronomical salaries. A largely average footballer who earns more in a week than what many people take years to make, Bendtner can be perceived as the archetypal sportsman who gets paid to be mediocre.

Yet his comments made back in February 2011 are worth pondering. He justified his wages (then reported to be £50,000 a week) by claiming that he deserves them because he entertains people just as movie stars do.

“I am in the football business and, at the highest level, where Arsenal are, football is first-class entertainment’, he said. ‘So it is wrong to compare my salary to the salary of the general public – compare it to movie actors instead. I think we spend an incredible amount of time, energy and focus on our football career, when we are not training or playing we still have to live for football. It is always fair to ask whether the players are worth the incredible amounts of money we earn and ask whether we earn too much. I believe we must be worth our salaries because that is how the mechanisms of the society works. There is a price to pay as well for us players and, personally, I think I pay a big price with my body, my time and with never being able to have privacy when I am out and around other people.”

Whether you like it or not, football, and sport by extension, is in many ways an entertainment business. Sport is transcendental, but it also aims to entertain people. Would you as a neutral sit through a game between two Conference Premier teams when you could watch Ronaldo, Messi, and co. in an all-action Barcelona vs Real Madrid El Clasico?  Why would you prefer to watch the big clubs? It’s because the entertainment is better. The clubs’ are in business, their success is income and the players are paid to play and entertain. The more you pay the better the show, market forces dictate the value of your entertainment.

As much as we like to moan at Theo Walcott for failing to control an easy pass or laugh at Joe Hart for yet another howler, the stark truth is that we cannot do what they do. Whether we are at the stands, in the press room or watching at home, we do not (or did not) have the skills needed to play football at a professional level. If we did we would be them.

Has it gone too far?

The issue with huge wages may lie with making young people too rich too soon. A problem might also result from paying huge sums to players whose market value doesn’t justify it, that is, they’re not good enough to deserve their wages. There are some who know this to be true for them and are happy to sit on the bench and collect their salaries each week. (See these examples of Seth Johnson and Winston Bogarde)

Stories such as ‘a drunk 22-year-old Jermaine Pennant stealing and crashing Ashley Cole’s Mercedes into a lamppost‘, do not help in endearing footballers to the public either. If anything, they reinforce the belief that footballers, especially the young ones, take everything for granted and have an easy life.

Perhaps they do – after all, if you become a millionaire after working for a few years, then you should have an easy life. Yet, it would be foolhardy to deny that they did not have to work hard for it. The players we see glossing on the magazine covers or on television are just a small fraction who could actually make it big – there are millions who have tried and failed.

Some argue from a moral viewpoint that footballers unfairly earn more than doctors, nurses, surgeons, etc. However for the value they provide to their employers, these athletes do realistically deserve the money they receive. Footballers – and sportsmen – are an elite group of people who can be classed as highly skilled labourers – they can do what the normal man cannot. It is a case of supply and demand. Just like a top-class surgeon or a gifted actor, they are people with a ‘special talent’. Of course, whether you consider the ability to act or play football as ‘special’ is up to you.

Short Career

Actors Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson still get paid £000m’s 50 years after their movie debuts as teenagers. Paul McCartney can still sing and compose songs although he has passed the age of 70. In comparison to these entertainment industries, the options for footballer’s are very limited. After reaching their late 20’s most footballer’s must already begin considering a new career starting in 2-5 years time, and again the choices are limited. The traditional entertainer can still get the same payment like they did 20, 30, 40, years ago, but the salaries for footballer’s becoming coaches, commentators etc. are massively small in comparison. All the money footballers’ earn during their career is enough for their rest of their lives if they spend it wisely, but compare it to other forms of entertainment and it seems unfair to pick on football.

Tax Back To Economy

An interesting side note that should be considered is that footballers, especially in the Premier League, only take home half of the headline figure on their pay slip. The current top tax rate in the UK means players like Yaya Toure, the Premier League’s top earner at £220,000-a-week, has £440,000 deposited into his bank account every month, with the other £440,000 given in tax to the UK government. And in Spain, the likes of Messi and Ronaldo will pay 56p to the £1 in tax. In essence, these big footballer salaries are a great help to a nation’s tax revenue. So it’s footballers’ money, deservedly earned given what they generate for their employers, which helps society in general—although often not in ways that are clearly visible.

Next season the Premier League TV rights will reach a staggering £5.14billion, an incredible figure before you even consider overseas income, advertising, endorsements, merchandising – the list goes on. It’s no secret that football is big business – the money flows down, the clubs get their share, and with it they pay the wages. These figures aren’t going to decrease any time soon; the networks can justify paying these massive sums because we keep watching the games week in week out. So the question I ask is, why shouldn’t the players we actually tune in to watch be the ones who profit? Where else would the money go? Isn’t it better that the players get the rewards and not a selection of undeserving fat cat business owners?

Footballer’s wages have risen because demand has risen

Comparing the salaries of the average Premier League footballer, around £25-30k a week, to that of the CEO’s of the FTSE 100, about £65k, helps a little when proving that their wages maybe aren’t as ludicrous as the media suggest. Teams by definition are only as strong of the sum of their parts; take the top 10 highest paid players away from Barcelona and what would happen? Take the top ten highest earners from Barclays, or Tesco however and who among us, the regular consumer, would notice a difference? But Barcelona without Messi and Suarez however, and without Neymar? Disaster.

CEO’s don’t deserve to be bringing home that sort of money either. Perhaps nobody does, but the reality is that they do. In the modern world the concept of a good day’s work for a good day’s pay seems out of touch, but this is no argument to suggest footballers are overpaid.