Liverpool’s wage disgrace all wrong: Neil Humphreys
Reds face public relations disaster from taking government handouts
Speaking for most of the planet, we were with Liverpool. The Reds were on the right side of history. They were on the right side of just about everything.
They were playing, winning and ruling English football the right way.
England even borrowed their song to lift the spirits of flagging nurses and doctors. You'll Never Walk Alone was sung in medical wards. Club and country were on message, entwined.
Juergen Klopp cried for the medical staff. Jordan Henderson rallied his fellow footballers to raise funds for the National Health Service. Even the most blinkered Liverpool haters had to acknowledge that the club just did things better.
Dignity swept through those Shankly Gates.
And then a decision was taken that defied belief.
It was a decision so tone-deaf, so ignorant of the current mood that the name of the club had to be checked again.
Liverpool's owners had agreed to take a British government handout to pay furloughed non-playing staff - at a time when they are paying a non-playing squad millions of pounds a week.
In Britain, furloughed workers can claim 80 per cent of their wages as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Liverpool have promised to top up the remaining 20 per cent, which reeks of benevolent aristocrats allowing the domestic help to feast on banquet scraps.
The Reds are not alone in accepting the scheme's benefits. Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Norwich City and Bournemouth are also using taxpayer funds to pay non-playing staff.
As these clubs provide employment opportunities for their communities - and their players contribute hundreds of millions of pounds in tax - they may feel entitled to a temporary bailout.
The Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool's American owners, presumably reached this conclusion. There's no football revenue for the foreseeable future. Why not get something back for the millions already paid in tax and save local jobs?
It's the right sentiment for the wrong organisation. The real answer could never be found in John Henry's Bostonian boardroom. It's on every street corner in Liverpool. It's across the road from your housing estate and mine.
Just like Singapore's stimulus package, the British job retention scheme is for the corner shop, the mini-mart, the mamak stall and every other small business currently cradling a shattered rice bowl.
It's not for a football club that made a pre-tax profit of £42 million (S$74.1m) in the 2018/19 campaign and spent a morally repugnant £43m on agents' fees. It's not a cash grab for billionaires.
Henry and company either missed or ignored the alarm bells that had to be ringing from every public relations (PR) office cubicle associated with the club.
Jamie Carragher, Stan Collymore and Dietmar Hamann are the first of their former players to criticise the plan. Others will follow.
Apart from the bad optics, Liverpool's decision to place some non-playing staff on temporary leave is such an "un-Liverpool-like" move.
Frankly, Newcastle and Tottenham's names on the list surprise no one. Clubs are usually carved in an owner's image.
Norwich and Bournemouth, on the other hand, are regional clubs with fewer resources. Eventual relegation remains a possibility for both.
But the Reds have coasted a PR wave for years now, constantly reading the wind changes in public opinion and manoeuvring accordingly.
Whether it was Hillsborough, the stadium expansion and the struggling local economy, the American owners were smartly advised on how to handle the lot.
Even when a mistake was made - such us the hike in ticket prices in 2016 - they made amends. They responded wisely to a mass walkout and backtracked.
From top to bottom, Liverpool became the empathetic elite club tied to their community and devoted to attractive football - a crowd-winning philosophy embodied by their manager.
With the English Premier League failing to show concerted leadership during Covid-19, Klopp has been a rare voice of reason and warmth.
He stressed the need to listen to medical experts not football managers, knocking down the eternal myth of the game's omnipotence. He called on the football community to work together to beat Covid-19.
Nothing else mattered.
But the money still does for his employers. That's the perception at least. A billionaire bought Liverpool to make substantial profits. He succeeded. He does not require government bailouts to pay staff. Small businesses do.
When this crisis is over, the Reds will survive and thrive. Many small businesses - including those on Merseyside - will not.
Liverpool already fears an asterisk beside their eventual title triumph.
Do they really want another one?
The sign in the tunnel may say, "This is Anfield", but this is not Liverpool.