Liverpool make U-turn over furlough scheme after clubs slammed

LONDON (AFP) – Liverpool were forced to apologise as the Premier League club ditched their controversial plan to furlough non-playing staff during the coronavirus on Monday, while FIFA urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions.

Liverpool faced stinging criticism from fans and former players after revealing over the weekend that they wanted to use the United Kingdom (UK) government’s furlough scheme.

Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s United States-based owners, wanted to put around 200 staff on enforced leave during the pandemic while the government paid 80 per cent of their wages.

Fellow top-flight teams Tottenham, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich have already furloughed staff, but it was table-toppers Liverpool – with pre-tax profits of GBP42 million for the 2018-19 season – who came in for the most criticism, in part due to their reputation as a club with a strong bond to Merseyside’s working-class community.

The fierce backlash sparked a sudden climbdown as Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore wrote an open letter to supporters announcing they would opt for “alternative means” to the furlough route after consulting “key stakeholders”.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that,” wrote Moore.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher tweeted, “Well done @PeterMooreLFC @LFC a big mistake initially & thankfully now it’s been put right.”

With the Premier League postponed indefinitely because of the virus, Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, said they would not be using the government’s job retention scheme, with Manchester United set to follow their example.

Liverpool’s U-turn came as England’s top-flight teams, among the richest in the world, were under increasing scrutiny, with government ministers warning bosses and players they should “think carefully” over their next moves.

The highest-paid Premier League players such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne command eye-watering salaries, reportedly nearing GBP20 million a year.

The Liverpool football club emblem is pictured on a gate at the Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England. PHOTO: AFP