Premier League clubs are facing a backlash after Liverpool tapped into public funds during the coronavirus pandemic while FIFA on Monday urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions.
English top-flight clubs, among the wealthiest in the world, have come under intense 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 £20 million ($25 million, 23 million euros) a year.
Even the average salary for a Premier League footballer is more than £3 million a year, according to the 2019 Global Sports Salaries Survey.
European champions Liverpool, who recorded pre-tax profits of £42 million in February, announced their decision to furlough some non-playing staff on Saturday, becoming the fifth Premier League club to do so.
The controversial move comes with no sign of a deal between Premier League clubs and players' representatives on a pay cut.
Oliver Dowden, a culture and sports minister, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said people had a right to expect leadership from football.
"Clubs, players and owners should be thinking very carefully about their next steps," he said.
"Leaving the public purse to pick up the cost of furloughing low-paid workers, while players earn millions and billionaire owners go untouched is something I know the public will rightly take a very dim view of."
Former Liverpool stars Jamie Carragher and Stan Collymore strongly criticized the move by the Premier League leaders.
Under the scheme, the British government pays 80 percent of wages. Liverpool said they would top up the remaining 20 percent.
Liverpool fan group Spirit of Shankly initially supported the move but later wrote to the club expressing concern at the negative reaction.
American-owned Liverpool's opponents in last year's Champions League final, Tottenham, owned by billionaire Joe Lewis, have also opted for the furlough option, along with Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth.
Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour, said they would not be using the government's job retention scheme, with Manchester United reportedly set to follow their example.
FIFA on Monday urged clubs and players to reach agreement on taking wage reductions in order to protect clubs who are suffering financial damage, sources at world football's governing body said.
It also recommended that players' contracts be extended until the end of the interrupted football seasons and that the transfer window should not open until that time.
The call from FIFA comes as Premier League clubs are locked in talks with players and their representatives about taking pay cuts.
The English top-flight is lagging behind other European leagues. In Spain, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid players have agreed to pay cuts of 70 percent.
Many politicians have urged action from the Premier League and in a poll conducted by YouGov last week, 92 percent of respondents said they backed a pay cut.
But some leading players resent the political pressure. Former England captain Wayne Rooney has criticized the government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a "no-win" situation.
Rooney questioned the wisdom of the Premier League in preempting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.
"In my opinion it is now a no-win situation," he said in a newspaper column. "Whatever way you look at it, we're easy targets."
With no collective agreement in sight, the BBC said on Monday that Premier League players were set to start negotiations on a club-by-club basis over proposed wage cuts.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche said footballers deserved more credit for the work they do to help good causes -- efforts that, he said, are often little publicized.
"I have seen footballers do so many good things, so many things financially, so many things with time, care effort and attention," he told Talksport radio.
In the latest sign of the financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus, England manager Gareth Southgate and the Football Association's top earners have agreed to take wage cuts of up to 30 percent.