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Soccer star Messi takes 70% pay cut due to coronavirus, as pressure mounts on others to follow suit

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Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele of FC Barcelona during a match against Sevilla on February 23, 2019
Eric Verhoeven | Soccrates | Getty Images

The world's top paid soccer star, Lionel Messi, said earlier this week that he and his fellow FC Barcelona players had agreed to take a 70% pay cut to help the club manage costs amid the coronavirus crisis.

Messi made the announcement on Instagram, adding that the Spanish team's players would also contribute so that the club's employees can collect 100% of their salary for as long as the pandemic lasts. 

Soccer matches around the world, which attract huge crowds of fans, have been postponed as part of lockdown measures to help curb the spread of the virus. 

The Argentinian player sought to dismiss reports that the players had rejected a proposed pay cut, clarifying that a drop in salary had always been planned. He explained that an agreement had only been delayed because they were "looking for a formula to help the club as well as its workers in these difficult times." 

Messi is the world's highest-earning soccer player and athlete, taking home $127 million in 2019, according to Forbes —$92 million of which was his soccer salary and winnings, along with $35 million in endorsements. 

The player has also donated more than $1 million to the fight against the virus, split between a hospital in Barcelona and a clinic in his home country of Argentina, Spanish media outlet Mundo Deportivo reported

Barcelona is the second-most valuable soccer team in the world after Real Madrid, worth a reported $4 billion. Its players are the best paid in the world, with average earnings of $12.3 million in 2019, according to Sporting Intelligence's Global Sports Salaries study.

Over the weekend, Italy's Juventus also announced that it would be slashing player's salaries over the next four months, amounting to a saving of 90 million euros ($98 million). 

In the announcement, Juventus said that if the current season's matches were rescheduled, the club would negotiate conditional pay increases "according to the actual resumption and finalization of official competitions." 

Juventus players are the third-best paid in the world, taking home an average of $10.1 million in 2019, according to Sporting Intelligence. Players include Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's second-highest-earning athlete in 2019, who pocketed $65 million in soccer pay and winnings, as well as $44 million in endorsements — a total of $109 million, according to Forbes. 

Like his rival Messi, Ronaldo and his agent were said to have donated over $1 million to hospitals in his native Portugal to help them cope with the pandemic. 

'Sticks in the throat'

However, soccer teams in U.K., home to some of the most valuable clubs in the world, are coming under increasing pressure to sacrifice pay. 

On Wednesday, British lawmaker Julian Knight, who chairs U.K. Parliament's digital, culture, media and sport committee criticized top teams in England's Premier League for using the country's furlough scheme to help pay non-playing backroom staff. 

The U.K. government's job-retention – or "furlough" – program puts jobs on hold, but employees are still paid up to 80% of their salary, in a bid to avoid mass lay-offs. 

"I think it sticks in the throat because at the moment, they're (the soccer teams) paying hundreds of thousands of pounds a week to their Premier League stars while at the same time asking the taxpayer to pay their non-playing staff who may only be on hundreds of pounds a week," Knight said in a television interview on Wednesday. 

This includes London team Tottenham Hotspur, which sits ninth on Forbes' list of soccer team valuations, said to be worth $1.6 billion. Chairman Daniel Levy announced on Tuesday the club would be putting 550 of its staff on furlough.

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