On Monday, Juventus officially confirmed the signing of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey as a free agent from July 1, 2019. Ramsey issued his own, understandably emotional, statement via Twitter. (Arsenal were somewhat less effusive.)
Everybody knew it was coming but what most did not expect was the number reported by the BBC on Monday evening. They put out that Ramsey would be making £400,000 a week in basic wages, which is roughly £20.8 million a season, or $26.8m. If that number was accurate, Ramsey would be paid more than every single player in the Premier League, Bundesliga or Serie A with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was in stark contrast to the number widely reported in the Italian media and confirmed by Juve sources as recently as Tuesday morning. They spoke of €7.5m a season net (after tax).
Let’s take a quick detour here to underscore how cultural differences and norms still exist in a globalized game. In Italy (and Spain) wages are usually expressed in annual net (or “after tax”) terms. In England, they are gross (“pre-tax”) and they are weekly, a quirk that goes back to the game’s working class roots when some players would do a weekly shift down the coal mine during the week and then play in front of 60,000-strong crowds on weekends.
It means that to compare apples with apples, you had to do a bit of arithmetic. Now: €7.5m net is roughly €15m gross — it’s not just income tax as there are other, smaller deductions — which in turn translates to £13.1m gross. Divide it by 52 and it’s around £252,000 a week, give or take. (I rounded it to £250,000 for convenience when I tweeted about it.)
That’s a massive discrepancy of some £7.7m a year.
In these situations, you try to reach out to sources who could shed some light. In this case, the only people who would know first-hand are a smattering of folks at Juve, Ramsey’s representatives, the lawyers involved and Ramsey himself. Then there’s another circle who might have second- or third-hand information. I hit up as many folks as I could and while Juve stuck to their original number, another source with knowledge of the negotiation suggested the figure was somewhere in-between Juve’s £252,000 a week and the BBC number of £400,000.
At this stage, you might wonder why it matters since either way Ramsey, already a successful footballer, becomes even wealthier. Well, it’s important because clubs have finite resources to allocate. And how they choose to allocate them — which means, effectively, how much they pay in transfers, to whom, and how much they pay in wages — determines what they can and cannot do next.
Ramsey’s current club is a case in point. Last month, Arsenal manager Unai Emery said they could only make loan signings in January. This was (in part) due to the fact that a year earlier, in the space of a few days, they committed to more than $150 million in wages through 2021 on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil, three veteran players. It was doubtless part of the reason why they were unwilling to match whatever Juventus was offering the 28-year-old Ramsey even if the contract is worth £250,000 a week, let alone £400,000.
The same applies at the Juventus end. After several years of profit, they made a loss last season of €19.6m ($22.1m). Not a huge deal, except for the fact that last summer they signed a certain Cristiano Ronaldo for €100m ($113m) and gave him a four-year deal worth around $68m a season. That’s a massive investment and, perhaps, part of the reason why Gonzalo Higuain and his enormous salary went out on loan this year. While Juve hope to offset it by growing commercially thanks to Ronaldo and (hopefully) winning the Champions League, as with all investments there’s still some level of risk involved. This is why the £250,000 a week (€7.5m a season) number put out by sources close to Juve seemed more plausible.
It’s not a knock on Ramsey, a fine player, but even at £250,000 a week he’d be Juve’s second-highest paid player (after Ronaldo). What’s more he’s 28, which means his resale value will be low should things not work out. At £250,000 a week, very few clubs in the world could both afford him and be willing to pay a fee for him. At £400,000, it’s hard to see anyone who would pull the trigger and take on his contract.
What’s more, Juve’s squad is filled with older players like Ramsey: you’ve got Ronaldo and Giorgio Chiellini (both 34), Mario Mandzukic (32), Leo Bonucci, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi (all 31), Juan Cuadrado (30) and Miralem Pjanic and Douglas Costa (28). (You can throw in Higuain, who is 31, if things don’t work out at Chelsea.) In any organization, you try to have a flatter curve age-wise because you don’t want a whole bunch of guys to get old and need replacing all at once. While some of these guys may leave in the summer, Ramsey still seems counterintuitive in this scenario. At £250,000 a week, he feels like a calculated risk (but still a risk). At £400,000, it would feel like a reckless gamble.
And then there’s the obvious knock-on effect on the rest of the team. Most players do care what their teammates make, not because they’re greedy (though some are) but because it’s a way to keep score and have a sense of how much (or how little) you’re appreciated. Nobody begrudges Ronaldo’s massive salary because he belongs to another universe, but when it comes to Ramsey, you can see guys like Can or Federico Bernardeschi or Joao Cancelo or whomever saying: “Well, if he’s the second-highest paid player in the squad and he’s making three times as much as I am but isn’t three times better than me, shouldn’t I get a hefty raise?”
In other words, high earners become a benchmark. At £250,000 a week, Ramsey will either have an inevitable upward drag on Juve’s wages or it’ll leave some players unhappy. At £400,000 a week, he’d send the wage bill into orbit. That’s what makes this situation, and the different noises coming from different camps, so difficult to interpret.
The good news? We’ll have a clearer picture when Juve publish their accounts. After all, “hiding” £7.7 million in an audited financial statement issued to shareholders is rather difficult to do.