Wayne Rooney says the scapegoating of footballers during the coronavirus pandemic has been disgraceful and PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor expressed his astonishment at Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s comments.

Clubs and players have come under scrutiny as the Covid-19 crisis continues to escalate, with the Health Secretary quick to highlight the supposed lack of support being offered by well remunerated footballers.

Hancock urged top-flight professionals to “take a pay cut and play their part” on Thursday, perhaps unaware that Premier League captains were already in discussions about how players could help during the coronavirus outbreak.

But while that fund edges closer to a launch, other matters remain up in the air. The Premier League suggested a 30 per cent wage cut or deferral, only for the Professional Footballers’ Association to issue a statement saying such a move could result in a £200million tax deficit.

Former England captain Rooney said the Government and the Premier League had left players in a “no-win situation” over the issue of pay cuts.

“If the Government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so – as long as I knew where the money was going,” the Derby skipper wrote in his Sunday Times column.

“I’m in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position.

“Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?

Former England captain Wayne Rooney has been forthright in his views during the coronavirus crisis
Former England captain Wayne Rooney has been forthright in his views during the coronavirus crisis (Mike Egerton/PA)

“How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. He (Hancock) was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes.

“Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his Government’s handling of this pandemic?”

But Rooney’s criticism and that of other high-profile figures has not led to change of tack from Hancock, who doubled down on his call for players to donate wages to worthy causes.

“I’ve seen that some, for instance footballers, are now making significant donations to charities and I really welcome that, that’s exactly what we need to see,” the Health Sectary told ITV News.

“But instead of having a row about this I think that people should come together and make a contribution.

“The hospices of this country have traditionally been largely funded by charity and charity shops.

“Those shops have had to close so I’m putting more money – taxpayer’s money – into hospices to support them but why don’t our footballers club together and support our hospices and support the national effort that we’re all in?

“I think that is the sort of thing that would go down really well and help bring the country together.”

That interview infuriated ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who challenged Hancock to debate the matter on Sky Sports, while PFA chief Taylor has been taken aback by the Health Secretary’s comments.

Taylor told Telegraph Sport: “I found it astonishing that Matt Hancock could come out like that when he’s got his own issues with trying to get the necessary protective health equipment for our NHS workers and didn’t have the tests in place either.”

The PFA joined the Premier League, League Managers Association and representatives from all clubs on a conference call on Saturday.

Talks will continue this week and Taylor has implored clubs to give the detailed financial information they had been expecting in order to make sure money goes to the right places.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has been ruffling feathers
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has been ruffling feathers (Steve Paston/PA)

“I think if they can’t do that and explain the position fully then they have every right to expect players to mistrust what is happening,” he said.

Asked if players were concerned about where the money would go, Taylor said: “Exactly that. They want the complete due diligence.

“They’re not stupid. They’ve not just got their brains in their feet. They want to know the reasons for it and where it’s going.”

The issue of footballers’ pay has become a hot topic since top-flight clubs started placing some non-playing staff on the government’s furlough scheme.

Liverpool controversially became the fifth Premier League team to embrace that framework on Saturday, but Manchester City have confirmed that they will not be furloughing employees at the tax payer’s expense.

PA understands City’s stance was discussed, taken and approved at board level last week, with staff informed before Liverpool’s position became public on Saturday.