Image rights? More like image wrongs!

In the last year, the number of tax probes launched by HMRC into professional footballers has almost trebled. In an industry that often comes under scrutiny for the almost unbelievable wages that are paid to the sport’s top stars, this is a most unwelcome development. Further doubt will now inevitably be cast over the honesty and integrity of individuals who many claim to already be overpaid.

However, further analysis into the details of the investigations that were released reveals that it may not be the cream of the crop that are actually committing the foul play. Rather, as Elliot Buss, of accounting firm UHY Hacker Young stated, it is lower-paid individuals, such as a ‘second-choice left back in the Championship’, that are likely to have been targeted by the new probes.

The focus has been on agents – who have also seen the number of investigations into their tax affairs more than double – negotiating overpriced image rights clauses into the contracts of lesser-known players, as an extension to their salaries. The issue with this is that, in the top 2 divisions of English football, wages are levied with a 45% income tax charge, whereas image rights have a much lower 19% corporation tax rate.

Unsurprisingly then, clubs are struggling to justify that their practically unheard-of benchwarmers will generate funds from shirt sales and sponsorship endorsements proportionate to what they are being paid for those very purposes in their contracts. Household names such as Harry Kane and Paul Pogba have influences that are worth substantial image rights payments. However, the reserve goalkeeper in a mid-table Championship side? Obviously, less so.

In a time where money is short for so many, to hear that £73.1 million was recovered from footballers in the previous tax year is really upsetting. Especially to those of us who idolise our favourite players and want them to act like the heroes we like to believe they are. . So many have gone above and beyond to help out in these difficult moments, such as Marcus Rashford with his free school meals campaign. To those individuals, we thank you.

However, a message to all footballers out there: first and foremost, pay your tax!

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Luke Saward

February 2021
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