Newcastle's millionaire players hustled down the tunnel after relegation was confirmed on Sunday, off to their sports cars, mansions and holidays in the sun. Behind them lay a tormented fan base and a fractured club, ripped apart at the seams by demotion from the English Premier League.
It will be a long and painful road back for Newcastle and its loyal band of supporters. Thousands of them shed real tears after the Magpies' 1-0 loss to Aston Villa, and their moods won't be brightened by the realization that a return to the EPL will be made considerably more difficult by the very players responsible for the relegation.
Over 10 players are under contract for more than $4 million per season, figures totally unsustainable in the Championship. But punishment for underperformance is the club's cross to bear and the fiscal burden is in no way shared by the squad.
The example of Newcastle proves it is high time that an automatic system of salary reduction be brought in for teams that are relegated. Such clauses in player contracts do exist at many clubs but the responsibility needs to come from a higher power.
A uniform system that would slash every senior squad member's wage packet by, say, 30 percent in the event of relegation, would be fair and just. Fans that have spent their own hard-earned money to support the club might be able to stomach the sickening drop from the EPL a bit better if they knew the players who failed them were being made to pay, too.
The connection between the professional footballer and the man in the stands has never been thinner. Allowing overpaid and overrated flops, like many of the Newcastle squad, to happily collect their full pay packets – regardless of relegation – will only drive a further wedge between the sport and its lifeblood.
Weekend First XI
1. Get him an Advil
Pep Guardiola is sweating the fitness of Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry ahead of the UEFA Champions League final. The Barcelona coach head coach already has a decimated backline and is desperate for his French striker and talismanic midfielder to be ready for Wednesday's big clash against Manchester United.
2. Get him a beer
Wolfsburg head coach Felix Magath completed a dream season when his side wrapped up the Bundesliga title with a 5-1 victory over Werder Bremen. Magath will now move on to lead Schalke next season, with his stock at an all-time high after spearheading one of the most impressive and unexpected league title wins in recent memory.
3. Get him some earplugs
Paolo Maldini bade an emotional farewell to the San Siro stadium on Sunday as he brought down the curtain on a spectacular 25-year career with AC Milan. However, he had to endure disgusting taunts from a section of Ultras (the club's extreme fan element) which criticized him for showing a lack of interest in the supporters over the years.
Such antics heaped shame upon the Rossoneri. The rogue fan element need to realize that sending a living legend into retirement with taunts in his ears is a scandalous disgrace.
4. Four corners
• Will the next World Cup leave a glittering legacy or be remembered as a bureaucratic failure?
• What will Sir Alex Ferguson think of this refereeing appointment?
• Just how early can the United States wrap up World Cup qualification?
• Does Fabio Cannavaro deserve to be associated with Real Madrid's awful season?
5. Catch a flight …
Rome. Whether you have a ticket or not barely matters. The Italian capital is the center of the soccer universe this week as the Champions League final hits town. Jump on a plane and throw yourself into the carnage.
6. A round of applause for …
Oguchi Onyewu. The United States defender won his second straight Belgian league title with Standard Liege and looks destined to move to a bigger European league this summer.
7. Get him a Kleenex
Gordon Strachan. The Glasgow Celtic manager stepped down after his team threw away the Scottish Premier League title, with hated rivals Glasgow Rangers clinching the trophy on the final day of the season.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
David Beckham. Yes, that's right. The Los Angeles Galaxy's high-profile underperformer is due back in the City of Angels soon for the final chapter of his failed Major League Soccer stint. What do you think Beckham is more excited about, his latest England callup or his short MLS comeback?
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Bakary Soumare. The 24-year-old Chicago Fire defender's consistent season has generated plenty of interest in France, where at least two Ligue 1 clubs are believed to be interested.
10. Get excited about …
The most exciting week on the 2009 soccer calendar. The ultimate clash of the titans between Manchester United and Barcelona is on Wednesday, and the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Everton rounds out the week on Saturday. What's not to like?
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Alex Curran, who is a columnist and a fashion expert … and the wife of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.