London (AFP) - Liverpool on Monday scrapped their controversial decision to furlough non-playing staff during the coronavirus pandemic after the Premier League leaders apologised for coming to the "wrong conclusion".
The Reds, the world's seventh-richest football club, were widely criticised after announcing at the weekend that they planned to put around 200 staff on enforced leave during the pandemic while the British government pays 80 percent of their wages.
With the Premier League postponed because of the virus, Liverpool's US-based Fenway Sports Group owners came under fire for exploiting the furlough scheme to save money at the same time as they continue to pay huge salaries to star players like Mohamed Salah.
Fellow top-flight teams Tottenham, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich have already furloughed staff, but it was Liverpool -- who made pre-tax profits of £42 million for the 2018-19 season -- that came in for the most criticism, in part due to their reputation as a club with a strong bond to the working-class community on Merseyside.
As the opprobrium mounted from the club's supporters and former players, Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore, writing in an open letter to supporters on Monday, revealed that they have changed their mind.
"We have consulted with a range of key stakeholders as part of a process aimed at achieving the best possible outcome for all concerned," Moore said.
"A range of possible scenarios were considered, including but not restricted to: applying to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which pays 80% of salary and guaranteeing the 20% payment; applying to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme with a guarantee to reimburse monies received at a later date and, thirdly, finding an alternative means to cover our furlough costs.
"It is as a direct result of this extensive consultation and our own internal deliberations at various levels throughout the Club that we have opted to find alternative means despite our eligibility to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
"We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that."
- Unprecedented period -
Liverpool held talks with representatives of the supporters' group Spirit of Shankly and local MPs before the climbdown.
But Moore warned the financial impact of the health crisis on the club could still be felt.
"Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period," Moore said.
"We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme.
"Despite the fact we were in a healthy position prior to this crisis, our revenues have been shut off yet our outgoings remain."
Liverpool's rivals Manchester United have told staff members they will not be making use of the government furlough scheme.
United, who have around 900 full-time employees, say they will continue to pay all staff as if they were working normally.
Moore said Liverpool will explore options to prepare for a potentially lengthy delay before football returns.
"Like any responsible employer concerned for its workers in the current situation, the club continues to prepare for a range of different scenarios, around when football can return to operating as it did before the pandemic," he said.
"These scenarios range from best case to worst and everything in between. We are engaged in the process of exploring all avenues within our scope to limit the inevitable damage."