LONDON (AFP) — Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has stood by his assertion that top footballers in England are being paid too much money despite admitting that he got his figures wrong.
Sutcliffe sparked off an angry debate when he claimed that the salaries pocketed by Premier League stars like Chelsea and England skipper John Terry were "obscene."
His remarks infuriated Chelsea but he has refused to back down despite being forced to admit the figures he quoted were overblown.
Sutcliffe told BBC Radio Five Live: "I am not attacking players. This is about whether can football sustain the losses that Chelsea have.
"I stand corrected - I said Chelsea's losses were 250 million pounds and I understand it's 220 million pounds over two years, and John's salary is not 150,000 pounds a week, it's closer to 130,000 pounds.
"To the ordinary man and woman in the street that would be seen as obscene because they cannot relate to that.
"Link that to ticket prices and people are being priced out of the game. It's not an attack on individuals - John Terry is a great football player and a great England captain."
Chelsea manager Avram Grant hit back by insisting it was unfair to single out his captain, or indeed focus specifically on footballers to make his point.
"John is the captain and you need to learn how he led the team with full commitment in a very difficult time," said Grant who only recently took over from big-spending Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.
"This is leadership, this is captaincy. He deserves every penny. His leadership, I can guarantee you, is one of top in the history of this position.
"Everybody likes to speak about the money of the footballers. Why does nobody speak about singers who get more money in one year than any player?
"Why don't they speak about talented tennis players like Maria Sharapova for example, who, I think, at 20 years old, has more money than any other player?"
Weighing into the debate, Aston Villa Martin O'Neill said he had no problem with the mega salaries earned by the best players but added that he felt too many "average players" were being overpaid.
"I do not begrudge the top-quality players getting well paid and I don't care what era you happen to be in," he told BBC Sport.
"It seems to be as if the Premier League is awash with money and the very good players seem to be availing themselves of that through their own efforts and the efforts of agents.
"I haven't got a major problem with that, what I do is the follow-on from that, that the very average players are getting well paid and that has been a bit of a problem, whereas in our day average players got average money - and I would know plenty about that."
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