Wayne Rooney has told the Times that the public pressure on footballers to accept a pay cut during the coronavirus crisis is a "disgrace."
Britain health secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that Premier League players need to take a pay cut and "play their part" during the pandemic.
His comments came as players face intense public pressure to accept pay deferrals in the wake of Tottenham and Newcastle furloughing non-playing staff, at the same time as maintaining player wages at their usual level. Liverpool have also been criticised for furloughing non-playing staff, while the the union representing Premier League footballers has questioned the league's call for a 30% player wage reduction.
Rooney, England's and Manchester United's all-time leading goal scorer, wrote in the Times: "How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. First the health secretary, Matt Hancock, in his daily update on coronavirus, said that Premier League players should take a pay cut. He 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?
"The Premier League then announced it was looking for its players to give up or defer wages by 30%. This despite owners and the Premier League board knowing players were already deep in discussion about what their contribution should be. It seemed strange to me because every other decision in this process has been kept behind closed doors, but this had to be announced publicly. Why? It feels as if it's to shame the players -- to force them into a corner where they have to pick up the bill for lost revenue."
There has so far been no universal agreement regarding wage reductions for players in England. Rooney, who plays for Derby County in England's second tier, said he feels he needs to speak up regarding the debate around who earns what.
He said: "I'm talking about footballers, people I have shared dressing rooms with. The pressure put on them is not acceptable and I need to speak up for them. At the moment it's almost a free-for-all: it's like the government, Premier League and sections of the media have set the players up to fall."
In addition to the pay deferral plan, the Premier League has also sanctioned a £125 million grant to clubs in the EFL and National League and a £20m donation to the National Health Service (NHS) to support the battle against the coronavirus.
But Rooney believes the Premier League's directive regarding player pay has made the players easy targets.
He added: "For the Premier League to just announce the proposal, as it has done, increases the pressure on players and in my opinion it is now a no-win situation: if players come out and say they can't agree or are not willing to cut by 30%, even if the real reasons are that it will financially ruin some, it will be presented as 'Rich Players Refuse Pay Cut'.
"Whatever way you look at it, we're easy targets. What gets lost is that half our wages get taken by the taxman. Money that goes to the government, money that is helping the NHS."
The Premier League and all major football leagues are suspended indefinitely amid the coronavirus outbreak.