West Ham face difficult questions from their players about the club’s strict pay structure after Kurt Zouma’s fine for kicking a cat effectively confirmed his position as the club’s top earner.
Sportsmail understands there is a sense inside the Hammers’ squad that the public backlash against the central defender has been over the top – and there is a feeling amongst his team-mates that they must rally round Zouma, who will avoid an FA punishment for the shocking episode.
Nevertheless, there is said to be dissatisfaction among a clutch of players that Zouma earns significantly more than they do, with some ready to address the issue with the club.
It has been widely reported that Zouma’s club fine of two weeks wages – which is due to be received by animal welfare charities – totalled £250,000, effectively revealing the central defender earns £125,000-per-week.The RSCPA says that it has not yet received any money.
Sources insist that the former Chelsea star’s salary isn’t as much as that, yet his position as the club’s best paid player is now clear among the players.
Speculation about Zouma’s West Ham wages were rife at the club’s training base when he arrived from Stamford Bridge in the summer – but accurate information about each player’s deal is generally unconfirmed.
But those original suspicions have been ratified after the apparent confirmation of Zouma’s wage packet this week.
And having been hit in the pocket by sponsors Experience Kissimee and Vitality’s decision to suspended their relationships with the London Stadium club due to Zouma’s distressing behaviour, it now leaves the Hammers facing the prospect of players asking for sharp pay increases.
Michail Antonio, who recently signed a new deal, and Andriy Yarmolenko both earn in the region of £100,000-per-week inclusive of bonuses.
But a clutch of players who are deemed just as important as Zouma, including the likes of Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals and Vladimir Coufal earn significantly less.
The pressure on West Ham to make Zouma unavailable for selection intensified on Thursday after Dagenham & Redbridge suspended the defender’s brother Yoan, who filmed his sibling abusing the cat before uploading the footage on social media, pending the RSCPA’s investigation.
Behind the scenes, however, the Frenchman’s colleagues have rallied around the defender in light of the vilification of him that has followed the emergence of the video.
West Ham’s players believe the fierce clamour for Zouma to face huge punishment and the severity that some are calling for is out of proportion.
And some of David Moyes’ stars have expressed frustration at the huge backlash this incident has generated in relation to other incidents.
Earlier this week former goalkeeper Chris Kirkland demanded Zouma be sacked by West Ham, saying he would not play with the defender and that he expected his career in England was over.
On Wednesday, Kirkland doubled down on his comments claiming the Zouma incident was worse than racism, a stance which has left the ex-Liverpool stopper with his own backlash to handle with his view having not gone down well with many within the game.
Reflecting the mood among West Ham’s players, striker Antonio said: ‘I’m not condoning a thing that he’s [Zouma has] done – I don’t agree with a thing that he’s done at all.
‘But there’s people that have been convicted, been caught for racism and have played football afterwards. They got punished, they got an eight-game ban or something like that.
‘But people are now calling for people to be sacked, to lose their livelihood. I’ve just got to ask this question to everyone out there … is what he’s done worse than what the people have done who have been convicted for racism?’
Social media has been awash with similar assertions, that Zouma’s public condemnation – particularly sponsors Adidas’ decision to drop him as a client – has racist undertones.
The sportswear giants stuck with Luis Suarez after he racially abused Patrice Evra and bit Giorgio Chiellini.
Meanwhile, the FA will not pursue any disrepute charge against Zouma because the incident is not related to football.
While it is understood FA chiefs are privately condemning the defender’s actions, the governing body will not be taking it any further.