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(CNN) —  

Football coach and former player Frank de Boer has been criticized for calling equal pay at international level a “ridiculous” idea.

De Boer, who played over 100 times for the Netherlands in the 1990s and early 2000s, took charge of Atlanta United last year after the side had won its first MLS Cup under Tata Martino.

“It’s the same like tennis,” De Boer said in an interview with The Guardian. “If there are watching, for the World Cup final, 500 million people or something like that, and 100 million for a women’s final, that’s a difference. So it’s not the same.

“And of course they have to be paid what they deserve … and not less, just what they really deserve. If it’s just as popular as the men, they will get it, because the income and the advertising will go into that.

“But it’s not like that, so why do they have to earn the same? I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand that.”

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Frank De Boer coached in the Premier League before moving to the States.
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Frank De Boer coached in the Premier League before moving to the States.

In June, the Dutch football federation – whose women finished second at this year’s World Cup – reportedly committed to paying its male and female footballers the same by 2023.

The US players, meanwhile, are currently engaged in a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation in a quest to receive equal pay.

Last week, it emerged that the federation had enlisted lobbying firms to argue that the women’s team isn’t underpaid.

During the World Cup in France, chants of “equal pay” broke out amongst supporters, and US captain Megan Rapinoe called for the conversation to “move onto the next step” following her side’s victory.

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“Frank de Boer says it’s ridiculous that men and women should be paid equally in football,” tweeted Kieran Theivam, who covers women’s football for The Athletic. “The Netherlands Women in the last two years have won a European Championship and reached the final of a World Cup. Frank De Boer did neither of those.”

The New York Times’ Andrew Das was also critical of the Atlanta coach, writing that “a toe-deep take without acknowledging or understanding how that disparity came to be is probably not how you want to enter the debate.”

CNN Sport has reached out to Atlanta United for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

De Boer later clarified his comments in a statement on social media, saying that he “wholly respect[s] and support[s] the women’s game” and is “encouraged and excited by its growth both internationally and here in the US.”

He added that “I do believe when it comes to the economics of the game, as popularity keeps increasing it will lead to increased revenue and higher salaries in the women’s game, which is fantastic and what we all want to see.

“I am proud to be a part of a club that embraces equality, and I apologize for any distraction this has become for our team and organization.”