The Telegraph yesterday broke the story that Liverpool and Manchester United are spearheading a push for the biggest changes to English football for a decade. Project Big Picture, as it has been branded, includes plans to reduce the size of the Premier League to 18 teams, scrap the League Cup and place voting power in the hands of the so-called, ‘big six’.
There is no doubt that some of the proposals would be welcomed by the majority of fans; however, coming only a few days after clubs decided to charge fans £15 a match to follow the Premier League, it is difficult to see this as anything more than a power grab by the footballing elite.
At first glance, it may not seem as though there are many positives contained within the proposal; but upon inspection, there are some ideas that should be welcomed.
The financial package offered to EFL clubs through these proposals would do much to address the inequalities in the modern game. The project includes proposals for Premier League clubs to give the EFL £250 million up-front. This works out to roughly £3.3 million for each of the 72 clubs in the lower tiers and would go a long way in ensuring their financial stability after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, each year 25% of Premier League revenue would go to EFL clubs; guaranteeing smaller clubs a steady flow of cash and, hopefully, preventing another Bury situation. However, given the immediate necessity of cash for many EFL clubs, these proposals come across as bribery with a hint of financial blackmail to insure the package as a whole passes.
Other parts of the plan that should be supported are caps of £20 on away tickets and a return of safe-standing. These would make football more affordable for match-goers while improving the atmosphere at games. Plans to scrap the Community Shield will also be welcomed by many as it is often seen as an unnecessary friendly for the., usually big, clubs that participate in it each year. On the other hand, for clubs like Leicester and Wigan, who have both participated in recent years, the Community Shield is seen as a rare opportunity to win further silverware for the club and fixture that should be preserved.
First things first, the plan to reduce the Premier League to 18 teams may help combat the growing problem of fixture congestion, but it would deny the fans of two clubs each year the chance to watch their club play at the highest level. In turn, it would reduce the revenue of these clubs and only serve to exasperate the financial gap between the best and the rest. The same could be said about plans to end automatic relegation for 16th place and instead, enter the team into the Championship Play-off at the expense of the 6th placed team.
By scrapping the EFL, clubs playing in European competitions would receive some respite from the hectic schedule that has sunk teams in the past. But it would also deny other teams their only realistic chance at winning a trophy. The emphasis that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have put on this competition in the past is telling, and one would think that even some of the ‘big six’ would oppose this particular proposal.
At this point, Project Big Picture does probably not sound such a great idea but it gets worse. By far the most controversial aspect of the plans is the idea to give the nine teams with the longest stay in the Premier League (The ‘big six’ + Everton, Southampton and West Ham) complete control over all aspects of its running. This one proposal is why this package of proposals in simply a cynical power grab. By taking advantage of the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic, England’s big clubs have devised a plan to give themselves more power, a move that would eventually pave the way for a European Super League.
The only difference between this and the long list of previous attempts to form a breakaway league is that this time fans of other clubs may just say ‘good riddance’. And with the audacity in which these clubs have acted, who could blame them. Certainly not me.