By Gregory Bryce
In the world of football, it is more often than not that the teams with the most money will reap the lion’s share of success. European football, and in particular, the English Premier League, is a good example of this. It is the clubs that can afford the best facilities, the best coaching staff and lure the best players that are the more dominant forces.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial fallout that many of the English clubs suffered has led to major issues for the Football Association (FA) and the English Football League (EFL). Many of the clubs in the lower divisions of English football have found it hard to continue normal operations due to the financial constraints.
In these dire times, the eyes were on the top-flight clubs to see how they would help to keep the struggling teams afloat. A plan proposed by Manchester United and Liverpool, coined Project ‘Big Picture’, seemed to be that answer.
The main selling point of Project ‘Big Picture’ is that a sum of $450 million (as quoted by the Insider) will be used as a bailout for clubs due to the impact of the COVID-19. The proposal also says that 25% of the Premier League’s broadcasting revenue would be given to the EFL as well as significant funding for the women’s game.
Sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it?
Then why was it that this plan was resoundingly rejected by the Premier League, criticized as a desperate ‘power-grab’ by the fans and dismissed as ‘backroom dealings’ by the UK government?
To understand the criticisms that the proposal received and why it was rejected, you must first understand the worrying mechanisms that lay beneath the surface.
While Project ‘Big Picture’ seemed to be a benevolent gesture by those who created the proposal, it would have lasting effects on the power structure of the Premier League. Led by Manchester United and Liverpool, and supported by Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City (the ‘Big Six’ clubs of England), the proposal also called for the Premier league to be reduced to 18 teams instead of 20, and for the Community Shield and the EFL Cup competitions to be scrapped.
The reason behind this is to cut the number of games that the average player would compete in every year and to increase the chances of European competition.
Not so bad, after all, when you consider that this change was proposed in the interest of the health and fitness of the players.
But while this all seems well-intentioned, the problems begin to surface when there is also a proposed change in the voting structure in England. Currently, every club in the Premier League has an equal vote when making a decision that will affect the league. For any proposal to be passed, a majority of 14 of the 20 teams will need to agree.
However, Project ‘Big Picture’ wants to change this. The new proposal says that only nine teams would have voting power. These nine teams would be the ones that were in the league for the longest time. Added to this, for any new proposal to be passed, a majority of six of the nine would have to agree.
When you take into account that the six teams that are pushing for Project ‘Big Picture’ are also the same six teams that would have majority voting power, the criticisms all become clear.
Should Project ‘Big Picture’ come into effect, these six teams that created it, would have supreme control over the decisions of the Premier League, and especially financially decisions.
‘Money talks’ in football, and this plan would undoubtedly secure all power to the ‘Big Six’.
Let’s give an example. Recently, Newcastle United entered negotiations to sell the club to a new wealthy owner. If this deal had gone through, Newcastle would have been expected to have become a very formidable force in the league (similar to how Chelsea did in 2003 and Manchester City in 2008). This deal would have disrupted the power balance of the ‘Big Six’.
However, with Project ‘Big Picture’, the ‘Big Six’ clubs would have the executive power to stop any such deal, and essentially prevent any club from challenging the power structure.
There are much more complexities that Project ‘Big Picture’ proposes that would essentially secure a dominant administrative power to the elite clubs and prevent any rise in fortune for those below them.
Thankfully, the proposal has received many criticisms from those it seeks to affect, and is highly unlikely to be put into effect any time soon. But this is a warning sign that the top teams are willing to make power moves to grab as much control over the league as possible.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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