In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Project Big Picture and the Premier League

Liverpool and Man Utd drive ‘biggest shake-up in a generation’ but critics accuse big clubs of a ‘power grab’

Two of England’s biggest football clubs are behind plans to radically reform the Premier League, it was revealed at the weekend.  

In a “world exclusive” The Daily Telegraph broke the news that Liverpool and Manchester United are proposing the “biggest changes to English football in a generation” and an “extraordinary overhaul” of the country’s top division. 

A document titled “Revitalisation”, which was seen by the Telegraph, has been authored by Liverpool’s American ownership Fenway Sports Group with support from Man Utd. 

“Project Big Picture” would reshape the finances of the game, following the impact of Covid-19, meanwhile the Premier League would be reduced to 18 teams and controlling power put in the hands of the biggest clubs.

In reaction to the story, the big clubs have been called out for their “power grab” attempt. Premier League bosses and the UK government have also spoken out against the plans. 

What is Project Big Picture?

Proposals include reducing the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams, increasing funding for the English Football League (EFL) and axing the League Cup and Community Shield. 

Another major proposal is for the big clubs to “gain control over the running of the top flight in return for redistributing greater funding down the football pyramid”, The Guardian reports. The nine longest-serving top-flight clubs would be given preferential votes under the new proposals. 

The Telegraph says that the remarkable set of plans, which will “send shockwaves through the game”, will see 25% of the Premier League’s annual revenue go to the EFL clubs with £250m paid up front to see it through the current crisis. There would also be a gift of £100m to sustain the Football Association.

While the Premier League would be reduced to 18 clubs, the Championship, League One and League Two would each retain 24 teams. The bottom two sides in the Premier League would be relegated automatically and the 16th-placed team would join the Championship play-offs.

Who is backing the plans?

No other clubs are yet on the record supporting the proposals created by Liverpool and Man Utd, BBC Sport reports. But “crucially” it has been approved by the EFL, says the Guardian.

Current EFL boss Rick Parry, who was the original Premier League CEO and a former chief executive of Liverpool, has publicly endorsed the project and calls it a “great idea”. 

Parry said: “This is two of our great clubs showing leadership and exercising responsibility. The message from Liverpool and Manchester United is that they do genuinely care about the pyramid. 

“The Premier League could have come up with a plan like this at any time. How long has it taken to get a rescue package? Months. It was May when the government was saying we need the Premier League to step up to the plate. What’s wrong with us talking about a plan that is demonstrably in the best interest of the pyramid and our clubs? We genuinely think that this is in the best interests of the game as a whole.”

Who is against it?

The Premier League says the proposed plans could have a “damaging impact”.

A statement read: “Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute. In the Premier League’s view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support. 

“The Premier League has been working in good faith with its clubs and the EFL to seek a resolution to the requirement for Covid-19 rescue funding. This work will continue.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was “surprised and disappointed” by “backroom deals being cooked up”, the BBC reports. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Breakfast: “Now is not the right time. The challenge facing football is ensuring particularly the EFL has the resources to enable its clubs to survive. This deal does not command support throughout the Premier League at all.

“There are the resources there. I have to say that if they can’t get together and work together to sort this out, we will have to return to what we promised in our manifesto, which is a fan-led review of football governance because I think many fans will be concerned about what they are reading today.”

How the football media reacted 

Project Big Picture dominates today’s newspaper back pages. The Guardian says football is “at war” with the big clubs’ plan to reshape the game sparking Premier League “anger”. The Daily Star says it’s “revolting” and the project has caused a “big stink” while The Times reports the “fury” at the plans. 

In the Daily Mail Martin Samuel says Liverpool and United’s Project Big Picture is “nothing but a disgusting power grab”.

He wrote: “This is about six clubs controlling the wealth and seizing the power, right down to deciding who gets into their competition. This is about closed shop protectionism that will end the Premier League as a vibrant competition. This is about getting your round in with another man’s money.

“Project Big Picture? Far from saving our game, all it would do is reduce. Reduce what makes football fun. Reduce its unpredictability, reduce the excitement, reduce the chances for Wolves or Leicester or Aston Villa. Reduce the hope of a change of ownership at Newcastle. Reduce your chances of promotion. Reduce your hopes of success if you get there. Reduce, reduce, reduce.” 

The Telegraph’s chief football correspondent Jason Burt agrees that the “brazen power grab” is a “hostile takeover spun as a rescue package”. He said: “We need to be clear this plan is not what it seems and would surrender control of English football to six clubs and empower them as a cartel.”

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