The Football League chairman Rick Parry has spoken out in favour of a radical shake-up of the English football pyramid proposed by Liverpool and Manchester United – a prospect which he called “as big as the formation of the Premier League”.
The nation’s two most successful clubs have secretly been working together for over three years on the plan for the Premier League to hand over a £250million bailout to lower league clubs and a £100million gift to the FA – in exchange for cutting the Premier League to 18 teams, scrapping the League Cup and Community Shield and, crucially, more control over the rules governing the top flight.
The so-called ‘Project Big Picture’ would provide badly-needed support to teams hit hard financially by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as more long-term funding to smaller outfits, and would change the Premier League’s voting system to give more control to the multibillionaire ‘big six’ clubs, which also include European giants Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Parry, who is a former chief executive of Liverpool, told The Telegraph , which first reported the plan, he thinks the EFL clubs he now represents will be grateful for the “leadership” being shown by “our two greatest clubs”.
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He said: “For me this addresses the three biggest challenges the EFL faces. This started pre-Covid – it addressed the gulf between top and bottom and the long-term survival of our smaller clubs. You cannot do this without a major rethink.”
Asked about the potential criticism of the proposals that they pass too much power on to the very biggest clubs at the expense of those which are financially self-sufficient but not regular Champions League players, like Aston Villa or Newcastle United, Parry insisted that no idea was perfect but his priority remained protecting EFL teams.
“Yes, there are bits that people won’t like. What do we do? Leave it exactly as it is and allow the smaller clubs to wither?,” he said. Or do we do something about it? And you can’t do something about it without something changing. And the view of our clubs is if the [big] six get some benefits but the 72 also do, then we are up for it.”
Parry also claimed that clubs which have been virtually ever-present in the Premier League deserved more of a say than teams which come and go: “They are frustrated that they get outvoted… how can Huddersfield have the same vote as Man United? How can Blackpool come up [and] have the same vote as Man United and Liverpool?”
However, the Premier League itself has responded angrily to Parry’s public praise for the plan.
It said in a statement: “A number of the individual proposals in the plan published today 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.”
Parry later released a statement via the EFL and said: “The need for a complete rethinking regarding the funding of English professional football predates the Covid-19 crisis. Discussion and planning around ‘Project Big Picture’ has been ongoing for quite some time, unrelated to the current pandemic but now has an urgency that simply cannot be denied.
“The revenues flowing from the investment and work of our top clubs has been largely limited to the top division creating a sort of lottery, while Championship clubs struggle to behave prudently and Leagues One and Two are financially stretched despite enormous revenues English football generates. This plan devised by our top clubs and the English Football League puts an end to all of that.
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“The gap between the Premier League and the English Football League has become a chasm which has become unbridgeable for Clubs transitioning between the EFL and Premier League. In 2018/19, Championship clubs received £146 million in EFL distributions and Premier League solidarity payments. This compares with £1.58 billion received by the bottom 14 Premier League clubs – 11 times as much.
“At the same time, Parachute Payments received by the eight recently relegated clubs totalled £246 million. This represents one-third of the total Championship turnover and creates a major distortion that impacts the League annually.
“In an effort to achieve promotion from very small media monies in the Championship to extraordinary sums at the bottom of the Premier League, Championship clubs spent 107% of their income on wages last season, a figure that is unsustainable by any analysis but by no means a new phenomenon. The figure has been 99% or above in each of the last four seasons. Consequently, our Clubs incurred operating losses of £382 million last season.
“In the last 12 months, owners have had to inject some £384 million in capital – all before a pandemic created the current financial crisis and impacted Clubs, alongside many of the businesses that help fund them.
“Project Big Picture takes a huge step by sharing 25% of Premier League media net revenues with the EFL in order to correct this imbalance going forward. Coupled with the introduction of strict cost controls, Clubs at every level of the EFL will become properly sustainable even in the face of a major crisis – and more importantly – beyond.
“Just as importantly, the financial gap between the bottom of the Premier League and the top of the Championship will be substantially reduced. This will create a much softer landing for relegated clubs. The elimination of Parachute Payments will create fairer competition and discourage irrational behaviour.
“The creation of a short-term rescue fund of £250 million to replace lost match day revenue this season and last will enable every Club to plan to continue to play and move forward with certainty. As an advance against increased, future revenues this is not a loan and therefore does not need to be repaid. It could never have been repaid under the existing terms and revenue of the English pyramid.
“Now is the time to address both the long-term health of the game and the most challenging short- term crisis it has ever faced. Project Big Picture provides a new beginning which will revitalise the football pyramid at all levels. This new beginning will reinvigorate clubs in the lower leagues and the communities in which they are based.
“The whole of English football has been negatively impacted by this pandemic and the English football pyramid as a whole is only as healthy as those at its base. Through this proposed restructuring we aim to strengthen those who need it most at a time when they need it most. This is about building on what is good and making the most of what works well in order to benefit the game as a whole, while simultaneously tackling those issues which trouble all of us. This is a blueprint for the future of English football and for everyone who cherishes it.”
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