The ‘Project Big Picture’ plot exposed by the Daily Telegraph on Sunday sent shockwaves through English football and plunged some of its leading figures into civil war. Here are the key battlegrounds over the past week in a power struggle that shook the foundations of the pyramid:
Liverpool and United v Rest of the Premier League
What threatened to become all-out-war on Sunday was reduced to a walkover by Wednesday as Liverpool and United conceded their plans were, as rivals described, “dead in the water”.
Hopes of a box office bloodlust were put to bed by Monday. The other four members of the “Big Six” – Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City – refused to say whether they backed the plan. And while there was plenty of off-record briefing against the proposals amongst the other 14 clubs, only Aston Villa and Brighton went public with their concerns about the plans ahead of Wednesday’s crunch meeting of the clubs.
The shareholders’ video call then effectively became a counselling session for a marriage blip. There was no presentation from Liverpool’s chairman Tom Werner as had been expected. Instead there were opening remarks from the Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, emphasising the need for solidarity.
Denise Barrett-Baxendale, the Everton chief executive, Susan Whelan, the Leicester City chief executive, and Baroness Brady, the West Ham executive vice-chair, also spoke forcefully against the proposals.
The chief line of defence from Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman, was that PBP was simply a set of ideas that the clubs had been formulating in private.
But it was far from a fight to keep the concept alive from United and Liverpool, who instead agreed to reject PBP and was no need to even vote on the matter.
Premier League TV rights are likely to be edging below £1.4billion in the next domestic rights sell-off in months but as far as the clubs are concerned, it is far from the time to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
Clarke v Parry
It has gone nuclear between EFL chairman Rick Parry, one of the key architects of the failed coup with Liverpool and Manchester United, and Greg Clarke, the Football Association chairman who played a key role in torpedoing the proposals.
Parry’s sense of betrayed hinges on Clarke going public with claims that he walked away from early talks because the two clubs were planning to hold rivals to ransom. In a published letter to the FA Council on Tuesday ahead of a crunch league meeting to discuss PBP, he wrote “the principal aim of these discussions became the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs with a breakaway league mooted as a threat”. Clarke did not specify the date at which talks turned to a breakaway, instead saying it was in “late Spring”. He said he “counselled a more consensus-based approach involving all Premier League clubs and its Chair and CEO”.
It proved a pivotal intervention. The next day PBP was formally vetoed at the Premier League shareholders’ meeting with United and Liverpool barely putting up a fight.
Cue outrage from Parry, who fired off an email within an hour of the vote to the EFL Board in a bid to set the record straight. Instead, says Parry, it was Clarke who first floated proposals for a ‘Premier League 2’ and B-teams in the Football League during talks in February with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. To prove his point, he attached the draft of proposals authored by Clarke.
The Telegraph on Thursday. After tit-for-tat attacks, neither has emerged with their credibility entirely intact.” data-reactid=”45″ type=”text”>”It was Greg who initiated this process,” wrote Parry in an email leaked to The Telegraph on Thursday. After tit-for-tat attacks, neither has emerged with their credibility entirely intact.
Parry v Masters
Seeing off Parry and PBP within a week was a critical victory in the early tenure of Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive. A power grab was the last thing he needed after a summer dealing with a potential £1.5billion black hole and facing criticism over the saga surrounding the collapsed Newcastle takeover.
Masters went public with its frustration at Parry within hours of The Telegraph disclosing details of the clandestine revolution. What really stuck in the craw was Parry’s subsequent cheerleading for PBP at a critical time during bail-out negotiations. What a waste of time those weeks of meetings had been when Parry was planning this.
There was no apology from Parry, who instead wrote to his Board on Wednesday to make clear that Masters had been invited to talks as long ago as February, but declined. However, after the proposals fell flat at a Premier League shareholders’ meeting, a relieved Masters suggested he would be willing to work with Parry again. “We have to have a constructive relationship with the EFL” he said when asked about their relationship. “We have no beef with the EFL.”
Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman was less conciliatory in a letter to he sent to the EFL that same night referring to Parry “deliberately” creating “division and put in jeopardy a much-needed rescue package for EFL clubs”.
Despite Hoffman’s intervention, the Premier League’s £20million grant to clubs in League One and Two with the possibility of a further £30m in loans to follow was rejected on Thursday. For Masters and Parry, the negotiations are back to square one.
The 92 v Government
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, said the Premier League’s offer of assistance to the EFL clubs in Leagues One and Two was “a good start”, but frustration is mounting again in Whitehall after the offer was rejected.
The Government first said in May that football’s elite can afford to ensure that smaller clubs avoid financial catastrophe during Covid. Mr Dowden this week cited the £1.2billion spending by clubs in the summer transfer window as proof. Mr Dowden added this week that he is “not massively impressed” by the £14.95 pay-per-view arrangement to ensure all games are screened while matches remain behind-closed-doors. “All these things, they jar with this idea of coming together during this period of crisis,” he said.
Threats of a fan-led commission, as outlined in the Conservative manifesto, had so far fallen on deaf ears, however, as the Premier League remains dismayed by the Government’s reluctance to in turn help its cause. “Amazon aren’t being told to bail out the High Street,” is the mantra of one executive.
What irks the Premier League most is the ongoing refusal to let fans back inside stadiums while venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and the O2 welcome back crowds of up to 5,000. Mr Dowden this week acknowledged “frustration at inconsistencies”.
However, tensions with the Premier League have eased in recent days as the clubs vehemently opposed PBP – described by Mr Dowden as “Project Power Grab” – and then announced they were reviewing “future structures”.
A more immediate headache facing Government is further down the pyramid. Several chairmen expressed grave concerns that clubs would be unable to pay PAYE bills unless demands were deferred or a more substantial bail-out agreed.
In the short-term, ministers will face calls from the EFL to force the Premier League into upping its offer. In the long term, however, a fan-led review, or even the independent regulator championed by Gary Neville, appears to be edging closer.
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