The Premier League descended into civil war on Sunday following the emergence of secret plans for a radical restructure of the top flight hatched by Liverpool and Manchester United.
On an extraordinary day, the Premier League executive also launched a scathing attack on EFL chairman Rick Parry for supporting Project Big Picture, which would cut the division to 18 clubs, restrict relegation and give the Big Six unfettered power to make further changes.
The Government condemned those involved for indulging in a ‘backroom deal that would create a closed shop at the top of the game’.
The Premier League went into civil war as plans for ‘Project Big Picture’ were revealed
Liverpool, ran by John W Henry (left), are looking to reduce the league from 20 teams to 18
The open hostility of the Premier League and many of their clubs to proposals developed by Liverpool owner John Henry and his United counterpart Joel Glazer, with input from Parry, are likely to kill them at birth.
One Premier League source accused Parry of attempting to mount a hostile takeover of the richest league in the world by proposing an agreement to collectively sell the media rights for all four divisions, and allegedly offering the Big Six a guarantee they could be accommodated in the Championship if the other 14 clubs refused to co-operate.
‘In the Premier League’s view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game,’ they said in a statement. ‘We are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.’
Man United and the Glazers (above) are working with Liverpool to push through the plans
EFL chairman Rick Parry (above) has given his seal of approval towards the plans
The Government’s response was equally dismissive, although more surprising given it is an internal dispute between two privately run sporting organisations.
The row threatens to further jeopardise the chances of lower-league clubs receiving financial assistance to help them cope with the Covid-19 crisis, as the Government have made it clear they will not help and relations between the Premier League and EFL are increasingly fraught.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘We are surprised and disappointed that at a time of crisis, when we have urged the top tiers of professional football to come together and finalise a deal to help lower-league clubs, there appear to be backroom deals being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game.
‘Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling.
‘Fans must be at the front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan-led review of football governance will be so critical.’
The radical proposals, revealed on the Daily Telegraph website on Sunday morning, sprung from conversations that have been on-going between Henry and Glazer since 2017.
Parry became involved in the past six months in return for securing a £250million bailout for the EFL and a pledge to abolish parachute payments, which he believes will provide greater financial stability in the lower divisions.
Chelsea and Tottenham are also understood to be on board after their chairmen, Bruce Buck and Daniel Levy respectively, were brought into the discussions last week.
Members of the Premier League ‘Big Six’ met on Thursday to discuss the proposals
A wider meeting of the Big Six held on Thursday, which also involved Manchester City and Arsenal, broke up without an agreement being reached.
The rest of the Premier League only learned of the controversial plans yesterday, with their reactions varying from shell-shock to resentment at their perception the Big Six have been plotting behind their backs.
In addition to reducing the division to 18 clubs, a proposal to give special status to the nine with the longest unbroken Premier League stays — with the votes of just six of those clubs required to introduce major changes rather than the 14 needed at present — is the biggest source of tension.
Sportsmail has been told Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion would not vote for a smaller Premier League under any circumstances, while given their recent history of relegation, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham are also extremely sceptical.
Many of the other 14 top-flight clubs have said they will reject all plans to reduce the league
Liverpool and United are planning to focus their lobbying efforts on the upwardly mobile Premier League clubs who have enjoyed recent success, such as Leicester City, Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there is no guarantee that they will buy into the plan.
The fact that West Ham are opposed to the idea, despite the offer of ‘long-term shareholder’ status along with the Big Six, Everton and Southampton — is indicative of the difficulties facing the reformists.
In the Project Big Picture document belatedly sent to clubs yesterday, a start date of 2022-23 is set for the new structure, which would involve four clubs being relegated from the Premier League and just two promoted from the Championship in the previous season. But it is clear that the proposal will have to be substantially changed in order to gain significant support.
Promotion and relegation between the EFL (above) and the Premier League will be altered
The proposal to effectively give the Big Six a right of veto on future ownership changes, in particular, appears to be a non-starter, and it seemed telling that it was left to Parry rather than any representative from Liverpool or Manchester United to defend the plans yesterday.
‘This is the biggest reset since the formation of the Premier League and will set up the pyramid for the next 20 years,’ he claimed.
‘No one is suggesting it’s going to be entirely straightforward to get this through, but there’s as much logic in it for the other 14 Premier League clubs as those in the Championship, as it removes the cliff edge.
‘This will narrow the gap and, given a majority of those clubs will be in the Championship at some point, it will benefit them.
‘I find it difficult to reconcile our thoughts with the Government’s position, but it won’t deter us.’