Break­away threat by Pre­mier League elite trou­bles English FA

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Sports -

LEAD­ING clubs al­legedly threat­ened to quit the Pre­mier League in a bid to push through a trans­for­ma­tion of English soc­cer be­ing en­gi­neered by Liver­pool and Manch­ester United that would hand them more power and wealth.

Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Greg Clarke dis­closed the warn­ing by elite clubs as the rea­son he walked away from talks ear­lier this year on “Project Big Pic­ture,” which only be­come pub­lic on Sun­day.

The plans – if ap­proved – would pledge to re­dis­tribute more Pre­mier League cash to the 72 pro­fes­sional teams in the English Foot­ball League. But wo­ven into the pro­pos­als is a trans­for­ma­tion of the power struc­tures in the Pre­mier League – that is even an­ger­ing sup­port­ers of the elite clubs who would ben­e­fit the most. The num­ber of teams would re­duce from 20 to 18 from 2022, and the nine long­est-serving clubs would gain more con­trol – with only six hav­ing to ap­prove changes.

The FA could block the over­haul of com­pe­ti­tion, Clarke said, by us­ing its “Spe­cial Share” in the Pre­mier League, which was cre­ated in 1992 when it broke away from the EFL.

“In late spring, when 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 wrote to mem­bers of the FA Coun­cil, “I, of course, dis­con­tin­ued my in­volve­ment and coun­seled a more con­sen­sus-based ap­proach in­volv­ing all Pre­mier League clubs and its chair and CEO. Our game needs to con­tin­u­ally seek to im­prove but ben­e­fits need to be shared.”

The FA could also pre­vent rebel clubs from play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League. Clarke high­lighted how the FA has the “re­spon­si­bil­ity to sanc­tion com­pe­ti­tions in Eng­land – in­clud­ing any pro­posed new com­pe­ti­tion – as well as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for li­cens­ing clubs, through UEFA, to play in Europe.”

The Pre­mier League said the plans formed by Liver­pool and United’s Amer­i­can own­ers with EFL Chair­man Rick Parry would be dam­ag­ing for the English game, par­tic­u­larly as it could widen the dis­par­i­ties. Within Project Big Pic­ture are means for clubs to sell their own rights to live matches which would see the most pop­u­lar clubs gen­er­ate the most cash.

The elite could use their new­found power to later force through new changes to the struc­tures or dis­tri­bu­tion of rev­enue. Even EFL clubs back­ing the plans have sus­pi­cions, in­clud­ing Pre­ston, which won the first two edi­tions of the English cham­pi­onship in 1889 and 1890. “If I’m ab­so­lutely frank, do I trust the (Pre­mier League’s) top six to­day ir­re­spec­tive of these pro­pos­als? No I don’t,” said Peter Rids­dale, the ad­viser to Pre­ston’s owner, af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in a call be­tween clubs in the sec­ond-tier Cham­pi­onship. “I don’t think some of them be­lieve in the pyra­mid. I think some of them be­lieve in a fran­chise sys­tem like you see in the United States.”

That would see teams locked into the Pre­mier League with­out the threat of rel­e­ga­tion.

“Is it a con­cern? 100% it is,” Rids­dale said. “How­ever, to­day the Foot­ball League has got a unique op­por­tu­nity if this re­mains on the ta­ble to per­haps pro­tect the Foot­ball League in the long term, whereas at the mo­ment in the short term there is real dan­ger.”

Rids­dale knows about the Pre­mier League power mech­a­nisms - and fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties – af­ter be­ing chair­man of Leeds when it reached the Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nals in 2001 af­ter spend­ing be­yond its means and threat­en­ing the club’s sur­vival. Leeds was rel­e­gated from the Pre­mier League in 2004 and has only re­turned this sea­son.

“Go­ing for­ward it would be six clubs es­sen­tially that would de­ter­mine what would hap­pen to the Pre­mier League and, by def­i­ni­tion, English foot­ball,” Rids­dale said. “That’s the piece that clearly is miss­ing and needs re­solv­ing.”

Ahead of a vir­tual Pre­mier League meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, United and Liver­pool have not com­mented on the con­tentious plans and have left Parry to ad­vo­cate for them in pub­lic as anger as grown. Sup­port­ers’ groups at United, Liver­pool, Chelsea, Ar­se­nal, Tot­ten­ham and Manch­ester City said they are “to­tally op­posed to con­cen­trat­ing power in the hands of six bil­lion­aire own­ers” and end­ing the col­lec­tive ethos of the league.

“This part of the pro­posal must be dropped im­me­di­ately if other el­e­ments are to be given se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion,” they said in a state­ment.

The FA is re­sist­ing the re­vamp de­spite the prom­ise of a gift of 100 mil­lion pounds ($130 mil­lion) to help the gov­ern­ing body deal with the im­pact of the pan­demic and pro­vide an an­nual cut of rev­enue.

“There is more to our game than eco­nomics,” Clarke said. “Change must ben­e­fit clubs, fans and play­ers; not just se­lec­tive bal­ance sheets. In these dif­fi­cult times unity, trans­parency and com­mon pur­pose must over­ride the in­ter­ests of the few.”

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