How could Project Big Picture affect Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 17:12 12 October 2020 | UPDATED: 17:21 12 October 2020
Following the emergence of Project Big Picture, our chief Norwich City reporter David Freezer assesses how the controversial plans could potentially affect the Canaries.
If you saw an old man on the floor, after his walking stick had slipped on a wet floor, would you help him up? Or would you tell him you’ll only help him up if he agrees to sign over his mortgage and pension first?
It’s one of many analogies you could use to describe Project Big Picture, the suspiciously brazen ‘power grab’ that has caused uproar in English football at the most unhelpful of times – since the plan being driven by Liverpool and Manchester United was revealed in the Sunday Telegraph.
That such unscrupulous and cold tactics could be employed by the big boys of the Premier League should come as absolutely no surprise. This is big business and huge profits aren’t made by caring who was trampled over to reach financial dominance, let alone sporting success.
Yet with so many EFL and National League clubs not sure how they will survive without spectators in their stadiums – a ruthless offer has been made, a Faustian pact put forward.
But what does it all mean from a Norwich City perspective?
The most obvious starting point is the proposal to reduce the top flight to 18 teams, with the Championship, League One and League Two remaining at 24 apiece but two clubs forced out of the trap door to reduce the professional cohort to 90.
In the last two decades the Canaries have been promoted to the Premier League four times and relegated four times, so that’s an immediate red flag, before you even get into City’s attempts to operate self-sufficiently and the brutal reality they experienced of trying to compete on the billionaires’ playground as mere millionaires last season.
This would see two teams relegated and replaced by the Championship’s top two, but the 16th placed side having to compete in the play-offs to survive, against the clubs that finished third, fourth and fifth – similar to the structures of the 18-team top flights of Germany, France and Holland.
Germany, Holland and Spain also allow B teams in their lower divisions however. Indeed, Norwich boss Daniel Farke and defender Christoph Zimmermann both joined from Borussia Dortmund II and most of the players brought to the club from Germany have played for similar teams, such as Onel Hernandez for Wolfsburg II and Mario Vrancic for Mainz II.
So the inclusion of PL clubs being allowed to have 15 players out on loan domestically and up to four at a single club, have sparked plenty of fresh concern about B teams – particularly as it has arrived just a few days after Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano had spoken about the need for B teams if the EFL is to become “sustainable”.
That element is set against Fifa’s intention to bring in a limit of eight international loans of players over the age of 22, both in and out, as an effort to prevent the top clubs hoarding players as financial assets.
The scrapping of the League Cup is also suggested, a competition Norwich have reached the final of on four occasions, winning in 1962 and 1985.
It’s a competition which has provided many happy memories along the way but if it was squeezed out of the hectic football calendar, it would be no great surprise, given its comparative lack of financial worth and gradual decline in importance.
However, the carrot on the end of the stick is the cash incentive being offered, a prospective fairer distribution of the money generated at the top of the English pyramid.
EFL chairman Rick Parry – who is backing the plan – has stated that Championship clubs received £146million in EFL distributions and Premier League solidarity payments in 2018-19, compared with £1.56billion received by the bottom 14 Premier League clubs.
He also pointed out parachute payments to the three clubs relegated from the top tier amount to around one-third of the total annual Championship turnover, creating further imbalance.
So the offer is for a bigger slice of the pie, with 25 percent of distributable revenues to be spread among EFL clubs instead, reducing the percentage shared by PL clubs to 75pc – raising annual income by £15.5m for Championship clubs.
There’s even a carrot on the stick for fans – of away tickets being capped at £20, away travel being subsidised and safe-standing sections becoming a priority – as well as for the Football Association, non-league and the women’s game.
All of that with a cash injection of £250m, a bailout during these unprecedented times, brought about by a pandemic which has claimed over one million lives worldwide and brought about drastic economic hardship.
Now for the small print, to be read very quickly and quietly, like at the end of adverts for those horrendous pay-day loan companies.
All you have to do is agree for the equal voting rights of Premier League clubs to end and to hand power over to the nine longest-serving clubs that regularly dominate the top half and have already made it a competition which is incredibly difficult for the smaller clubs to break into, unless they can find themselves a sugar mummy or daddy who likes to splash the cash.
Those nine clubs, as global giants Liverpool and Manchester United have boldly pitched, with Chelsea reportedly also close behind after extended talks, would then essentially have control. And as shown during Project Restart – hello, old friend – Premier League clubs are never driven by self-interest...
Norwich City enter these conversations as one of the few clubs in the country in a relatively stable financial situation, in spite of an estimated loss of expected income upwards of £12m due to behind-closed-doors matches, thanks in part to the combined sales of Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey being worth over £40m.
Yet for any of this to truly matter, Project Big Picture would need 14 of the 20 clubs to vote in favour. Are clubs like Fulham, West Brom, Leeds and Aston Villa going to vote for the end of parachute payments, knowing how precarious top-flight status is and the financial cliff edge that relegation represents?
The government and Premier League have immediately distanced themselves from the plans – yet its architects clearly wanted to make a splash, in the way such an important project was revealed through the media, one that Parry has reportedly worked on since he was Premier League chief executive in the 1990s, later going to hold the same position at Liverpool.
It is just the start of negotiations, like with any big deal, the expected final outcome will almost certainly have been a diluted version of this initial pitch. Finding that middle ground looks to be a long way off currently though.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The EFL may be correct in making that admission on behalf of clubs but the lifeboat which has turned up has holes in – with shark infested waters needing to be navigated.