Robin Sainty: Football needs change - but not at that price

Their ownership of Manchester United isn't the only thing for which the Glazers are unpopular Pictur

Their ownership of Manchester United isn't the only thing for which the Glazers are unpopular Picture: PA - Credit: PA

With the nation firmly in the grip of a second wave of Covid-19 and some EFL clubs reportedly within weeks of disappearing, what better time could there be for Liverpool and Manchester United, aka Fenway Sports Group and the Glazer family, to attempt a blatant power grab of our national game?

Looking after the silver ... Liverpool owner John W Henry Picture: PA

Looking after the silver ... Liverpool owner John W Henry Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Project Big Picture may have sounded impressively philanthropic, but it was anything but as the biggest beneficiaries would inevitably have been the big clubs who would gain greatly while giving relatively little away in practice.

The carrot dangled to get desperate EFL clubs onside was the apparently magnanimous gifting of £250m plus a net 25pc of future TV revenues to the EFL, but in reality, much of that cost would have been offset by reducing the Premier League to 18 teams and scrapping parachute payments.

In return, the two American-owned architects of the deal, along with a handful of other clubs, would effectively have been given the power to override the current requirement for a 14-club majority on key Premier League decisions, including how future TV rights revenue would be distributed, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite having vehemently rejected the suggestion that foreign owners wanted to scrap relegation back in 2011, in a recent interview with SportsPro Liverpool owner John W Henry said: “It’s much more difficult to ask independent clubs to subsidise their competitors beyond a certain point when you have relegation and especially with the way media is rapidly changing and being consumed today.”

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I don’t think the fact that the big clubs would like to make the Premier League a closed shop, or to reduce league fixtures to allow them to play more lucrative European games (the first step towards a European Super League) and embark on money spinning tours to exploit their overseas markets will come as a surprise to anyone who follows football, but if their vision had been implemented it would have been a further nail in the coffin of the English game.

The likes of Henry and the Glazers have little concept of the importance of football clubs to their communities, particularly in the lower leagues, coming as they do from the USA where sport franchises are happy to relocate if a different city offers them a more lucrative deal.

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Ultimately, they are businessmen, and their motivation is to make money, not consider whether a lower league club with over a century of history is a vital part of its community’s social structure.

The Glazers have extracted nearly £1bn from Manchester United since a takeover funded by loading over £500m of debt onto a previously debt-free club yet tried to present themselves as benevolent and trustworthy guardians of the football pyramid. Fortunately, while EFL clubs took the bait, the Premier League didn’t.

Whilst the pandemic was the financial trigger which emboldened them to float their plan, the reality is that a combination of Premier League greed, financial recklessness, the pathetically inadequate Financial Fair Play rules and weak leadership from football’s governing bodies has allowed many EFL clubs to live beyond their means for many years.

Realistically, many of the EFL’s wounds are self-inflicted and so Project Big Picture looked like a get out of jail free card to many of its clubs, but its real effect is actually likely to be to force the government and the Premier League to finally accept the urgency of the need to find a workable way of bailing out the EFL.

However, although a quick fix is now imperative it simply must be followed by the implementation of the government’s manifesto pledge of a fan-led review of football governance rather than a return to the status quo ante and a repeat of the mistakes that got us here in the first place.

Change is no longer simply desirable; it has become essential for the game’s future health.

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