EFL COLUMN: WHY DID PROJECT BIG PICTURE NOT GET THE SUPER LEAGUE TREATMENT?
“To me, it wasn’t acceptable, but at least it’s being discussed,” said Gary Neville on Monday Night Football in reference to the latest plan dreamt up by members of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ as they attempted to increase the influence and control they have over English Football.
“It was basically lambasted across the board for being a power grab by the big six, because that’s the point at the top that none of us can accept,” he continued. “What should have happened is that, yes, maybe the six clubs and the EFL should have introduced it in a different way. It shouldn’t have been leaked, it should have been presented properly and done behind the scenes.”
No need to re-wind your Sky boxes to last week’s on-air reaction to the Super League proposals regular viewers of the broadcast giants flagship football programme, this was Neville’s response to the attempted power grab that took place six months ago, known as Project Big Picture.
This week rightly saw widespread protesting against the formation of the Super League – a proposition by 12 of Europe’s best-known clubs to ringfence their own wealth and undermine both the Champions League and several of Europe’s domestic leagues – before the project was emphatically scaled back after nine of the founding member clubs pulled out.
The Super League would have likely seen the television broadcast money that flows down the football pyramid dry up, whilst also undermining the fundamental principles of the over-a-century-old league system by ensuring six English clubs would have qualified regardless of where they finished in domestic competition.
It is therefore no great surprise that opposition to the proposal was fierce and widespread, but was it really that much worse of an idea than Big Picture?
Big Picture was offering a cap on away ticket prices, a greater proportion of Premier League revenue to be given to EFL clubs and, most significantly, a £250 million relief fund for clubs in the Football League struggling to cope with the financial implications of Covid-19.
These are of course all ideas that would likely benefit the game, explaining why Neville and others were willing to keep the proposal on the table, but they were simply an easy pay-off for the fundamental purpose of the project, similar to the way in which the Super League promised to promote the Women’s game and benefit clubs who weren’t invited to take part.
The plan – heavily backed by the owners of Manchester United and Liverpool – wanted to introduce a system by which the Premier League would have been reduced to 18 teams and nine of the remaining sides (Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Man United, Man City, Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham) would be given greater power to decide on rule changes, takeovers and how broadcast revenue is distributed.
Not only would this allow the top clubs to alter the system to suit them practically at will, but the fact that only six of the nine clubs needed to be in favour to vote through new legislation meant the ‘Big Six’ who ended up signing up for the Super League could have easily formed their own domestic cartel or even voted to allow themselves to join the breakaway league when the time was right.
In EFL terms, Big Picture would have seriously hampered the prospects of sides promoted from the Championship surviving in the Premier League, and it was therefore baffling that Chairman Rick Parry suggested the plan would be beneficial to English football as a whole.
Parry was heavily involved in the formation of the Premier League in 1992 and was Liverpool Chairman between 1998 and 2007, and although it would be too extreme to suggest he is not trying to work in the best interest of the three divisions he oversees, an EFL statement condemning the Super League as a “reform that doesn’t support competition integrity or offer Clubs the prospect of one day competing at the highest end of the game” makes it hard to understand why he was willing to openly defend a project that would likely have done something similar.
Even more worryingly, it has been reported that Parry is keen for Project Big Picture to be considered once again following the collapse of the Super League.
If anything, Big Picture was more opportunistic and exploitative than plans for a breakaway league. A Super League-style competition has been threatened for years now, with the plans seemingly brought forward last weekend due the mounting debts of the Spanish clubs involved and the impending ratification of UEFA’s Champions League reforms.
Big Picture tried to take advantage of the fact that EFL clubs were on their knees due to the financial impact of the pandemic in order to gain the ‘Big Six’ even more influence and control than they already have due to the fact that they held the purse strings.
As someone who spends most of their time watching, writing and talking about the three divisions directly below the Premier League, England’s top flight already feels like something of a closed-shop, Super League-style competition.
Of course, three new teams are welcomed into the world of vast riches and video assistant referees at the beginning of every season – usually replaced by three sides that are spat out into the EFL with a host of financial problems – but it already feels like a division that is effectively disconnected from the rest of the pyramid due to the eye-watering sums of money flying around and the disproportionate level of influence the clubs have over the those below them.
Perhaps it is naïve to think of the football pyramid as a living, breathing organism whereby all of its parts have to work with one another for the good of the collective, but the bare-faced greed that characterised the Super League proposal is ample proof that the owners of the clubs at the top of the English game should not be shaping the future of football in this country.
Ideas that football has been ‘saved’ thanks to the swift break-up of the Super League have rightly been dismissed, with issues ranging from how racism is dealt with to the price of watching your team still present for all to see.
Tackling these problems has to be the priority for all involved in football moving forward. Parry’s suggestion that introducing Project Big Picture will in any way help should be seen in the same light as Real Madrid President Florentino Perez’ attempts to defend the Super League on late night Spanish television – laughable in it’s absurdity.