Football

English Premier League clubs reject ‘Project Big Picture’

English Premier League also agrees to offer a rescue package for lower-tier clubs

English Premier League clubs have rejected plans put forward by Liverpool and Manchester United for radical changes to the league's structures and finances and instead set up their own review of the game yesterday.

The "Project Big Picture" proposals would see an increase in funding for the 72 clubs in the Football League (EFL) but also include special voting rights for the top clubs in the EPL and a reduction of teams in the top flight from 20 to 18.

The plan has been fronted by EFL chairman Rick Parry and would have included a £250 million (S$441.9m) bailout for his clubs, who face acute financial issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But at yesterday's meeting of all 20 EPL clubs, the plans were rejected, with a separate, broader-based review by the entire league initiated and a more limited bailout agreed for lower division clubs.

"All 20 Premier League clubs today unanimously agreed that Project Big Picture will not be endorsed or pursued by the Premier League, or The FA," the league said in a statement.

"Further, Premier League Shareholders agreed to work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football, consulting with all stakeholders to ensure a vibrant, competitive and sustainable football pyramid."

The process will include the FA, the British government and the EFL, added the statement.

The EPL also said they had agreed to offer a rescue package to League One and League Two (third- and fourth-tier clubs).

"This offer will consist of grants and interest-free loans totalling a further £50m on top of the £27.2m solidarity payments already advanced to League One and League Two this year, making a total of £77.2m.

"Discussions will also continue with the EFL regarding Championship clubs' financial needs. This addresses government concerns about lower league clubs' financial fragility," said the statement.

BREAKAWAY

Earlier, English FA chairman Greg Clarke said he had been involved in initial discussions for "Project Big Picture" with the top clubs but left them after they began to discuss the possibility of a breakaway.

"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, I of course, discontinued my involvement," Clarke said in an open letter on the FA's website.

EFL chairman Rick Parry was asked by a reporter on Sunday whether he had offered the "Big Six" - Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal - the opportunity to leave the EPL and join with EFL clubs. Parry declined to comment.

Clarke added a reminder in his letter that the FA, as the English game's governing body, has the power to block any changes and made a warning about the risks clubs would take about Champions League participation.

While several owners of third- and fourth-tier clubs have been enthusiastic about "Project Big Picture", Peter Ridsdale, the owner's representative at Championship (second-tier) club Preston North End, said that he was wary of the big clubs.

"If I'm absolutely frank, do I trust the top six today irrespective of these proposals? No, I don't. I don't think some of them believe in the pyramid," he said.

"I think some of them believe in a franchise system like you see in the (United) States.

"However, at the moment, what we have is an offer to assist the pyramid which wasn't on the table." - REUTERS

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