Premier League chiefs have called for unity after leading clubs discussed an overhaul that would trigger the most radical changes to English football in decades.
A Daily Telegraph report on Sunday said Liverpool and Manchester United have been driving talks on ‘Project Big Picture’, which would rank as the biggest revamp of the sport since the Premier League was launched in 1992.
Among the proposals being considered are a reduction in the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams, the abolition of the League Cup and the Community Shield and greater voting power for ‘big six’ clubs Liverpool, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.
In return for agreeing to those controversial ideas, the Premier League would reportedly give 25 per cent of its income to the 72 clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two.
It was suggested the Premier League would make a £250 million ($326 million) payment to the Football League to address the existing crisis, while the Football Association would receive what is being described as a £100 million “gift”.
Liverpool’s US owners, the Fenway Sports Group, came forward with the initial plan, which has been worked on by United co-chairman Joel Glazer, according to the report.
There will be debate over the proposals, which have come in response to the Football League’s request for financial aid to stave off the damaging economic impact of the coronavirus.
Football in England has been played behind closed doors since March because of the pandemic, with no sign of fans returning to stadiums until next year at the earliest.
English Football League chairman Rick Parry said the plan should be welcomed and revealed his organisation had been closely involved with the talks.
“Discussion and planning around ‘Project Big Picture’ has been ongoing for quite some time, unrelated to the current pandemic, but now has an urgency that simply cannot be denied,” Parry said.
“The revenues flowing from the investment and work of our top clubs has been largely limited to the top division creating a sort of lottery, while Championship clubs struggle to behave prudently and Leagues One and Two are financially stretched despite enormous revenues English football generates.
“This plan devised by our top clubs and the English Football League puts an end to all of that.”
But the Premier League hit back at Parry and distanced themselves from the scheme.
“Both the Premier League and The FA support a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game, including its competition structures, calendar and overall financing particularly in light of the effects of Covid-19,” a Premier League statement said.
“Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.
“In the Premier League’s view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, Chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.”
As the football world picked sides, the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport criticised the plan.
“We are surprised and disappointed that at a time of crisis when we have urged the top tiers of professional football to come together and finalise a deal to help lower-league clubs, there appear to be backroom deals being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game,” a DCMS spokesperson said.
“Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling.”
To reduce the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams, the report said four clubs would be relegated directly, with two promoted from the Championship.
In addition, there would be play-offs involving the team that finished 16th in the Premier League and those in third, fourth and fifth in the second tier.
The mooted change to voting would also infuriate smaller clubs in the top-flight.
The ‘big six’, along with Everton, West Ham and Southampton would be granted special status.
If six of those nine clubs vote in favour of a proposal, it would be passed.