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Stuart Watson: ‘Project Big Picture’ represents repression, not revitalisation – Do they think we’re stupid?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 October 2020

EFL chairman Rick Parry has backed Manchester United and Liverpool led 'Project Big Picture'. Photo: PA

EFL chairman Rick Parry has backed Manchester United and Liverpool led 'Project Big Picture'. Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Details of ‘Project Big Picture’ were revealed this weekend as the football looks to find a way through the Covid-19 financial crisis. Chief football writer STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.

Liverpool owner John W. Henry (left) and chairman Tom Werner. Photo: PALiverpool owner John W. Henry (left) and chairman Tom Werner. Photo: PA

“Yes, and we’ll even call it ‘Project Bigger Picture’!”

You can almost hear the guffaws in the room as the dark Lords of English football pat each on the back for being so very clever with this wolf in sheep’s clothing ‘rescue package’.

Except it wouldn’t be pats on the back, it would be high fives. “Great job guys!”

For Manchester United and Liverpool, read Malcolm Glazer and John Henry. The Americans have woken up to the fact that ‘soccer’ has a far greater global reach than the NFL. They’ve been plotting ways to put more power into fewer hands for some time. Now the perfect opportunity has presented itself. Now, with all financial pressures associated with a global pandemic, they might just be able to get turkeys to vote for Christmas.

EFL chairman Rick Parry (right), pictured with Steven Gerrard during his days as Liverpool's chief executive. Photo: PAEFL chairman Rick Parry (right), pictured with Steven Gerrard during his days as Liverpool's chief executive. Photo: PA

I’ll join the swathes of out-raged football fans and commentators for calling out ‘Project Big Picture’ for what it is. A shameless, cynical, opportunistic power grab from those at the top.

There’s nothing altruistic about this. It’s repression, not revitalisation. It’s charity laced with caveats. It’s cash for power. And there will be no turning back once the sugar-coated pill has been swallowed.

It feels like that moment in Game of Thrones during the ‘Red Wedding’ episode when Catelyn Stark sees a glimpse of chain mail under Roose Bolton’s sleeve. We’ve walked into a trap and now there’s no turning back.

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First up, let’s start with the £350m donation to EFL clubs and The FA to get them through these immediate choppy financial waters. A lot of money, yes. It’s all about context though. Manchester United were prepared to spend more than a quarter of that alone on Jaydon Sancho. Arsenal are currently paying Mezut Ozil £18m a year to do nothing.

In short, pocket change has been required to get to the negotiating table.

Next, let’s look at the proposed new revenue sharing system, whereby EFL clubs will receive 25% of future TV deals. Great! That’s certainly not an amount to be sniffed at. But, in reality, it only represents a fairer redistribution of Parachute Payments (which were a big part of the reason behind the pyramid’s current horrible, unsustainable financial mess anyway).

So there’s not a lot really being conceded and everything to gain for the big boys.

'Project Big Picture' would make fairytale stories like Leicester City winning the Premier League all more unlikely. Photo: PA'Project Big Picture' would make fairytale stories like Leicester City winning the Premier League all more unlikely. Photo: PA

Just imagine what they’ll be able to do with their extra voting power. Vetoing takeovers to prevent any other pesky clubs trying to muscle in at the top, including ‘B’ teams in the lower leagues and finally getting to play league fixtures played abroad. That could all be just the tip of the iceberg. We already know they want to scrap the EFL Cup (which can be a vital revenue stream for lower league clubs).

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The bare-faced cheek of it would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly depressing. Do they think we’re stupid?

It’s the latest example of ‘beautiful game, horrible business’.

Jamie Vardy is one of several Premier League stars who climbed their way up the English football pyramid. Photo: PAJamie Vardy is one of several Premier League stars who climbed their way up the English football pyramid. Photo: PA

World Cups going to Russia and Qatar – ‘to extend the global reach of the game’ – millions of pounds exiting the game to agents, the moaning about fixture congestion but acceptance of far-flung summer tours and toothless Financial Fair Play rules which should have got this mess under control a long time ago... Want me to go on?

A gradual watering down of the FA Cup, crazy kick-off times, the closed shop of the Elite Player Performance Programme (whereby the Category One clubs can poach the best young players for peanuts but charge the earth for clubs to develop their own players as loanees) and the fact that Under-21 sides are invited into the EFL Trophy (all under the guise of ‘helping develop English talent’).

Oh, and the EFL’s chairman Rick Parry (a Liverpool fan, a former Liverpool CEO and former Premier League CEO) is one of the first to back this project when he should be the very one championing the strength and power of the body and brand he represents (the Championship had more fans through the gates than both La Liga and Serie A in 2016/17).

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West Ham defender Aaron Cresswell played in League One for Tranmere and in the Championship for Ipswich Town. Photo: PAWest Ham defender Aaron Cresswell played in League One for Tranmere and in the Championship for Ipswich Town. Photo: PA

I’m sick of the sense of entitlement at the top. I’m sick of all the mis-direction. It stinks.

Without a strong pyramid structure then the Premier Leagues is nothing. Dozens of top-flight stars were made further down the chain. Jamie Vardy is the prime example. Go through the backgrounds of all the England squad. And take players who have passed through our own club, Ipswich, as an example. Tyrone Mings, Adam Webster, David McGoldrick and Aaron Cresswell – all played at various steps of the pyramid on their way to the top.

Saving the pyramid with some loose change and then having a deep re-think of the financial distribution should have come without pauses and clauses in the current emergency climate.

Instead we’ve heard delusional and patronising claptrap from the likes of Crystal Palace chief Steve Parish about ‘supermarkets not being expected to bail out cornershops’ (a ridiculous comparison) and Man City chief Ferran Soriano about the need for Premier League B teams in the pyramid because ‘we have a development gap of boys that are 17 or 18 where they don’t find the right place to develop.’ Don’t scoop up so many up then!

They’re all blinded by self-interest. And that’s the utter irony of ‘Project Bigger Picture’.


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