Project Big Picture EXPLAINED: All you need to know about the plans

Project Big Picture EXPLAINED: All you need to know about Big Six’s scheme to shake up English football – including what it means for the fans, who the big winners are… and how the FA can VETO the breakaway

  • Manchester United and Liverpool are behind huge ‘Project Big Picture’ shake-up
  • They want to completely change the landscape of football in England’s top flight
  • Here, Sportsmail explains exactly what’s happening and who it will affect
  • We also look at the FA’s Golden Share, which could veto the plans immediately 

The sports headlines over the weekend were completely dominated by news of an extraordinary proposal by Liverpool and Manchester United to overhaul the Premier League.

In collaboration with the EFL chairman Rick Parry, the top-flight’s leading teams have drafted up plans for ‘Project Big Picture’, creating plenty of confusion and even more anger from fans and other clubs. 

Understandably, there are plenty of questions being asked about the proposals – so Sportsmail is here to answer all the big ones. Here goes… 

Liverpool (pictured) and Manchester United are behind plans for a huge top-flight shake-up

How do you sum this up quickly, then? Essentially, Manchester United and Liverpool are behind plans to make huge changes in English football, affecting not only the Premier League but also the EFL and below. 

It is a massive power grab designed to put all the big decisions in the hands of a select few clubs at the top of the tree. At the moment, all proposals are voted on by the 20 Premier League member clubs, but these plans will scrap that completely.

There are plans to restructure the football pyramid, scrap cup competitions, get rid of parachute payments and help EFL clubs through the coronavirus pandemic with an immediate financial boost. 

Members of the Premier League ‘Big Six’ are likely to be in favour of game-changing proposals

So what are the main changes being proposed? 

Okay, in a little bit more detail…

  • The Premier League will be cut from 20 to 18 teams, with the Championship, League One and League Two all keeping their usual 24 clubs
  • Nine ‘long term shareholders’ will be given the power and have special voting rights on all sorts of issues in the Premier League, including rule changes, who becomes chief executive, and even if a new owner can take over at another club 
  • A £350million rescue fund will be made immediately available to the EFL and Football Association for lost revenues for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons
  • The League Cup and the Community Shield will be completely abolished
  • Parachute payments will be scrapped and instead, 25 per cent of Premier League revenue will be distributed to the EFL
  • Promotion play-offs brought in, involving 16th-placed team in the Premier League, and 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Championship 
  • Funding will be provided to set up a new and independent women’s league 
  • Season to start later and pre-season friendlies extended 

The EFL Cup, won last season by Manchester City, could be scrapped as part of the proposals

Likewise the Community Shield, won by Arsenal back in August, could also be removed

Only ‘long-term shareholders’ can make major changes… what does that mean?

Well… currently, there is a 14-club majority voting system in place for all the big decisions in the Premier League. That means all 20 clubs get a say in any decision, and then if there is a voting majority of 14 clubs in favour, it is passed.

That has been the case throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when clubs came together to decide if and when to restart the league, how it would work, and what would happen if the season was scrapped. Of course, it’s worked perfectly so far – but these new proposals would completely change that.

Project Big Picture would put the decision-making in the hands of nine ‘long-term shareholders’, made up of the clubs with the longest-running stay in the top flight. That would give unprecedented power to the clubs at the top of the division, taking away all say from those below.

Everton and West Ham (pictured), as well as Southampton, would be involved in the decisions

So who are the nine clubs with controlling power? 

Currently it is the traditional Big Six – Liverpool and Manchester United (the two clubs behind the plans), Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea – as well as Everton, Southampton and West Ham.

To make it even harder for those below them to break into the decision-making group, ‘long-term shareholder’ status will be calculated over three seasons. So, for example, say Manchester United have a dreadful season… it’s okay, because they’ve got a couple of years of more successful seasons to take into account.

Therefore, for any of the big clubs to drop down the pecking order, it will take a sustained period of decline… which is not particularly likely if Project Big Picture comes to fruition. Once again, the big clubs lose nothing. 

So that’s good news for Everton, West Ham and Southampton then?

Well, you’d think so wouldn’t you? But, honestly, no. Of course, having voting rights is a positive for them and will give them an opportunity to stick up for their mid-table colleagues, but actually they won’t have too much of a say.

The plans state that of the nine teams voting, only six teams are needed to push through a decision. So if something benefits the Big Six, and is voted for by them, it doesn’t matter if Everton, West Ham and Southampton disagree – because they will have been outvoted. Power, as always, stays right at the very top. 

Who’s in favour and who’s against it so far? 

Given that it’s their baby, Manchester United and Liverpool are of course the most in-favour of the Project Big Picture plans. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the early indications are that Chelsea and Tottenham are also on board after their respective chairmen were brought into the discussions.

Other clubs’ responses, as revealed by Sportsmail on Sunday night, vary from shell-shock to complete resentment at being left out of the talks. 

We have been told that Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion would not vote for a smaller Premier League under any circumstances, while given their recent history of relegation, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham are also extremely sceptical.

EFL chairman Parry is another who has been involved in the talks, and he is completely backing the project. 

Rick Parry, the EFL chairman, has been heavily involved in the secret talks up to this point 

How long have these secret plans been in the pipeline? 

Incredibly, these talks have been ongoing for three years, but only came to light on Sunday. Manchester United’s owners, the Glazers, have been in discussions with Liverpool’s main man John W Henry, as well as Parry.

Parry also claimed on Sunday that Chelsea have been involved for some time, while the other Big Six clubs – Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City – were fully informed last week.

The Telegraph then broke the news on Sunday, and it was only then that the other Premier League clubs found out. Understandably, they were fuming and it has been met with considerable objection already. 

Liverpool, run by John W Henry (left), are among clubs looking to reduce league to 18 teams

Who are the big winners from the scheme?

No prizes for the answer to this question, of course. The top clubs. If these Project Big Picture plans get through, they will have wrestled all the power away from their smaller rivals to take the English game exactly where they want it.

They already moan about the League Cup and the Community Shield – claiming that they are unnecessary distractions – so they’d scrap those. Forget the fact that it gives smaller clubs a chance at a financial windfall and a rare chance at a trophy.

Still too many fixtures for the big boys with their European schedules to consider? Well, with the division down to 18 teams that takes away another four league games.

Make no bones about it, this is the Premier League’s Big Six trying to mould the game into exactly what they want it to be. 

Man United and the Glazers (above) are working with Liverpool to push through the plans

And who is losing out? 

What’s my word count, again? This could take a while. Pretty much everyone outside the Big Six. As Sportsmail’s chief sports writer Martin Samuel put it in his excellent column, there are plenty of incentives laid out for clubs outside the top six, but they are the sheep’s clothing disguising the wolf.

There is a £250m immediate windfall for the Football League, as well as £100m for the FA to cover losses and provide investment for the women’s game, the National League and grassroots football.

That’s short-term gain, of course, but they would also argue that there’s long-term benefits to the plans, too. In scrapping parachute payments, the project is pledging 25 per cent of Premier League revenue to the EFL. This would raise Championship income per club by £15.5m, League One income by £3.5m and League Two income by £2.3m. 

They are also capping away tickets at £20 and subsidising away travel, while there is a pledge to further explore safe standing. All good then, yeah? Well, no actually. 

This gives the top clubs their chance to finally break away from the rest of the pack, to put themselves so far ahead that they will never be caught. This is only the start, and will likely be followed by bigger decisions in the coming years. Decisions that they will be able to make with ease because they’ve got all the power.

Those nine clubs (well, six really) will make the rules, shape the game, decide who gets what, and decide who gets in. To quote Martin Samuel once more, it delivers the bulk of the money into the ‘greasy mitts of an over-privileged, over-entitled elite.’ 

Chief executives like Paul Barber of Brighton (pictured) are likely to be against the plans

So there’s likely to be some opposition from other Premier League clubs? 

Fair to say that’s putting it lightly. There’s been very little said publicly so far – most likely following advice from their lawyers – but don’t expect these proposals to go through without a fight.

Interestingly, the thing the top Premier League clubs hate the most about the current system could well be their downfall in pushing through their plans. If Project Big Picture is to happen, it will require that 14-club majority vote, but it seems increasingly unlikely that teams will vote for plans that will probably harm them further down the line.

Alarm bells are ringing in the ears of the clubs outside the top six regarding a number of the proposals being put forward, including the scrapping of parachute payments and the plan to get rid of the League Cup.

Well, it wasn’t necessarily the plan for the proposals to come out now. In fact, it is believed Parry and the two clubs wanted to make everything public earlier in the year, only for the coronavirus to stop them in their tracks.

In truth, it’s probably not happened quite as they would have liked, given that they’ve infuriated a number of top-flight clubs, so it’ll be interesting to see what the next move is.

Part of the reason for pushing the plans through as soon as possible will be the coronavirus pandemic. The worldwide emergency has put things into perspective for all clubs, with a big number struggling financially.

The ‘rescue package’ put forward in the plans is one of the things the Big Six will hope can steer opinion their way.

Many of the other 14 top-flight clubs have said they will reject all plans to reduce the league 

So what happens now? 

Well, the next few weeks is likely to see those behind Project Big Picture go into full PR mode in an attempt to get people onside. 

It is understood that the Big Six are now embroiled in talks via Zoom calls and a private WhatsApp group, but there is no immediate end in sight to the negotiations.

There is a Premier League meeting on Thursday, where feasibly there could be a vote on the plans. That may well be delayed until all the details are ironed out, but there will absolutely be plenty of discussion among the 20 clubs. 

Christian Purslow, the Aston Villa chief, is pictured leaving the top-flight’s HQ back in March

And the Government have already spoken out?

They have, yeah… and it was interesting to say the least. In a statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Government were dismissive of the plans being ‘cooked up’ behind the scenes.

They said: ‘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.

‘Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling.

‘Fans must be at the front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan-led review of football governance will be so critical.’

The main point to take from that is that these talks could well jeopardise the chances of lower-league clubs receiving financial assistance to help them cope with the Covid-19 crisis.

What about the FA? Where do they stand and what is their ‘Golden Share’ all about? 

Well, here’s where it gets really interesting. The FA have been involved in some of the talks at a minor level, with chairman Greg Clarke privy to conversations on the issue.

But to find out where they really stand in terms of decision-making, you have to rewind to 1991, when clubs were embroiled in talks to create the ‘FA Premier League’.

In the end, 22 clubs signed a ‘founder members agreement’, with Parry becoming the chief executive and the path being created to football as we know it today.

In the years that followed, senior figures at the FA admitted that they made a huge mistake in allowing the clubs to run away with all the money… that first Sky contract of £35.5m being split between the teams and nothing going to the FA.

One thing that they did retain, though, is a ‘Golden Share’, which allows them to step in with a key vote whenever they want to. Essentially, they can veto any plans and stop them from going ahead before they’ve even got off the ground. 

They have never used it, and prefer to allow the Premier League to self-govern, but with something as big as this, they may well feel they need to get involved to protect the future of English football.

The Times reported on Monday lunchtime that the Football Association WOULD block any attempt to give power to the big clubs, and that message has been passed on to Premier League chiefs. 

Greg Clarke (centre) has been involved in discussions and could use the FA’s ‘Golden Share’ to block the plans going ahead

So where does this leave EFL clubs? Is it good or bad for them? 

That remains to be seen, but let’s be honest – it’s leaning towards the negative side of things. Although they would be beneficiaries of the aforementioned £250m windfall, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about the plans.

Of course, just the plans alone have jeopardised their Government bailout – and if Project Big Picture does go through, it will create a massive divide between those at the top and the EFL clubs below.

As mentioned in the Government statement, there is a very real possibility of creating a closed shop at the top, with those below never getting the chance to ‘do a Leicester’ and break into the elite. 

Promotion and relegation between the EFL (above) and the Premier League will be altered

If Project Big Picture is passed, what changes will those in power be able to make? 

They would have an unprecedented amount of power. Just to remind you, there would be nine clubs making the decisions, but realistically that’s just six main players doing the talking.

Among the decisions they would be able to make are: votes on who becomes the Premier League chief executive, votes on rules and regulations that govern the top flight, and even votes to veto new owners at other Premier League football clubs.

That final one is perhaps the most interesting… it’s likely that there will be a number of sides unwilling to pass that power over to the likes of United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs. 

Talk to me about the play-off tournament… how will that work?

So at the moment, it’s all pretty easy. The bottom three go down from the Premier League and three go up from the Championship, made up of the top two and then the play-off winner from 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. It’s been the same for years.

The new plans have put forward a new suggestion to decide the promoted and relegated teams in their 18-team division, based on the model used in Germany by the Bundesliga.

The teams in 17th and 18th will automatically go down from the Premier League (bottom and second bottom in the new-look division) and then there will be a play-off tournament involving the Premier League’s 16th-placed team, and 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Championship.

That effectively will make it harder to get relegated from the Premier League, with only the bottom two guaranteed to go down, and third-bottom given a couple of extra chances to save their spot. 

The Premier League’s third-bottom team would be involved in a new-look play-off tournament

Will fans be massively affected by the changes? 

Well, it depends who you support. There may well be supporters of United, Liverpool and the like that are excited by the prospect of their clubs getting better and there being less of a chance of their top spot being wrenched away from them as it has been in the past.

For fans of other clubs, there are of course the sweeteners we’ve previously spoken about… the safe standing pledge, the capping of away tickets at £20 and the subsidised away travel – but don’t be fooled.

There are a great number of clubs whose only real chance at winning silverware each season is in the FA Cup or League Cup, and one of those will be ripped from them.

You can also essentially write off any chance of them breaking into the European elite, as the Big Six try to force shut the door between them. Fans will be affected, and not in a positive way. 

Fans could also be negatively affected by the plans, despite a series of initial positive promises

Why is Rick Parry involved when he’s not part of the Premier League?

There are plenty asking the same question. Although he’s not part of the Premier League now, he has been previously and still holds plenty of sway. Of course, he would argue that the plans affect him and his EFL member clubs too, but it seems odd that he was consulted before 14 of the Premier League’s clubs.

Parry was the CEO of the Premier League back when it first began, and it has been revealed in the last 24 hours that his backing for an idea of this ilk goes as far back as 1995.

The driving forces behind the plan has been Liverpool and Manchester United, but Parry has been clinging on and is desperate to stay involved in the decision-making process.

He will argue that it directly affects his clubs but in truth, he has no idea how to address the financial crisis facing his three divisions, and sees this as his get-out-of-jail free card. That £250m bailout looks a mouthwatering prospect for him.

Parry was the CEO of the Premier League back when it first began in the early 1990s

And the Premier League weren’t happy about Parry speaking out? 

Absolutely not. Much like the Government, the Premier League released a scathing statement. It reads: ‘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.

‘We are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.’

One Premier League source then accused Parry of attempting to mount a hostile takeover of the richest league in the world by proposing an agreement to collectively sell the media rights for all four divisions, and allegedly offering the Big Six a guarantee they could be accommodated in the Championship if the other 14 clubs refused to co-operate.  

The Premier League, led by chief executive Richard Masters, are said to not be happy at plans

Parry was on talkSPORT on Monday morning… how did that go down? 

Yeah, expect to see a lot more of Parry’s face on your TV in the coming days and weeks. He is turning into the spokesman for the project and it is his job to convince the masses that it would be a good thing for football.

Monday morning saw him square off with the outspoken former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan on talkSPORT, with the presenter labelling it ‘a deal with the devil’ that consolidates the power of the Big Six.

Parry defended his support for the plans, denying that his EFL would be the Premier League’s ‘poodle’. 

He said: ‘The Premier League could have come up with a plan at any stage in the last 25 years.

‘Two of the leading clubs have come up with a plan, it shouldn’t be criticised and should be applauded. There has been some hysterical reaction. Some have alighted on this as a power grab. I don’t see it that way and I see the benefits it will produce.’

Hitting back, Jordan didn’t mince his words… 

Simon Jordan (centre) did not hold back in his criticism of Parry and the plans on talkSPORT

‘This is a deal with the devil,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t stack up, it doesn’t work and it won’t happen. This is the typical George Orwellian mentality that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

‘If you’re Rick Parry, you take what you want from it. They haven’t done their jobs over the last six months during an impending crisis that shows no reduction in speed and you’re starting to steer into desperation territory.

‘This empowers the big six and enables them to steer towards where they’re really going which is to have a better relationship with Juventus and Bayern Munich and Barcelona and the European Club Association.

‘This is all part of this Machiavellian mix being thrown up here.’

What does Project Big Picture mean for the future of women’s football?

On the face of it, it means uncertainty. There is a real lack of detail about what the project would mean for the women’s game, barring a few basic promises in the initial 14-page document.

It states that a working group will be set up to create a new independent league for women’s professional football, away from the Premier League or FA.

That opens the door for them to secure lucrative funding and sponsorship from outside the governing bodies, but seems a risky strategy when they are still trying to grow their product.

Within the proposals there is also a £10m bailout for the Women’s Super League and Championship, and a pledge of more than £50m per year for the WSL, Championship, Women’s FA Cup and women’s grassroots funding. 

There would also be some confusion over future of the women’s game under new proposals

So… is it likely to happen? 

The million-dollar question… with plenty more than a million dollars at stake. It is impossible to tell right now whether these plans have any chance of being voted through, but as it stands there are plenty of hurdles to overcome.

Those behind Project Big Picture have to now go on a PR drive to get their rivals onside, before forcing through a 14-club majority and avoiding a veto from the FA.

The initial reaction has been overwhelmingly against the plans, be it from the Government, fans, the media or officials at the other Premier League clubs.

But those Big Six clubs do hold a lot of influence, so we’ll have to watch this space. All eyes are on Thursday’s Premier League meeting to see what happens next.

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