Analysis: Liverpool, United Rush Into Divisional Action


LONDON (AP) – Vilified by the Premier League, the government and even their own fans, the American owners of Liverpool and Manchester United launched an initiative that sought more control that turned out to be in bad taste and conflict in a period of economic turbulence in English football.

But as much as the plan conceived by John Henry and Joel Glazer irritated many, by seeking to consolidate more power in the Premier’s elite, it has resulted in a rescue of the lower categories of professional football.

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Seven months into a pandemic that has driven fans away from English stadiums – and clubs have lost significant revenue – it is a situation that has overwhelmed the richest league in the world.

It’s only now that the Premier League is getting organized after getting its clubs to reject the so-called ‘Big Picture’ project, made public on Sunday by the head of the lower leagues working together with Glazer and Henry.

It is intended to force-march a plan by Richard Masters, whose limited authority was exposed in his first year as chief executive of the Premier League, where the clubs are ultimately in control.

“What I think we’re trying to do is work out the main components by the end of the year,” Masters noted of his own ‘Big Picture’ project.

It could be too late for the clubs in the third and fourth divisions, which are managed by the English Football League (EFL).

“There is despair,” said Ian Mather, executive director of the fourth category Cambridge United club, in an interview with Sky News. “There are teams that are going to go bankrupt unless we reach an agreement and we do it soon.”

The uncertainty did not prevent Cambridge from following in the footsteps of Liverpool and United from attracting US investors: two businessmen last month acquired a 20% stake in the joint, a sign of the attractiveness of the lower-tier clubs.

The Premier League sidelined any bailout of the second division championship, which helped EFL teams reject a bailout proposal Thursday as insufficient. Grants and interest-free loans of £ 50 million ($ 65 million) were proposed for teams in Leagues One and Two in addition to solidarity payments of £ 27.2 million already made this year.

The Premier League is ready to offer emergency help to the teams that need it most. But the reluctance to expedite cash to the lower leagues is understandable when their financial difficulties were evident even before the pandemic. Cambridge reported losses of more than 800,000 pounds annually in recent years, after their wages outstripped their income.

The ‘Big Picture’ project envisaged sharing more than 25% of the Premier’s core revenue, less operating costs and contributions to good causes. But at the same time allowing the six major teams to effectively take control through preferential voting and widening the gap in the Premier by changing the formula for distributing cash from television. The size of the Premier also would have been reduced from 20 to 18 clubs.

Interestingly, Masters is open to reducing the number of teams in the Premier, which began as an EFL spinoff with 22 clubs in 1992 before eliminating two in 1995.

“Part of the review will be the size and shape of the Premier League and the pyramid itself,” Masters stated. “We have a clear path forward and the uncertainty is very dangerous, and I think we have resolved the uncertainty.”

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