‘Theft of hope’: What the papers are saying about Project Big Picture

Liverpool chief John Henry and his Manchester United counterpart Joel Glazer have caused a huge controversy with their plans to reform English football with Project Big Picture.

You can read a full explainer on what the f*ck Project Big Picture actually is from our friends at Football365, but the plans would see the Premier League reduce to 18 teams and the League Cup and Community Shield scrapped in exchange for a £250million rescue package to the Football League, with clubs lower down the football pyramid also receiving a larger share of TV revenue.

However, the plans have attracted plenty of criticism as they would essentially give the ‘big six’ clubs in England the power to make any future decision about the structure of the game. We’ve rounded up the verdict from some of Britain’s biggest publications.

They would own the PL

It seems only right to start with the Daily Telegraph, who exclusively broke the story on Sunday. On Monday, Jason Burt has published his take on the plans in a piece titled ‘Premier League Project Big Picture is a brazen power grab, a hostile takeover spun as a rescue package’.

‘Then there is the rub, the important stuff: abolish the principle of one-club, one vote with huge power placed in the hands of nine clubs – the Big Six as well as Everton, Southampton and West Ham who will be afforded “long-term shareholder status”,’ Burt writes.

‘But even that, in fact, is window-dressing as only six votes would be needed to effect change. The Big Six would be firmly in control, then.

‘Those six clubs would be able to take over football. They would take charge of broadcasting contracts and financial controls; they could kill the competition. They would own the Premier League.’

Operation Avarice

Henry Winter pulls no punches in his piece for The Times titled ‘Operation Avarice would surely leave all but ‘big six’ on life support’.

‘Project Big Picture, or Operation Avarice as it should be called, is so wretchedly, nakedly cynical, so obviously greed dressed up as munificence, that it deserves the widespread contempt it has immediately garnered,’ Winter writes.

‘Everybody can see through what the “big six” are up to, wanting to run English football, ruining the dreams of those who aspire to the heights, diminishing the power of the FA further, and setting the scene for the European Super League.

‘It is “the theft of hope”, as one Newcastle United fan eloquently but mournfully lamented. It is a short-term bandage that leaves a long-term wound that will never heal.’

David Conn

The Guardian’s David Conn is much more measured in his piece titled ‘Plan to mend football pyramid’s great crack should not be swept off table’ but still acknowledges ‘this proposal does not come without some pain but that Henry and Glazer do not envisage feeling any of it themselves’.

‘There are, undoubtedly, some self-serving elements to their prospectus but by far the most significant is the proposal that the Premier League should share a net 25% of its future TV deals with the English Football League, and provide £250m immediately to help the 72 EFL clubs through their financial crisis,’ Conn writes.

‘That is an offer, finally after a generation, to rejoin the top division with the three below and repair the vast, calamitous financial gap caused by the breakaway of the First Division from the Football League to form the Premier League in 1992.’

Origins of the plan

As part of an explainer by The Athletic, co-authored by Adam Crafton, Matt Slater and David Ornstein, it is revealed how long these plans have been worked on.

‘On Sunday, the question of who exactly the authored the document remained in question but it has been worked on for up to three years by Joel Glazer, the co-owner of Manchester United, along with John W Henry, Liverpool’s lead investor.

‘The Athletic also understands that Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck has been heavily involved in discussions for quite some time. Liverpool and United formally presented the proposals to their top-six rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City on Thursday, intending to continue discussions over the weekend. Different sources attributed each of Henry, Glazer, Parry and United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward with the credit for writing sections of the document but it was difficult to establish anyone prepared to take ultimate responsibility.’

They add: ‘They have on their side the EFL chairman Parry, who is formerly the CEO of the Premier League and his backing for this idea stretches back as far as 1995. The key tenet is to bundle together the television rights for the Premier League and EFL and redistribute 25 per cent to the EFL. Indeed, while being interviewed to be EFL chairman ahead of winning the role in 2019, Parry pitched this exact concept and was supported in the room by the current Burton Albion chief executive Jez Moxey.’

Open hostility

Writing under the typically-concise Daily Mail headline ‘Premier League at WAR as Big Six power grab sparks major conflict with elite clubs wanting to whittle top flight down to 18 teams as part of Project Big Picture’, Mike Keegan and Matt Hughes lift the lid on how unpopular the plans have gone down with other top-flight clubs.

‘The open hostility of the Premier League and many of their clubs to proposals developed by Liverpool owner John Henry and his United counterpart Joel Glazer, with input from Parry, are likely to kill them at birth.

‘One Premier League source 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.’

Faust in a Mickey Mouse tie

Sticking with the Daily Mail, Martin Samuel is not happy, with his piece titled by another succinct headline: ‘Manchester United and Liverpool’s Project Big Picture is nothing but a disgusting Big Six power grab… Rick Parry is Faust in a Mickey Mouse tie and he thinks we’re STUPID.’

‘Rick Parry helped destroy the fabric of English football once, and now he’s going for it again,’ Samuel writes.

‘His alliance with Manchester United, Liverpool and any fellow travellers within the Big Six is the most flagrant, abusive and ruinous power grab the domestic game has seen since the formation of the Premier League with Parry as its chief executive close to 30 years ago. That put the power in the hands of 20 clubs.

‘Now Parry and the elite want this narrowed down to a cabal of six. They are promising all kinds of bungs and sweeteners to get their way, painting themselves as the saviours of the game, the friends of the little folk, but do not believe a single word of it.’

Selling the EFL’s soul

In the Daily Mirror, Andy Dunn’s piece ‘Premier League’s Big Picture is crystal clear – this is a coronavirus power grab’ takes aim at Rick Parry in particular.

‘There is plenty of detail but let’s think of the bottom lines,’ Dunn writes.

‘The bottom line is it will be harder for Championship clubs to get into the Premier League. And Rick Parry is fine with that.

‘The bottom line is the EFL will lose two of its clubs, the fabled 92 becoming 90. And Rick Parry is fine with that.

‘The bottom line is the Big Six will hold complete power over the English game. And Rick Parry is fine with that.

‘There are obvious attractions for all those EFL clubs hurtling at breakneck speed towards a financial wall, the most blatant being cash.

‘Its chief executive seems to think the EFL is in such a state that part of its soul has to be sold to keep the body going. And the price is £250million for starters.’

What the f*ck is the Premier League’s Project Big Picture? Football365 got an idiot to compile an idiot’s guide to answer all your questions.

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