Manchester City must unequivocally stand against Project Big Picture

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: General view outside the stadium prior to the FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester City and Port Vale at Etihad Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: General view outside the stadium prior to the FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester City and Port Vale at Etihad Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

With the lower leagues of English football struggling, Project Big Picture claims to want to help—but at a cost.

Below the never-ending depths of Premier League wealth, football in England is struggling. Smaller clubs all the way down the pyramid, which rely heavily upon gate receipts, have been hit harder than anyone else by the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, it is the responsibility of the top teams to save the sport at its lower levels, and Project Big Picture wants to look like it is doing exactly that, but is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The plan, backed by Liverpool and Manchester United, would relieve the lower leagues in the short term. £250 million will immediately go to the EFL, the Football Association will receive £100 million to grow the game at the grassroots level, and 25% of the top flight’s revenue will go to the Championship, League One, and League Two going forward.

These are all changes that should come without conditions, but this is nothing more than bait in a predatory scheme. In exchange, the Community Shield and Carabao Cup will be eliminated, the Premier League will be reduced to 18 teams, and above all, the Big Six and the three longest serving Premier League clubs will be given “special voting rights”.

This will create a division of power between the elite and the rest, much like the oft-proposed European Super League that seems more inevitable by the day. These voting rights will allow the elite to act in their interest alone without a check of power from clubs lower down, and distribute revenue in such a manner that teams such as Leicester City could never again steal a Premier League title from the “rightful” group of winners.

Cutting two clubs from the massive revenue stream is in itself a clear sign of this centralization, but it is the ability to create a voting oligarchy atop the world’s most powerful league that is most frightening. From a Manchester City perspective, this would absolutely benefit the club, as they have proven themselves enough as a money-maker to join the old money club that supports this plan. Nevertheless, Big Picture is wrong and the most open and egregious assault on the sport that we have seen in some time.

This is not an isolated event, however. Financial Fair Play was created for many of the same reasons: a plan that sounds like it will help smaller clubs, but in reality creates a separation between the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Liverpool and everyone else while doing nothing to help the likes of Bury or Bolton. Similarly, the European Super League would not put big-name clubs at the risk of failing to qualify for the Champions League, and would instead simply guarantee big matches at the expense of the rest. Just because City are big enough to now benefit from these schemes does not mean they should forget their history and turn their back on what is right.

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Liverpool are not the only ones to blame, but this type of plan is in line with the actions of their higher-ups in recent years, all of which centralize on self-preservation at the top by any means necessary. The club’s players, coaches, and fans are not to blame by any means, but there is a pattern of action from their executives.

Liverpool reached a confidential settlement with Manchester City for reportedly hacking into their scouting database, then wrote to the Court of Arbitration for Sport asking that City’s two-year Champions League ban be upheld despite standing to gain little direct benefit, given that they were top of the Premier League by miles. When the pandemic hit, they were one of just two Premier League clubs to initially furlough workers, and then wrote to the Premier League asking that Newcastle United’s takeover be rejected. Project Big Picture was authored by former Liverpool and Premier League CEO Rick Parry.

From the perspective of all Big Six clubs, this plan is built to make them untouchable giants of the English game. That’s great, if you have the privilege of being in the “in” crowd. It’s not so great if you are one of the 11 Premier League teams without “special voting privileges” or one of the 72 EFL teams below that. Manchester City above all others should recognize their unique role in this situation as the new money that has been fully accepted at the big boys’ table and unequivocally reject this plan.

Lower-league clubs are now faced with a despicable choice: sell their chance at a brighter future for salvation now, or risk liquidation and the end of English football as we know it. Project Big Picture is nothing more than a deal with the devil, and everyone who cares about football should stand against this elitist regime, even those who stand to benefit.