MATT BARLOW: Cash is seductive but the EFL must not sell its soul

MATT BARLOW: The financial incentives are seductive but the EFL must not sell its soul in Project Big Picture proposals

  • Project Big Picture proposes a rescue package worth £250m for the EFL clubs 
  • A proposed Premier League of 18 would mean an EFL limited from 92 to 90
  • EFL are selling one of three automatic promotion places to the Premier League
  • Is it a price worth paying for the EFL – and what could be next on the horizon?  

Desperate times these may be — the pressure is on and the money is seductive — but what exactly are Steve Gibson and the Championship chairmen proposing to sell?

This is the question if EFL clubs are determined to pursue an idea with sinister undertones.

The 72 clubs in tiers two, three and four will receive a rescue package worth £250 million and a promise of a quarter of future TV cash as part of the ‘Big Picture’ — as conceived by Manchester United, Liverpool and Rick Parry.

Current EFL chairman Rick Parry is EFL chief but helped form the plans for Project Big Picture

But it’s a buyer’s market, so what are they selling?

Well, they are selling two clubs straight down the river, because a Premier League of 18 teams means 92 will become 90 across the top four divisions. Any volunteers? Four down out of League Two? 

Or are they glancing surreptitiously at Oldham and Southend, hoping the most sickly of the crisis clubs fail to survive the winter months and save them the trouble?

And they are selling one of their three automatic promotion places to the Premier League, stifling opportunity by taking sixth place out of the play-off equation and eroding end-of-season Championship thrills.

This is a plan Gibson wants the EFL to unite behind. He would like the sniping to stop because options are limited and Parry’s chalice is poisoned and he is doing his best. Is he, with all these strings attached?

Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson wants the EFL to unite behind the plans in the ‘Big Picture’

Two EFL clubs will be sold down the river as proposals mean 92 will become 90 across leagues

What is there to prevent these screws from being tightened in the future because, most disturbing of all, they are selling power to the Big Six.

The Big Picture proposes to rig the voting structure in their favour and introduce an opportunity clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool have long craved — to sell their own international TV rights from their own in-house media platforms.

It puts them in control of the next broadcast rights deal, away from collective bargaining and further towards streaming rights on MUTV and LFCTV. Will 25 per cent of those sales filter into the EFL? Or only the rights sold from the collective pot? Parry might get a promise now but they can vote to change the rules. 

Liverpool owner John W Henry (L) and Man United chief Joel Glazer (R) are two of the key figures behind the plans

All a price worth paying, according to Gibson and others, since the wealthiest clubs dominate proceedings anyway — except they haven’t always dominated and they might not in the future.

If that was a sure thing, they wouldn’t be trying to force through changes like these, which takes the competition a significant step closer to a US model where membership and revenue is more secure.

For them, in an ideal world, there would be no relegation from the Premier League and this inserts the thin end of that particularly nasty wedge.

What comes next? Premier League 2 and a ring-fencing operation? Or the extended loan system morphing into a formalisation of B teams in the lower leagues?

The pyramid is the essence of English football – is it now in danger with these new plans? 

The pyramid is the essence of English football, the very thing making it the envy of the world and a brilliant TV spectacle.

Bournemouth, Burnley, Hull and Swansea have climbed from the brink of oblivion into the top tier in the Premier League era and their stories represent the soul of our game as much as the glittering histories of Liverpool and United.

In their desperate scramble to protect their own interests, the owners and chairmen will consider selling it.

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