Reaction to Liverpool and Manchester United’s plan to reform English football

This morning, we heard about the plan put forward by Liverpool and Manchester United to reform the English football pyramid. On the face of it, it looks to be a good deal, with the EFL gaining the £250m they have been asking for from the Premier League as a bail-out. However, if we look deeper, there are some points that raise questions, and some areas that will need some further discussion.

The Positives

The plan would see the League Cup and Community Shield scrapped, which would be a positive for the Premier League teams; I am not so sure about those in the EFL. We constantly hear about how the League Cup seems to get in the way of Premier League teams’ fixtures, particularly those in European competitions. Last season, Liverpool were competing in the Club World Cup in Qatar, but also had a League Cup fixture at Aston Villa a day earlier. That meant that the academy side had to fulfil the League Cup fixture, with then-coach Neil Critchley (who is now Blackpool manager) in charge for it. Tottenham Hotspur have also had problems with it, this season in fact, with it meaning that the team could be playing around three or four fixtures in the space of ten days. For those clubs, and for the reason that is does seem to get in the way, it does seem like scrapping it would be a good thing. The Community Shield in particular would be replaced by more lucrative friendlies for clubs, bringing in more revenue and increasing their brand even more.

However, what about the clubs further down? I think all Premier League teams secretly wouldn’t mind if it was taken out of the schedule, but the EFL clubs are more likely to rely on it, especially as the EFL Trophy (the competition for League One and League Two clubs) has come under fire and is considered controversial at the best of times. For financial reasons, those clubs may want the competition to stay, especially when it comes to playing the big teams and potentially getting part of a TV deal from it. We have seen during lockdown just how much those clubs rely on matchday revenue and any money they can get from TV appearances, and that is why the EFL needs to be bailed out; no fans means no major income for those clubs.

There is another positive that the plan would implement; the end of parachute payments. For those who don’t know what these are, the three teams relegated from the Premier League each season then receive payments from the Premier League for the next three years after their relegation. However, the argument is that these have made some clubs more financially well-off than others. Just recently, clubs relegated from the Premier League have been given £246m combined, which is a third of the total turnover of the EFL. The argument, as stated, and not unfairly, is that this gives some clubs an advantage over others, and you can see why this is.

The £250m bailout that the EFL have been crying out for in response to Covid would be given to them, along with 25% of any future TV deals. This would be a huge step towards bringing the Premier League and EFL closer together, with some arguing that, with reason, the Premier League is pulling away from the EFL in terms of finances, leading to some clubs struggling to stay alive. We have seen the sad demises of Bury and Macclesfield Town, with the former being expelled from the EFL and having to start again, and the latter going out of business and being dissolved this season after 146 years of existence. Stevenage, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic, Oldham Athletic, Southend United and Bolton Wanderers have all experienced financial trouble in recent seasons, so surely something has to give sooner rather than later, and the bigger clubs maybe have to help out the other clubs further down.

On the face of it, then, it seems that this is a good idea. But is it?

The Negatives

Despite the good points, the deal feels like it has an element of “here’s what you want, but we want this in return”, and there are some parts of the plan which have sparked interest and criticism from clubs, fans, officials and the media.

Firstly, the Premier League would be shortened to 18 teams, meaning that, at some point in the future, up to five teams could be relegated in one go. This feels like a way of the top teams trying to eliminate the lower teams who come up to seemingly make up the numbers, because they are below the other teams in performances and financial capabilities. This just one thought that I have had about this part of the deal, but whether it is the case or not is unclear, but it certainly feels that way.

The other big sticking point is that the Premier League clubs at the top, namely the so-called “big 6” of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, would gain more control of decisions in the Premier League, along with three others, making a group of nine clubs who would have special voting privileges. These clubs would be decided by their time in the top flight. The things that the clubs would decide on include broadcast contracts, financial rules and maybe even takeover bids, so you can see why the Premier League are opposed to giving responsibility of these to the leading clubs in the league; there is potential for it to be exploited unfairly to give some clubs an advantage over others. The other thinking is that, by giving these powers to the clubs, the rumours of a European Super League coming into fruition would be even stronger, which might do the opposite of bringing the clubs closer together, as is the apparent aim.

Ultimately, this a divisive and debated issue, with EFL chairman Rick Parry in favour of the proposals, seeing it as the best way to get the money into the EFL and support it, whereas the Premier League, government, most Premier League clubs and fans’ groups are all against it, with the main view against being that it is as an attempt to take more power and control over decisions. There are a lot of questions being asked, and points to discuss, and this is not the sort of thing that will be decided in a week. However, there is no doubt that this is something to keep a close eye on in the near future, particularly with it looking unlikely that fans will be coming back into stadiums any time soon.

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