The Premier League has “unanimously” rejected a controversial proposal to shake up English football and offered a £50m package to support struggling clubs in two lower divisions.
The rescue comes amid a major dispute over the future of the English game. Smaller clubs, which play a pivotal role in their local communities, are on the brink of collapse because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped out matchday revenues and pushed them to seek a bailout.
Premier League teams agreed in a meeting on Wednesday, that they would not consider a plan from Rick Parry, the chairman of the English Football League, which runs the three divisions below the top flight, with input from major clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester United.
The so-called Project Big Picture would have concentrated power in the hands of the Big Six clubs, which also include Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, in exchange for a £250m rescue for the EFL.
In a statement, the Premier League said its member clubs had “unanimously agreed that ‘Project Big Picture’ will not be endorsed or pursued” by it or by the Football Association, the national governing body.
They would instead, it added, “work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football”.
The clubs also offered grants and interest-free loans to Leagues One and Two, which sit below the Premier League and the Championship and are particularly reliant on matchday revenues. The £50m package is made up of £20m in grants in the short term, with a further £30m to ensure no clubs in the two divisions go out of business because of the virus.
“Discussions will also continue with the EFL regarding Championship clubs’ financial needs,” the Premier League said.
The pandemic has exacerbated the financial pressures on smaller clubs, with many suffering huge losses even without the blow to ticket income. In the Championship, wages added up to 107 per cent of club revenues in the 2018-19 season, according to Deloitte.
Earlier on Wednesday, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, labelled Mr Parry’s proposal a “project power grab” and urged the EFL to stop being “distracted”. He also said he had been “equally robust” with the Premier League, which drove a $1.25bn bill for English football in the latest transfer window, according to Fifa, the sport’s international governing body.
“There is a problem in football which football is perfectly capable of resolving itself whereby the Premier League and the EFL just need to get together,” Mr Dowden told the House of Commons culture committee.
He declined to comment on the terms being negotiated between the PL and the EFL, and said it would be hard to justify using taxpayers’ money to support football given the riches in the game.
“The deal is there to be done. It doesn’t require this closed-shop arrangement. There is a deal there, the money is in the Premier League available to do it,” said Mr Dowden.
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