'Undermines trust' Boris Johnson lashes out at Premier League's big boys over 'Project Big Picture' power grab
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has launched an attack on Project Big Picture's "backroom dealing" to create sweeping new powers for English football's biggest clubs.
Clandestine talks led by Manchester United, Liverpool and the English Football League chairman Rick Parry have further undermined trust in football governance, Boris Johnson's spokesman said.
The UK government is now threatening to launch an immediate review of football regulation if the Premier League cannot agree a rescue package with the English Football League "within the existing measures".
"It's clear that this proposal does not command support throughout the Premier League - it is exactly this type of backroom dealing that undermines trust in football governance," Downing Street said.
In proposals disclosed on Sunday, the most lucrative sports league in the world would be reduced to 18 teams, and controlling power would be in the hands of the biggest clubs.
In return for tearing up many of the rules that have governed the game since the Premier League's inception in 1992, there would be a £250 million rescue package for the English Football League to see them through the Covid crisis.
However, Downing Street said such a proposal, which would hand more power to the elite, was inappropriate. "In terms of support for EFL clubs, we have been given assurances by both the Premier League and the EFL that they have no intention to let any club go bust due to Covid and we know that they have the means to prevent this from happening within their existing mechanisms," the spokesman added.
"We would strongly urge the Premier League and the EFL to continue to work constructively to come up with a deal that provides a comprehensive package of scores for the whole football family."
Both EFL and Premier League clubs are set to meet later this week. Speaking earlier yesterday, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden condemned plans to create a two-thirds veto for the nine longest-serving members of the Premier League over future ownership changes at any of their rivals.
Dowden also called it a "backroom deal" and said that it was the wrong time to be mixing discussions over financial support with radical governance reform.
"The challenge facing football now is ensuring the EFL has the resources to enable its clubs to survive," he told the BBC.
"This deal does not command support throughout the Premier League at all, so rather than do backroom deals to try to reform football at this critical moment, I would rather they are working together to ensure the future of football.
"I know that these conversations have ensured they won't allow a club to go to the wall but we do need a more comprehensive package. I have to say that if they can't get together to work this out, we will have to return to what we promised in our manifesto which is a fan-led review of football governance. I think many fans will be concerned about what they are reading."
Dowden also reinforced the UK government view that the Premier League does have the resources to safeguard the rest of the professional pyramid. "If you look at the Premier League, I believe during the last transfer over £1 billion was spent. That is more than the four largest clubs in Europe, after the Premier League, put together. There are the resources."
Dowden also stressed that there was little immediate prospect of fans returning to football matches.
"Ultimately against this backdrop of rapidly-rising infections, I think you will appreciate that now is not the time to do that and add to the risk of infection spreading," he said.
Asked later yesterday by Sky if it was a "good plan to protect smaller clubs, or a power grab by some of the major Premier League clubs", Dowden said: "I fear it's the latter. If we keep having these backroom deals we will have to look at the underlying governance of football.
"The events that I have seen in the last few weeks have made this seem more urgent. They have got the money to ensure support for the game in this difficult time. It does raise genuine questions about the governance of the sport."
Parry has rejected the suggestion that proposals to give greater voting rights to the nine longest-established clubs in the Premier League, which includes the division's big six, amount to a power grab.
Asked on BBC Radio Four's Today programme whether the bigger clubs were simply in it for more money, he said: "No, they're not, they're giving a lot of money to us. Why would they be giving 25pc of the TV revenues to (the EFL) if all they were trying to do was grab power?
"They care about the pyramid. This will come out, the truth will come out, their passion for the pyramid will come out.
"Let's not get hung up on process and 'he said, she said', this is a really good plan for the pyramid and let's make it happen."