WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER PICTURE: Part 1
Darren has spent four years working for The Fan Experience Company and is a UEFA Mentor. He is responsible for assessment reports that in 2019/20, went to over 200 clubs in 13 countries.
He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying customer service in the USA .
England has always had a classic club versus country issue so it was fitting that, as the national team were recording a victory over the #1 ranked team in the world, all that anyone in football was talking about was the leaked proposals from Liverpool and Manchester United that were being described as ‘seismic’.
Project Big Picture (PBP) looked all along like a deliberate move that maximised the uncertainty of corona-times for the benefit of the biggest clubs. Two large Great Whites circling in for the kill, if you like, sensing weakness as the smaller fish thrashed around desperately for survival.
It was certainly a divisive move. While the Premier League, FA, supporter groups and the government voiced their varying degrees of disapproval, the EFL and most of its clubs came out in favour. They had to, despite possible misgivings, because the cliff edge was fast approaching and for Leagues One and Two, they decided – much as you would if bitten by a shark – to take survival now and worry about the lasting scars once you were out of immediate danger.
But by Wednesday, PBP was already dead in the water as all 20 Premier League clubs voted not to pursue it in favour of more immediate measures to help the EFL and a wider review that would reform the game for the better. On the face of it, defeat for the American owners of Liverpool and Manchester United, then? They didn’t think so. If nothing else, the debate was open and changes were afoot; maybe not exactly what they wanted but change nonetheless.
But love or loathe PBP, or stuck somewhere between the two, there was no denying that change was needed. The coronavirus pandemic had laid bare the unsustainable way that English football operates as well as taking many lower league clubs to the brink. But the Premier League had dithered for so long on what they could do, if anything, to help, that even the government thought they were reacting slowly.
In that sense, whatever their motives – and many felt it was purely a power-grab – the two North West clubs have done everyone a favour by bringing this to the table and accelerating the pace of reform. The problem for many is in the how, with leaked documents, an iffy sense of timing so soon after the Premier League had scored a PPV own-goal, a sense of them being opportunistic given the EFL’s precarious situation and ignoring the culture and traditions of the English game.
In that sense, it was unfortunate that it got in the way of the what. Some of the ideas in the proposal had lots of merit and others were worthy of discussion.
Even Henry Winter’s passionate rebuttal of the proposals in The Times seemed not so much about the actual content but about who was proposing. A case of (some) right ideas, wrong people? Ex-England international, Danny Mills, called it a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ with a lot of good up front but with a big price down the line.
EFL Chair, Rick Parry, was all over it with a ringing endorsement in an industry where resistance to change is usually high. But these aren’t normal times and the EFL had to nail their blue and red colours to the mast pretty quickly as 71 clubs were watching and waiting; also having the most to lose or gain.
I won’t waste words on the Big Picture details – by now, about a billion of them have been written; mostly outlining what it consists of. But forget the EFL Cup and Community Shield. This was about money (now!) and voting rights – i.e. who has control of key decisions – (in future). But any decision in football has to win approval, or at least acceptance, from a myriad of stakeholders, and nothing will ever please them all. So let’s try to look at it from the perspectives of the key ones.
When it was ‘announced’, the proposals attached two major sweeteners for them; money (a gift of £100m) in the short term and a smaller top-flight that would help the national team in the longer term. The first one, I’m sure, would not have been dismissed lightly given the horrendous financial circumstances that almost every organisation who isn’t Amazon or in the pharmaceuticals sector is in right now, but the second should be. If this was ever to get a green light, a smaller top league will pave the way for more games in European competitions in future (UEFA is looking at revamping the Champions League in 2024), so giving star players a breather isn’t a factor. Or realistic.
FA Chair, Greg Clarke wrote to FA members on Tuesday. Initially siding with the Premier League, the letter ended up with him firmly on the fence; not ruling anything completely in or out but urging everyone to work together to find changes that benefit ALL stakeholders. In that sense, he got exactly as he wished when the Premier League agreed to look at reform on Wednesday.
The phrase ‘unity, transparency and common sense overrides the interests of a few’ (that rules out the government, then) at the end suggested that the big clubs needed to show there is more to them than money if their plans were to get his organisation’s backing
© The Fan Experience Company 2020