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Liverpool, Man United plan power grab with leagues' overhaul

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Liverpool's Roberto Firmino walks in dejection during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at the Villa Park stadium in Birmingham, England, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, Pool)

LONDON – Liverpool and Manchester United have angered the Premier League and the government by formulating plans to reshape English football with a power grab that would also reduce the size of the top competition to 18 teams.

The plans have been engineered by the American-owned clubs in conjunction with Rick Parry, the chairman of the English Football League, which features the 72 professional teams below the Premier League.

Parry is championing the biggest shakeup of English football since he helped to create the Premier League in 1992 with a breakaway from the Football League by saying it would provide greater revenue for EFL clubs as they struggle financially due to fans being shut out of stadiums during the pandemic.

But the lack of wide collaboration has opened up fractures, with the Premier League stressing “we all work together” through the “proper channels."

“A number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game,” the Premier League said in a statement, “and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry ... has given his on-the-record support.”

Parry is backing what is being called “Project Big Picture” with the promise of 250 million pounds ($270 million) being advanced from the Premier League to help EFL clubs. From the 2022-23 season, 8.5% of broadcast revenue would be used to operate the Premier League and help to fund the Football Association and good causes. A quarter of broadcast revenue would go to EFL clubs. The Premier League currently generates about 3 billion pounds per season from selling the rights to broadcast its games.

But agreeing to this package of changes would also lead to changes in the Premier League only needing approval from six of the nine-longest serving clubs — rather than the currently required 14 of 20 teams.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government saw that as a power play by the wealthiest clubs. It chimes with moves by the European Club Association to have a maximum of 18 teams in leagues, creating space for the elite to play each other more often in continental games.

“We are surprised and disappointed that at a time of crisis when we have urged the top tiers of professional football to come together and finalize a deal to help lower league clubs there appear to be backroom deals being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game," the government said in a statement.

"Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling. Fans must be front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan led review of football governance will be so critical.”

Liverpool and United are both owned by American sports tycoons and have remained publicly silent, while Parry's remarks provided apparent cover for them in public. He was Premier League CEO at the inception in 1992 before moving into the same position at Liverpool in 1998 for 11 years.

“This isn’t about giving power to a limited number of named clubs,” Parry said. “This is about recognizing that those clubs who’ve been in the Premier League the longest get a greater share of the voting rights.”


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