English football increasingly appears to be at a crossroads with the ongoing financial ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic bringing a significant element of uncertainty across the nation.
On Sunday, it was revealed Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group were behind a plan to bring about a major shake-up across the Football League pyramid: Project Big Picture.
The plans are wide-ranging and seek to bring about fundamental challenges across the leagues, including a reduction in the number of teams in the Premier League, increased payments to those outside the top-flight, and a change in voting rights and power within the Premier League.
The move has been driven by FSG and is said to have the backing of Manchester United’s leadership, with it expected the remaining members of the league’s ‘big six’ back the proposals.
Among the myriad of changes suggested, a scrapping of the EFL Cup – or it being removed from the fixture schedules of those clubs in European football – is on the table.
We try to get to the bottom of what these significant changes could mean for English football.
Who is behind the plan?
Liverpool’s American owners, Fenway Sports Group, are said to have authored the working document “Revitalisation”, which provides the basis of the plans.
It is said to have the support of Manchester United, with the two historic rivals the “driving force” behind the proposals.
It is expected the remaining members of the established ‘big six’ group of clubs in English football - including Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham - will give their support.
What changes would be made in the Premier League?
The most notable change is the reduction in teams in the Premier League from 20 to 18. The division has had 20 teams since 1995, when the number was reduced from the original 22.
Furthermore, there would be a reduction of fluidity between the division and the Championship.
Only two teams would be directly promoted and two automatically relegated. The 16th-placed side of the Premier League would then enter a playoff system including teams from third to fifth in the Championship, to determine the final place.
The proposal would also see controlling power centralised in the hands of the biggest clubs. The one-club, one-vote system - which has been in place since the creation of the Premier League - will be abolished.
Meanwhile, the threshold of 14 club votes to pass any decision or regulation change will also be eradicated.
Instead, the votes of just six of the nine longest-serving top-flight clubs - the current ‘big six’ alongside Everton, West Ham and Southampton - would be required to vote on rule changes.
They would have ‘unprecedented power’, including vetoing ownership changes at rival clubs.
What’s the impact on the EFL?
The Championship, League One and League Two would remain at 24 clubs each but the reduction in the size of the Premier League to 18 would mean that two clubs drop out of the EFL entirely.
The Football League will receive a rescue package of £250million to help steer them through the Covid-19 crisis, whilst there would also be long-term commitments - a quarter of the Premier League’s annual revenue would go to the EFL, which would see the end of ‘parachute payments’ from relegated sides.
What about the League Cup and Community Shield?
Both competitions would be abolished under the initial proposal, although it is suggested that the League Cup could survive but without the participation of clubs competing in European football.
Which clubs may benefit most?
Unsurprisingly, the two clubs who have driven the idea - Liverpool and Manchester United - alongside their established elite rivals in English football - Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City - would be the main beneficiaries.
The other three clubs, as things stand, who would also carry significant power under the proposals would be Everton, Southampton and West Ham.
What about the FA?
£100million is set to be given to the FA in a one-off payment to cover the Women’s game, youth and grassroots football.
What else should I know?
The plan is supported by the EFL chairman Rick Parry.
The talks to form the document began in 2017.
There would be no greater share of TV revenue in the Premier League for the ‘big six’.
A fan charter will be introduced to include capping the price of away tickets at £20, away travel being subsidised, a focus on a return to safe standing, a minimum away allocation of eight per cent capacity.
There will be a later Premier League start to accommodate more pre-season games and the requirement for all teams to compete once every five years in a ‘Premier League tournament’.
Clubs will be allowed to loan up to 15 players domestically at any one time, including up to four players at any particular club.
How have the Premier League responded?
The Premier League issued a response on Sunday afternoon, saying:
"We have seen media reports today regarding a plan to restructure football in this country.
"English football is the world’s most watched, and has a vibrant, dynamic and competitive league structure that drives interest around the globe.
"To maintain this position, it is important that we all work together.
"Both the Premier League and The FA support a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game, including its competition structures, calendar and overall financing particularly in light of the effects of COVID-19.
"Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.
"In the Premier League’s view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, Chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.
"The Premier League has been working in good faith with its clubs and the EFL to seek a resolution to the requirement for COVID-19 rescue funding. This work will continue."