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The FA remind the Premier League and the EFL who holds the ultimate power in English football ... for now

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The real power struggle

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-NOTTINGHAM FOREST Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

The only thing big so far about Project Big Picture, the brainchild of EFL chair Rick Parry and the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United, has been the size of the negative reaction to it. While the proposal’s changes in terms of competitive structure and revenue sharing for the lower leagues would be very welcome, it would come at a price that’s been deemed unacceptable by most.

The Premier League itself as well as the UK government have already spoken out against it — even as the “majority” of the EFL clubs would support it since it does give much better financial support. Now it’s The FA’s turn, whose chairman has reminded all those involved that ultimate power rests with The FA, both in terms of sanctioning domestic competitions and licensing clubs for European competition.

“We, the FA Board and Council, have to ensure that any changes would be to the long-term benefit of the whole of football and we have substantial controls to help ensure that the best interests of the game are served by any new proposals.

“In addition to the Special Share in the Premier League, which prevents certain changes being made to the constitution without the FA’s consent, it is also the FA’s responsibility to sanction competitions in England — including any proposed new competition — as well as being responsible for licensing clubs, through UEFA, to play in Europe. Additionally, UEFA look to us to nominate the league, and therefore the clubs, that will play in their competitions.”

Now, granted, (part of) the Premier League could certainly create their own breakaway league — as apparently been threatened already — but they would have to do so outside the confines of the existing overall power and governing structure. That may not be as problematic as The FA might want everyone to believe, but it would certainly be a bold move and one that would only work if those rebel teams got outside support. If all the top teams around Europe got together for a European Super League for example, with or without UEFA’s support, the national associations would have little power to stop them.

Ideally, things would not come to a head in such a drastic manner. The FA want the Premier League and the EFL to work together (all teams involved this time) to reach a more agreeable set of reforms.

“[We’ve] counselled a more consensus-based approach involving all Premier League clubs and its Chair and CEO. [...] Let’s continue to work together to determine what is best for English football, with full dialogue between all key stakeholders.

“However, there is more to our game than economics. Change must benefit clubs, fans and players; not just selective balance sheets. In these difficult times unity, transparency and common purpose must override the interests of the few.”

-Greg Clarke; FA chairman; source: Mirror

Whether that’s actually feasible remains to be seen. Those with the power (financial or governing) aren’t likely to share the wealth without getting something substantial in return, regardless of any moral or societal considerations.

The current set up is probably not viable in the long-term, which actually may not be very far away thanks to the pandemic. What professional football will look like in England and Europe in the post-COVID world may be quite different from what we’ve gotten used to over the last couple decades, especially if those with the power cannot agree on a mutually beneficial solution.