Project Big Picture: English football’s power battle is like Brexit, says Arsene Wenger

Simon Collings
·4-min read

Arsene Wenger has compared the power grab at the top of English football to Brexit and urged the country to take back control of its national game.

The former Arsenal manager is opposed to the Project Big Picture proposals that are being led by overseas owners of Liverpool and Manchester United.

The bombshell plans have sent shockwaves through English football ahead of what is set to be a defining Premier League shareholders meeting tomorrow.

West Ham, Crystal Palace and Fulham are thought to be among the medium and smaller-sized Premier League clubs up in arms about the proposals, which would give more power to the ‘big six’ of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs and include a £250million bailout for the EFL.

Arsenal, Chelsea, and Spurs have not publicly declared their position ahead of tomorrow’s emergency meeting, when the idea will be debated.

Any change needs 14 out of 20 votes of the Premier League clubs, as well as for the FA to agree, and there seems no prospect of that.

Liverpool and Manchester United, owned by Americans John W Henry and Joel Glazer, want to keep their radical plans alive despite mounting opposition from other clubs and the Government, and will outline their case tomorrow.

But Wenger has warned English football cannot let overseas owners control football in this country. He says it is up to the Government, the Premier League and the FA to sort out the financial crisis in the game amid fears that lower division clubs could go to the wall in the Covid-19 crisis.

“England has to sort that problem out,” Wenger told the BBC. “This is an English problem to make English football survive.

“I believe that England has voted Brexit to gain sovereignty back on the decisions that concern the country. So I believe that decision belongs to English football.

“What I mean is [all of] English

football has to sort out this problem. In the past, English football has become great because people were able to do that. Brexit is a desire for this country to get control again of its own important assets and football is one of them. They have to sort it out internally.

“Hopefully the FA and the Premier League can sit together and find a solution to support the smaller clubs, because the support exists at three levels — for the national team, for the big clubs and for the local team that you support when you love football. But this support has shrunk and they need support at the moment from bigger clubs. Big Premier League [clubs] are owned now by multi-billionaires from other countries and England has lost the control of its own game.

“The whole situation has to maybe get politics involved at the highest level to sort it out.”

Photo: Action Images
Photo: Action Images

The proposals include plans to cut the Premier League to 18 teams, scrapping the League Cup and Community Shield and giving the biggest clubs a greater share of broadcast revenue.

The plans would even allow Tottenham to claim back around £125m for the costs of their £1billion stadium.

The FA cannot veto a plan until it is formally submitted but it is thought the governing body would use the “golden share” they were given when the Premier League was formed in 1992 to block the changes.

The 24 Championship clubs were due to hold an emergency meeting today. The £250m bailout is attractive to clubs further down the pyramid, as their finances have been hit hard by Covid-19, and the proposals have been backed by EFL chairman Rick Parry.

Wenger said: “You cannot ignore completely the tradition inside the country. Because the project comes from outside owners it will create a reluctance and a negative approach.

“Overall the solution has to come from the federation, from the Government and from the Premier League to find a compromise to sort out the problems that already existed before coronavirus.

“If nothing happens, the smaller clubs will die. I do not think that one payment will sort out the problem. The problem is much deeper than that. The money certainly has to be shared, the income of the top clubs has to be shared a fraction more with the smaller clubs.”

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