Increasingly rudderless at a time of unprecedented vulnerability | Football

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY

As anyone who has visited Giza will attest, English football is not the only pyramid in the world that attracts no end of unsavoury hucksters eager to capitalise on its popularity for a quick and often unscrupulously attained buck. Obviously, the famously altruistic and benevolent American charitable trusts Fenway Sports Group and the Glazer Family are not among them, as their unofficial mouthpiece Rick Parry has been eager to point out this week. Chatting to anyone who would listen on Monday, Rick insisted Project Big Picture is the gift that will keep on giving to endangered clubs outside the Premier League elite. Meanwhile, the general consensus seems to be that it looks suspiciously like one that will keep on taking.

First to go would be League status, chances of a money-spinning Milk Cup run and any faint hopes they might have harboured of some day becoming one of the 14 clubs the Big Six increasingly see as a major inconvenience. One with whom they have to share cash in collective TV deals when they could be streaming their own games and keeping all the dough. Parry insists the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United feel “passion for the pyramid” and have its best interests at heart. And if that pyramid’s apex twins and a handful of other foreign billionaires happen to benefit most of all … well that’s just a happy coincidence. Much like the happy coincidence in which a plan understood to have been three years in the making was leaked at a time of unprecedented crisis when many lower-league clubs find themselves drowning and ready to snatch at any lifeline thrown their way, even if it happens to be a length of razor wire.

While Parry would have us applaud the largesse of certain American businessmen, it seems he is not so keen on that of others. In what seemed like a particularly riveting episode of Dragon’s Den, reports have emerged alleging that the EFL chairman turned down a £375m offer from an American investment firm for a 20% stake in the league last Friday. What’s more, the Times claims he rejected the offer without consulting all member clubs, in much the same way as he has been cheerleading for Operation Big Picture without asking for the thoughts of all those whose interests he is tasked with serving.

The EFL has also lost its chief suit David Baldwin, who quit after four months in his role on Monday for reasons partly related to his frustrations at the financial horrors visited upon EFL clubs by the Covid crisis. “I didn’t sign up for this sh1t,” he said in a statement, although we’re prepared to concede we’re paraphrasing. The upshot? An EFL that looks increasingly rudderless at a time of unprecedented vulnerability when it has never needed strong leadership more. One suspects the artists behind Project Big Picture could scarcely be more pleased with this latest flourish.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We understand restrictions on licensed premises in Scotland might offer the temptation to travel south of the border to visit our pubs and bars – but anybody breaching rules here does face a fine. For people in the central belt of Scotland, it is also important to remember the Scottish government is asking people to think carefully about whether they need to travel outside their local health board area” – Superintendent Matt Kennerley of Cumbria police warns Queen’s Celtic and Pope’s Newc O’Rangers fans from heading south en masse to watch Saturday’s Old Firm derby.

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

Venture-scorpions, football supermarkets and another PR PPV masterstroke: it’s David Squires on … the selfless Project Big Small-print. And you can get your very own copy too.

Here we go. Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Here’s the latest Football Weekly podcast.

Football Weekly

Project Big Picture, pay-per-view TV and Arsène Wenger

FIVER LETTERS

“Re: the big proposal (yesterday’s Fiver). While it is self-serving, we have to recognise that a vast amount of the TV interest in the Premier League is because of the numbers of fans around the world paying to watch the big teams. So the plan could work and, with a tweak our two to the voting system, it would be fair: each club should get a vote for every year they have been in the Premier League. So it would be loaded towards to the big clubs, but only because survival is a reasonable measure of success. No self-interest here, I’m a Baggie” – Peter Hehir.

“Reading yesterday’s Fiver brought back happy memories of a childhood holiday in Egypt. Visiting the pyramids and standing directly behind the Sphinx afforded an uninterrupted view of the great crack. Simpler times” – Simon Mazier.

“I believe the book that John Bateson is thinking of (yesterday’s Fiver letters) is ‘Putting The Boot In’, by Dan Kavanagh. Here’s a link to the review” – Rory Mackie.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Simon Mazier.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Cristiano Ronaldo has tested positive for coronavirus, with the Portuguese Football Federation saying he is “doing well, without symptoms, and in isolation”.

Macclesfield Town have been bought by local businessman Robert Smethurst, bringing Robbie Savage on to the club’s board.

Moss Rose, earlier.
Moss Rose, earlier. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

It’s an international break so obviously there’s some back-room club grumbling over the fitness of an England player.

As for Big Phil Neville’s England Women squad, there’s an issue there too.

Kevin De Bruyne is back at Manchester City after being withdrawn from Belgium’s Nations League squad. “I wouldn’t say it was [knack],” diagnosed Dr Bobby M. “It was more precaution that we had to avoid [something], he wasn’t 100%.”

And having lured Craig Dawson across town from Watford on a season’s loan, West Ham are still confident of also bringing Brentford’s Saïd Benrahma east in a £30m deal.

STILL WANT MORE?

Project Big Picture’s little nod to the women’s game? It’s not wanted or needed, writes Suzanne Wrack.

More hot PBP chat: Jonathan Liew on how the proposals tell Football League clubs to know their place, and Proper Journalism’s David Conn explains how they’ve reordered the game’s politics. Meanwhile, Nick Ames and Ben Fisher look at how the plans have gone down and Paul MacInnes has a definitive Q&A.

David Hytner looks at how England rocked a distinctly summer of 2018 vibe against Belgium.

Bukayo Saka and Michael Keane at England training.
Bukayo Saka and Michael Keane at England training. Photograph: Eddie Keogh for The FA/Rex/Shutterstock

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!


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