If we’re being entirely honest with ourselves and you, we’re actually quite glad the biggest clubs in the land have chosen this week to launch their clumsy, doomed (in its current form) and cartoonishly comic-book evil supervillain power grab (Project Big Picture), because it’s international week and to be honest we thought we might be struggling to identify a worthy prick. Instead, there are six of them! Or possibly nine! Or a number in between!
So who’s this week’s prick then?
Liverpool and Manchester United appear to be the chief architects of Project Big Picture, which covers a large mountain of shit with just enough sugar to try and win sufficient support from the genuinely desperate, we-might-be-out-of-business-by-Christmas clubs subsisting below the Premier League’s largesse to allow a power grab by the very biggest clubs that would dwarf even the creation of the Premier League. But given the plan focuses power in slightly more hands than just Liverpool and United’s, the pricks are a wider group. Anyone in the newly-formed ‘big nine’ – which by including Everton, Southampton and West Ham itself only serves to emphasise just how violent the churn below the current elite has already become – is, on this issue, a prick until proven not prick. Bizarrely, that means West Ham are this week ‘not pricks’. Against all odds, 2020 still retains the power to surprise. Rick Parry, the big bastards’ man on the inside, joins the cast of pricks for being taken in by it all.
What have they done?
Much like a government surely now no more than three days away from awarding Wetherspoons a £110m contract to provide PPE to the NHS, the Premier League’s very biggest bastards are determined not to let a good crisis go to waste. It’s no exaggeration to say the entire English football pyramid is at risk of collapse, and if the Premier League clubs are going to ride to the rescue then they’ll want something in return. Well, something for the bigger clubs anyway, because to be honest the bottom half of the league has some ghastly little clubs in it, many of them little more then glorified EFL stragglers themselves. The solution proposed is to avoid that happening now with a huge lump of cash from Premier League coffers in exchange for everyone outside the Big Six/Nine knowing their place and accepting that the price of their continued existence is the death of their dreams. The de facto control the elite already have would be permanently inked in, handing over all manner of power, up to and including turning off the sport-saving taps they’re about to turn on. It essentially ends the founding ‘one member, one vote’ principle of the Premier League. In other words, disaster capitalism. In other words, still the end of English football as we know it, but just in a slightly different way and drawn out over a slightly longer timeframe.
Astonishingly, given the world events everyone has lived through over the last few years, there remain a great many people, many of them outwardly sensible grown adult humans, who point out there are several good bits of Project Big Picture (none, admittedly, going so far as to include that shit name among them) and we shouldn’t discard those just because some of the other bits are a teensy bit entirely evil and terrible. These sweet summer children genuinely seem to believe they can have the sugar without the shit. Against all odds, 2020 still retains the power to surprise.
It’s obviously true that PBP does contain Obviously Good Things. There are nods to away fans, stuff about safe standing, and most obviously that central and crucial commitment (albeit one that relies an awful lot on lovable American venture capitalists John W Henry and Joel Glazer acting entirely in good faith) of redistributing cash to help those lower down the pyramid. Now you could argue that this is money the Premier League already stole from the Football League when it was formed and all the big clubs are really doing is paying it back in exchange for ever greater power, and you’d be right. But still, that cash is not just welcome; it is in many cases utterly crucial.
But it’s no coincidence that this project, talked about for years, has appeared now, rushed to the extent they didn’t even bother coming up with a name that wasn’t shit. And it’s not just because Liverpool and Manchester United recognise and respect the need for international week content.
On the insane accelerated timeline of 2020, it’s still only a few days ago that Premier League clubs voted almost unanimously to give something back to the fans they miss so much by only charging them £15 a time to watch extra matches on TV. It’s still less than a week ago that a City suit said the quiet part loud about B teams in the EFL. It’s barely more than a week ago that Premier League clubs who’ve spent the last six months pleading poverty, trying to use the government’s furlough scheme, or sacking a much-loved dinosaur, bucked the sport-wide trend by still chucking hundreds of millions of pounds at the transfer window.
The very existence of the Premier League at all was and is a power grab, and it was only ever the start.
Something needs to happen to save lower-league football clubs, and it is inevitably going to be shit-flavoured to a greater or lesser degree. Championship clubs spending more in wages than they bring in – even if this is a direct response to conditions created by the existence of the Premier League – also don’t help themselves.
So what happens next?
The big bastards have probably over-reached. It is also probably a deliberate over-reaching so that when the reality of saving the pyramid involves ever so slightly less overtly evil concentration of power for the big boys it won’t seem quite so bad. Either that or they really are just cartoonishly evil, which can’t be ruled out.
Quiet week for the great man with eight games in 21 days giving way to none for ages. Appears to have leant on “Gary” Southgate sufficiently hard that his tired boys are not being flogged on England duty – despite some attempt from the press to suggest otherwise – which means sadly we’ve heard little from Jose in recent days.
The aforementioned Ferran Soriano and his B-Team chat; The pay-per-view scheme; International Football cramming three games into a week during what is already a dangerously condensed season and making us grudgingly accept that Jose does have a bit of a point on that one; Arsene Wenger being a ferociously intelligent man with mostly fascinating and interesting ideas about the future of football yet still inexplicably unable to grasp that simply moving the location of the line from which offsides are measured to a different point will do nothing to stop the existence of offsides being given on millimetres and people arguing about them, because THERE WILL STILL BE A LINE AND A MILLIMETRE TO ONE SIDE OF IT STRIKERS WILL STILL BE OFFSIDE.
Prick of the Week Hall of Fame