The Telegraph: What next for English football as it faces financial catastrophe?

The Telegraph: What next for English football as it faces financial catastrophe?

Article by Tom Morgan for the Daily Telegraph - published 9 October 2020

Jamie Vardy's party was still in full swing in May 2016 when one top-six chief executive offered up a niche view of the Premier League's greatest miracle.

"It's a disaster for us," was his cynical assessment of Leicester City's title triumph during an off-record coffee meeting at his plush office with a Daily Telegraph correspondent. No time for praise from a club chief preoccupied by potential damage to his campaign to get the richest teams a bigger slice of the TV billions.

Four years on and competing agendas of inevitable self-interest over solidarity linger close to the surface again while football faces its worst financial catastrophe.

"It's a perfect storm," was the description of one chairman who believes the pyramid is being pulled apart by competing agendas.

With bail-out talks locked over a potential rescue package between the Premier League and cash-strapped English Football League, several clubs in the top two tiers appear instead determined not to let a good crisis go to waste.

Telegraph Sport has learned of two leading club executives privately mooting the prospect of a European Super League breakaway post Covid. It also emerged this week that a rebel group of Championship chief executives met in secret amid fears they are growing increasingly disenfranchised with the EFL.

Manchester City, meanwhile, risked the wrath Leagues One and Two by suggesting they should be allowed to field B-teams to prop up the lower tiers. Such an idea was previously raised in 2014 as part of a review to safeguard the pyramid led by Greg Dyke, the former Football Association chairman. Speaking on Thursday night, he told Telegraph Sport his reforms have gone down like a "bucket of cold sick".

Instead, Dyke says the only long-term solution for the game is an independent regulator-detached from the FA-to safeguard the entire pyramid. He adds that tackling the "foreign takeover" in football, as well as getting the EFL to agree to B-teams, could then be key elements in helping long-term. "We'll see what the FA does to the Premier League clubs in terms of foreign players, but my guess is they haven't got the b------s to do it," he added.

As part of negotiations surrounding a bail-out, the Premier League is pushing for support for plans to loosen the homegrown player quota. Dyke said the pyramid is currently paying for mistakes the FA made in not tackling inequalities in football during the formation of the modern league 1992.

"My view of football overall these days, is that you need a proper regulator, and that the FA can't do that for lots of reasons, one of which is it relies on the Premier League clubs for its players, and basically for its money," he added. "It needs players to play in the England team, and for the teams to play in the FA Cup."

Government sources told Telegraph Sport on Thursday that ministers were "too busy keeping sport alive" during Covid to consider major new regulation within football.

However, Dyke is not the first former FA chairman to identify the need for a major overhaul. David Bernstein is understood to be in talks with other football administrators about potential new safeguards for the game.

One option previously disclosed by Telegraph Sport is a single club licensing structure, similar to the NFL in America, with radical regulatory power to set common rules on investment, ownership and wage-to-revenue spending.

Such a system was previously recommended by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which reported evidence of "failings at every level of football governance" following their inquiry.

Damian Collins, the former chairman of the committee, says the immediate launch of a financial regulator could agree loans to avoid clubs becoming increasingly beholden to the Premier League's current demands.

Clubs, he said, have already contacted him to say they could "bleed to death" within weeks. Some executives say they already cannot afford payroll this month, while others are unable to fulfil their tax obligations, he added.

"If you're an EFL club, you may not want to borrow money from the Premier League," he added. "I think If we had an independent body now, where clubs could go to privately, they could arrange the whole financial package to support them, and with that would come the scrutiny that is needed to make sure the club is run sustainably and that ultimately the money could be repaid."

Collins said "time is running out" for the game to find solutions for a black hole which is likely to reach almost £2billion by next April. "Leagues could just collapse-it's not just clubs going bust," he added. "The time for talking has run out," he said of a perceived lack of a coherent crisis strategy.

An independent regulator would not necessarily be dismissed out of hand at Premier League HQ, which feels it has been unfairly burdened after the Government piled pressure on the division to show "solidarity" with the EFL. "Amazon hasn't been asked to bail out the High Street," was the point made by one senior executive.

The EFL, in turn, is likely to call for greater help from ministers with a host of clubs angry at the prospect of handing over more power. "Instead of the Premier League having control of the debate, it should be the FA or the Government," Andy Holt, chairman at League One Accrington says. "The Premier League just want to extract maximum benefit for themselves."

Dyke, Collins and Holt believe the Premier League will attack so many conditions to a potential £150million offer-including a grant of just £40milion-that the Government will be forced to step in. In the longer term, however, Dyke is calling on the EFL to side with the FA in having a higher homegrown player quotas.

"If you look at the Premier League, it's a cartel-20 clubs coming together to sell their television rights," he added. "By anybody's standards that's a cartel. It needs proper regulation. I don't think anyone's going to do it. But that's what it needs." To unlock this mess, football needs a miracle of Leicester proportions.

Copyright 2019 Damian Collins. All rights reserved

Promoted by Russell Tillson for and on behalf of Damian Collins, both of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association both at 4 West Cliff Gardens, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1SP

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