Masters expressed his hope to see the ongoing strategic review of the Premier League completed by the end of March as he appeared alongside English Football League (EFL) chairman Rick Parry before a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, where the spotlight was on the foiled plans to revolutise the pyramid as well as the failure to agree a financial bailout for clubs across the Championship, League One and League Two.
Manchester United and Liverpool were at the forefront of plans to redraw the English football system alongside Parry, who has repeatedly called for long-term change along with short-term relief following the financial crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the EFL voiced their support for Project Big Picture, the Premier League unanimously rejected the proposals thanks largely to a backlash from the 14 clubs not involved in the plans, but Masters stressed that the current face of the top flight will not remain in place for long.
“I was asked whether I wanted to participate in February in formal discussions with the Football Association and EFL,” Masters said. “I declined because it only involved a small selection of clubs.
“We were contemplating our own strategic review. The pandemic hit and changed everything as we know for everybody, and what we’ve announced in the last two weeks is a revival of our strategic review, but with a tighter timeframe and a wider focus to deal with all of the issues that have come up in the pandemic.
“I absolutely think that the status quo is very unlikely to be unifying or the right way forward, so change is coming. But change needs to be delivered with a development of all clubs whether you be in the Premier League or the EFL, with the support of all bodies.
So all stakeholders need to be involved. Whilst Project Big Picture came up in the middle of this, all of our 20 clubs now support strategic review
“And we have invited the FA to participate, and indeed the EFL as well.”
Masters was pressed for what change will look like, and whether the introduction of a two-tier Premier League will be considered. Under Project Big Picture, a reduction to 18 clubs in the top flight had also been proposed, although this was firmly rejected by sides outside of the ‘Big Six’ along with the larger share of power that those elite sides would acquire.
One issue for those involved in reshaping the English pyramid is Uefa’s ongoing considerations at revamping European football, which could see support grow for a European Super League that would jeopardise the current standing of the Premier League on the global stage.
“I don’t want to be preemptive about it,” Masters added. “I don’t think the status quo is the right or unifying way forward. Clearly there are multiple plans in existence, lots of conversation going ahead throughout Uefa. There’s an ongoing process with regards to the changes to European club competitions post-2024.
We spent much of last year working on that with our clubs so we know change is probably coming in Europe and there’s never been a greater need for a clear plan with regards to domestic football post-pandemic and dealing with the issues.
I suspect that if we don’t have a strong plan that we’re unified around someone will write it for us and I don’t feel that is the right way forward.
I don’t want to be preemptive about what change will look like but I think change is coming, but it needs to be agreed by all clubs and all stakeholders.”
EFL chairman Parry expressed his unhappiness that Project Big Picture was rejected completely by the Premier League, given his belief that building a long-term plan to salvage the lower leagues would result in the short-term issues being fixed in the process.
“Project Big Picture ticked all of those boxes, so from my point of view it was a first-class plan,” Parry said.
“This was one version that was leaked, version 18 that was leaked. We haven’t seen a version 19.
“To dismiss a project that had a whole series of extremely good ideas, that was completely the wrong approach.”
Parry added: “When I came to you in May I absolutely said that we needed to address the issues simultaneously. We needed to look at the short-term while addressing the long-term issues.
“In fact it was Richard who touched on the point that by resetting the future and having some certainty on future revenues you do two things. You give our owners some hope – we’re relying on those owners putting in the £440m in because without that £440m frankly we’re dead”.
“Once you look at a redistribution of values then you can look backwards. Instead of thrashing around looking for pockets of money here, there and everywhere you could look at a substantial advance of those future revenues which then solves the short-term problems. So the two come together and dove-tail perfectly.”