The emergence of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Project Big Picture has sent shockwaves through the world of football this week.
The plans, which threaten to completely change the entire landscape of English football, have been met with plenty of scepticism – with EFL clubs split over whether to support the proposals – and even more anger.
But who are the men trying to enforce change at the very top of the game? Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the major players to see who they are, what their role is, and what they will get out of it…
The controversial Project Big Picture has sent shockwaves across English football this week
John W Henry – Liverpool owner
Let’s start with the man who is reported to have come up with the idea in the first place. John W Henry is the head of Fenway Sports Group, the company who have owned Liverpool since October 2010.
He also owns the Boston Red Sox and has been at the helm through all of Liverpool’s recent Champions League and Premier League success. Needless to say, that has made he and his fellow owners keen to secure more riches at the top of the game.
Henry set up the meeting in Boston that set the ball rolling, bringing to fruition an idea that he had been harbouring for a number of years. Along with Joel Glazer and Rick Parry – more on them later – the plans were devised, and are now at the stage where they want to move forward with their project.
Liverpool, and therefore Henry, would be huge beneficiaries of the plans. It would give them more opportunities to play games in an expanded Champions League and, ultimately – and most importantly – significantly increase the wealth of the club.
John W Henry is one of the major players, first bringing the idea to the table back in 2017
Joel Glazer – Manchester United owner
Much like Henry, Joel Glazer’s reasons for getting involved in the scheme are purely financial. Unlike Henry, though, United’s recent performances on the pitch have left a lot to be desired and the opportunity to consolidate United’s place among the big players in the Premier League is a big draw.
The Glazer family began their part-ownership of Manchester United in March 2003 and by June 2005 Joel and Bryan were on the board of directors and the takeover was complete. Since then they have overseen an incredible amount of success, but in the last few years – post Sir Alex Ferguson – it is fair to say there has been a steady decline.
Glazer was involved in the talks with Henry and Parry from the very start and is among those really pushing to get Project Big Picture over the line. Like Liverpool, United will benefit financially and it will give them the opportunity to play more games in an extended Champions League.
Joel Glazer (left) has teamed up with his rival at Liverpool to put forward the huge plans
Rick Parry – EFL chairman
The current EFL chairman has been involved in talks since the very beginning, first meeting up with Glazer and Henry in America to discuss the initial plans. He has become the face of the project over the last few days too, speaking out in a number of high-profile interviews.
Although he doesn’t currently have anything to do with the Premier League, he was heavily involved in its formation back in 1992 and was its first chief executive. He brokered the then-biggest TV deal in the history of UK sport during his time in the role, and has since also been chief executive of his boyhood club Liverpool.
Now at the EFL, Parry has a vested interest in the plans as it will affect his member clubs. He is also keen to secure a way out of the coronavirus pandemic, with many EFL sides edging closer to oblivion with no fans able to return to their stadia.
Rick Parry is currently EFL chief but has held top jobs in the Premier League and at Liverpool
Greg Clarke – FA chairman
Although Greg Clarke has so far only played a very small role in proceedings, his say could yet become the most important. As chairman of the FA, it has been reported that he has been privy to the project’s discussions at a minor level.
It has now emerged that the FA – and therefore, Clarke – hold all the cards with their ‘Golden Share’, enabling them to block any plans if they feel the need. They were granted that power back in 1991 during talks over the Premier League’s inception.
The FA haven’t ever exercised their right in the entire 29-season history of the Premier League… but now could well be the time if they are worried about the plans changing the landscape of English football in a negative way.
Greg Clarke and the FA’s ‘Golden Share’ could be the undoing of Glazer, Henry and Parry’s plan
Oliver Dowden – Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
One of the more outspoken men against the project is Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and therefore essentially the Government spokesman on the issue.
He has come out strongly against the plans, calling it a ‘backroom deal’, and has warned that the Government could launch a fan-led review into proceedings.
There are also questions about the effect the coronavirus pandemic is having on the sport, and Dowden has warned that he will step in if the Premier League and EFL fail to reach an agreement on how to proceed.
For now, Dowden will not get involved, but he will be keeping a keen eye on where the talks go next to see whether he needs to step in.
Oliver Dowden has already spoken out against Project Big Picture and could have more of a say
Richard Masters – Premier League chief executive
Spare a thought for the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, who is set to have quite a bumpy road ahead of him. Since taking over at the helm in November, he has had to steer the ship through the coronavirus pandemic and a failed Newcastle United takeover… and now this.
He has not been involved in talks so far, but will chair what is set to be a very feisty meeting between the 20 clubs this week.
He is tasked with fending off a brutal civil war between his 20 member clubs, while also trying to navigate through the rest of the pandemic and the return of fans to stadia as early as Government rules allow.
Richard Masters has endured an incredibly difficult start to life as Premier League chief exec