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burnham's blueprint

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emphasis perhaps on the word blue.


Share your wealth, Andy Burnham tells Premier League football clubs

Philip Webster and Kevin Eason



The Government is demanding a radical overhaul of English football finances to break the domination of the “big four” clubs.


Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, is calling for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool to share their winnings in Europe with other Premier League teams.


Mr Burnham, an Everton fan, is pressing for several measures to redistribute the wealth of the richest league in the world to its lower reaches. He wants the league’s £1 billion revenue from television and sponsorship rights to be shared out more evenly among its 20 clubs. He also wants smaller squads and compulsory quotas of English players in team line-ups.


The demands has put football’s governing bodies at loggerheads with the Government, which claims to be acting in supporters’ interests.


A meeting on Tuesday night between Mr Burnham and Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, broke up with the minister demanding more from the game.


After months of talks between the two sides Mr Burnham clearly believes that the league has failed to take seriously his call for more “competitive balance”. A government source said: “We have to keep the dream in football. At present there are three divisions within the Premier League: the group at the bottom, the group in the middle and the top four.”


The most contentious demand is for the big four to share some of their earnings from Europe’s Champions League — ranging from £15 million to £40 million each. That revenue helps to entrench their dominant position, giving them more to spend on players, usually from overseas. “They are there representing our league; perhaps some of that money should go back to the clubs,” a government source said.


Mr Burnham, whose club Everton are sixth in the league, is acting towards the end of a season that has again marked the big four maintaining their grip on the top of the Premier League. Three were in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Manchester United beat Arsenal on Tuesday; Chelsea were knocked out by Barcelona last night.


Ministers have dismissed suggestions that they might legislate. “The Government has a duty to represent the views of football supporters across the country and we believe on these issues we are speaking with the grain of football opinion,” said the source.


Other advisers said that the Government had opposed attempts by the European Commission to extend competition policy to cover transfer fees and, in return, now expected football “to put its own house in order”. In October Mr Burnham asked the Premier League, Football League and Football Association to consider areas such as governance, financial regulation and avoidance of debt.


He suggested limits on the size of squads. Some of the top teams have as many as 60 players and therefore unlimited substitutes to counter injuries.


More controversially, he asked the game to adopt quotas of locally developed talent in each Premier League squad, and similar quotas for players sent out for each match.


Fabio Capello, the Italian manager of the England team, complained last year that only 35 per cent of Premier League players were English; Italy’s Serie A was 72 per cent Italian.


Ministers believe that a call from Fifa, the world governing body, for teams to have no more than six foreigners to every five home-grown players would be unworkable and probably break European law. They believe that the answer is to make developing local talent more attractive and for leagues to impose their own quotas.


Of the £1 billion that comes to the league, 50 per cent is distributed equally between all clubs, 25 per cent is paid out according to the finishing places, and 25 per cent according to the number of television appearances. The result is that there is a 1.6:1 ratio in earnings between the top and bottom clubs. Ministers accept that the figure has improved considerably over the years but believe that more can be done. They argue that if more revenue came from the Champions League it could be used to iron out inequalities. That position is believed to be supported privately by the Premier League.


Manchester United, the champions, received £49.3 million from the Premier League last season. Arsenal got £47 million; Chelsea £45.5 million and Liverpool £45.4 million. The lowest payment in 2007-08 was £30 million to Reading, but even relegated clubs get a golden handshake worth £11.4 million for the two years after they leave the Premiership. The Premier League also hands out more than £128 million a year to charities.


A spokesman for the Premier League said: “Our submission to Andy Burnham’s original seven questions has been well received. We hope to make public our contribution to this debate shortly.”


A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: “We have made it clear that it is not Government’s job to run football but to challenge the game on issues that are in the public interest.”

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