February 25, 2024

 

Some big decisions over the immediate future of Everton lie in the hands of others, but the club is not the only party under scrutiny: The integrity of the Premier League is also at stake.

The outcome of the probe into Everton’s finances will be decided by an independent commission. So will the sanction, if wrongdoing is found. It remains a process instigated by the Premier League, however, and so the organisation’s role will also deserve inspection. Even if cleared, this will have been an investigation that has had a significant impact on Everton.

 

The Premier League is also one of the regulatory bodies that will assess 777 Partners’ attempt to buy the Blues. Everton supporters – and let us be clear here, it is fans who make football special – need and deserve for it to be robust, diligent and inquisitive as it considers the ownership of one of the sport’s great clubs.

 

Both decisions will be made against the backdrop of Government proposals to create an independent football regulator. While the Premier League attempts to shape those plans it has to treat Everton fairly – the club cannot become a sacrificial lamb as it attempts to convince others it can manage its own affairs.

 

That the Premier League needs to act responsibly is important and should go without saying. The events of this week suggest there is no harm in publishing a reminder, however.

 

On Wednesday, The Telegraph reported claims the Premier League is calling for a deduction of up to 12 points should Everton be found guilty of breaching financial regulations during the 2021/22 season in a case that has been heard over recent weeks.

 

There was nuance to the report – Everton must be found guilty before a punishment can be considered and the club vehemently denies wrongdoing. “Up to” 12 points is also a large spectrum that also includes one, two or three points. And in most adversarial processes the two sides submit wildly different conclusions and those with oversight are tasked with negotiating the different opinions. Other penalties do also exist.

 

But the news understandably led to concern. The full details of the allegation facing Everton and the case against the club have not been made public, so it is impossible for me to argue whether the club is innocent or guilty and, if it is the latter, what punishment would be suitable.

 

It is, though, fair to highlight the loss of a dozen points would be so crippling it can surely only be considered in the most severe of cases. To put it into context, Portsmouth received nine points for entering administration in 2010. Middlesbrough got three points taken away for cancelling a fixture in 1997. Both were then relegated from the top flight.

 

The severity, release and timing of the claims inspired anger and frustration. Some of it is justified. Information surrounding the process has been so tightly guarded that such a claim being leaked is a major setback to its integrity. The Premier League has known details of its case since before the allegation was made against Everton back in March. It would likely have set its position on a potential punishment weeks, maybe months ago. So for the claims to emerge on Wednesday, with the club in mourning following the death of chairman Bill Kenwright, is particularly unsavoury.

 

The unprecedented scale of the punishment being suggested was also a shock. It is right that the Premier League should seek to uphold the fairness and competitiveness of the globe’s most prestigious domestic league. But let us not forget what happened to the six top flight clubs that wanted to form a breakaway competition. A combined ‘goodwill’ payment of £22m was made to the English governing bodies and, while the threat of severe sanction in the event of a repeat was threatened, it is tough to imagine how the extremity of the wrongdoing alleged against Everton could warrant greater hardship than suffered by those whose actions could have ripped apart the competition.

 

With Everton facing one allegation while Manchester City face more than 100, which the club denies, it is also hard to understand what a proportional suggested punishment could be in that case if the Blues are hit with a top end points deduction.

 

This all comes against growing frustration with English football’s governing bodies. Whether it be the VAR farce that hit Liverpool at Tottenham Hotspur or the baffling decision that hurt Everton at Anfield last week, supporters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with decision-making on the pitch.

 

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Meanwhile, fans of all Premier League clubs should look on with concern after the match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea was moved to Christmas Eve. Everton fans have already been hit by late schedule changes at the behest of broadcasters this season and it is easy to understand why supporters, particularly match-going fans, are losing patience with the game they love.

 

The Premier League is fighting a different battle though. Proposals for an independent football regulator are expected to be announced in the upcoming King’s Speech. The Premier League continued its efforts to shape those plans into this month as the spectre of a new organisation designed to act in the interest of supporters approached.

 

As it tries to convince others of how robust it is, there must be no attempt to use the processes Everton are part of as PR exercises to protect its own interests. The best way to strengthen its own reputation is to act with fairness and transparency. At the moment the processes it inspires and oversees operate behind closed doors amid a vacuum of information that leads to frenetic speculation. If that remains the case, potential accusations of self-interest could grow.

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