Catlin airs doubts over league shake-up

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin Picture: Joe Pepler
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IT’S BEING billed as the most radical shake-up of English football since the Premier League formed.

And it will be the topic on everyone’s lips as the Football League AGM gets under way in Portugal today.

In Vilamoura, the proposal to change the make-up of the league ladder with the introduction of a fifth division will be forwarded.

Pompey chief executive, Mark Catlin, has voiced his reservations over the plan and the likelihood of it receiving the necessary approval from clubs.

The changes would see another division of 20 sides instated from the 2019-20 season.

An approval rate of 90 per cent from the league’s 72 members would be needed at next year’s AGM to give it the green light.

It’s a move which has certainly got the game talking, with one of the side issues being where the extra teams come from.

Catlin has been a vocal opponent of the introduction of B teams previously discussed at the AGM, and certainly doesn’t that being the source.

He said: ‘The main item on the agenda is discussions over splitting the leagues into five teams of 20.

‘There is no decision being made at this conference. It’s a proposal they’d like to investigate further.

‘Then there’d be a firm vote at the conference next year.

‘Going into the conference, I’ve read the bare facts like everyone else.

‘Otherwise, I’m probably as blind as anyone else going into it.

‘Due to the changes made two years ago with the B teams to protect the integrity of the league, the threshold has gone from 75 to 90 per cent to get it through.

‘There is quite robust protection in place now to stop changes to the league being forced through.

‘So I don’t think it’ll be emotive like that. There is no suggestion B teams will enter the league. They know that will kill it straightaway, so I don’t see that happening.

‘However, it is still a substantial change.

‘Once I get all the proposals I will be guided by the board at how we want to progress it.’

Theoretical questions on how the logistics of the shake-up will work remain secondary for Catlin, however.

His due diligence leads him to have strong doubts the plans will ever garner enough support to get off the ground.

Catlin already knows a number of club representatives who aren’t keen on changing the set-up.

With Pompey still waiting for their mission of moving up the leagues to click into gear, there are concerns about how that could be impacted by the proposal.

The Blues chief executive outlined a scenario which could one day see the club arrive in the Championship in testing circumstances.

‘Whatever way you dress it up there’s going to be four fewer spaces in a league moving forward,’ said Catlin.

‘For a club like ourselves who are aspiring at some point to be in the Championship, we don’t want to arrive there with four fewer spaces and half the league in receipt of parachute payments.

‘That would really put us at a disadvantage.

‘If I’m being honest, and I’ve spoke to other chief execs, I don’t think they will get anything like the 90 per cent needed to push it through.

‘I think it’s a non-starter. It’s akin to turkeys voting for a second Christmas.

‘There are 72 league clubs who need to vote on it.

‘So all it needs is eight to go against it to block it.

‘I know 10 personally who are against it, so I think it’s going to be a non-starter.’

Despite his view there is enough opposition to kibosh the proposal, there, of course, could be ways of convincing clubs to back it.

Catlin knows financial incentives could be a game-changer in seeing plans for a fifth league carry favour.

He added: ‘As I always say with things like this, you are always at the mercy of what money is thrown at any particular deal. That’s always been the case.

‘People’s morals quickly go out of the window if there’s huge amounts of money involved. So anything’s possible in that sense.’

The AGM will be Catlin’s fourth since becoming Pompey’s chief executive in 2013.

He has seen how perceptions of his club have changed since first representing them among his peers.

The disdain and contempt he once sensed after two administrations in as many years and a spectacular fall from grace is no longer apparent.

The Blues’ emergence as the nation’s biggest community-owned club continues to take place on solid foundations.

That has been noted by other clubs around the country, with Pompey’s decision makers able to hold their heads high at the AGM.

Catlin concluded: ‘When I first started attending events like this, Portsmouth felt very much like outsiders.

‘That’s as a result of what had been going on.

‘Now we’re not treated differently to any other club.

‘Actually, I’d say we are quite well respected for the strides we’ve made.

‘I’ve said previously, people in the football world respect our model and the fact we are now debt-free and trying to run things sustainably.’