THEY are eight small words, but they could prove the straw that breaks the back of English football.

"Maybe the path will be individual TV rights," said Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, this week. Maybe it will. But if it is, it is not too much of an exaggeration to claim that it will also be the death knell for English football as we know and love it.

At the moment, each Premier League club receives £17.9m from the sale of their overseas television rights.

In almost every other aspect of their financial dealings - direct investment from their owner, sponsorship, prize money, funds for involvement in Europe - there are huge disparities between the 20 clubs making up the Premier League. But in this one area, a degree of solidarity can be discerned.

The problem, for a club like Liverpool, is that this one area also happens to be the only income stream that is likely to increase markedly in the next few years.

Most analysts agree that the current domestic deal, involving both Sky and ESPN, represents a high tide mark in terms of projected future value. With UEFA determined to introduce Financial Fair Play regulations by 2013, the scope for rich benefactors to prop up indebted institutions will also be reduced.

But the Premier League's popularity overseas continues to increase unabated, and it is estimated that the current three-year television deal, which brings in £1.4bn, will be worth significantly more when it is re-negotiated in 18 months' time.

Ayre's argument is that Liverpool should receive more than one twentieth of it because they attract more than one twentieth of the global audience.

"If you're a Bolton fan in Bolton, you subscribe to Sky because you want to watch Bolton," he said. "Everyone gets that. Likewise, if you're a Liverpool fan from Liverpool, you subscribe.

"But if you're in Kuala Lumpur there isn't anyone subscribing to Astro, or ESPN to watch Bolton, or if they are it's a very small number. Whereas the large majority are subscribing to watch Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal."

Factually, I have no doubt that Ayre's analysis is valid. But there are two massive flaws to the notion that it should therefore lead to a system whereby each club is able to negotiate its own individual deal for its matches.

First, as Ayre's logic freely accepts, breaking up the collective broadcasting deal would rapidly lead to the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, and while that might improve Liverpool's balance sheet, it would do nothing to enhance the long-term popularity of the Premier League.

Why do people in the Far East flock to watch English football? Just to watch Manchester United? In my experience, no. It's because they love the unpredictability and competitiveness of the league.

The Premier League continues to captivate because there's always the chance a Blackpool could beat an Arsenal. If such a scenario becomes all but impossible, would supporters in far-flung lands be as keen to watch?

It's certainly debatable whether crowds in this country would be as high, and given that the passion generated by a succession of packed houses is a key Premier League marketing tool, can even a club like Liverpool afford to be playing in front of half-empty stadiums?

Spanish teams market their own television rights, with the upshot that Barcelona and Real Madrid earn 19 times more than the smaller clubs in La Liga.

Look at either of the two Spanish big boys, and you could be forgiven for thinking that everything in La Liga is fine and dandy. Watch many Spanish matches, though, and you will soon learn that the league lacks anything approaching genuine competition. Last season, the top two Spanish sides finished a whopping 21 points clear of third-placed Valencia.

They generated a vast amount of income though, and the second objection to Ayre's reasoning strikes at the heart of why football clubs exist in the first place.

Do Liverpool play football matches simply to extract as much money as possible from the Far East? Has the game been boiled down to nothing more than a series of figures on a profit and loss column?

This is not an attempt to evoke a halcyon era when players got the bus to matches with supporters or when Celtic could win the European Cup with a team of players born in Glasgow, nor is it to deny the undoubted improvements that have occurred as a direct consequence of the vast sums of money that have flowed into football in the last two decades.

It is, however, an opportunity to state that, ultimately, enough has to be enough. There must come a time when football acts to protect the sporting ethos that led to the game becoming so popular in the first place.

What is the point if there is no competition, no opportunity for clubs to take each other on as something approaching equals?

The system in place at the moment is not perfect, but at least it contains a kernel of sporting sentiment. Remove that, and you have nothing more than an unfettered pursuit of profit, the stock market with a ball being kicked around every Saturday (or Sunday morning if Malaysian kick-off times dictate).

How sad that Liverpool, the one club above all others who were supposed to have a social heart, should be at the vanguard proposing the beginning of the end.