The aftermath of Aston Villa’s failure to gain promotion has been a succession of one sorry story after another. With the financial situation of the club far worse than even the most sceptical of supporters could have imagined, we now appear to have been left completely in the dark as to the current state of affairs with no word from owner Dr Tony Xia. And quite frankly, it isn’t on at all.
At the time of writing, it has been getting on for 3 weeks since Tony Xia last tweeted. For a man who has been so hot on communicating with supporters when things were going well, it is massively disappointing for him to have disappeared when the going got tough.
Right now, nobody has any clue as to what is going to happen to our club. Are we going to be sold? Does Xia still have any intention of remaining at the club? Are investors being sought?
I understand that the situation will not be completely black and white. It is clear the club is a monetary mess right now and many different aspects will need to be assessed and worked out. But Xia, or the club, should be letting supporters know what is happening to some extent.
Obviously, we don’t expect intricate details. We’re never going to be told any financial particulars. However, we do need to know if our current owner is firstly willing to continue bankrolling the club. And secondly, and most importantly, able to do so. The truth is, if the Xia is looking to sell the club, we are in an incredibly precarious position.
As with any sale of the club, there will usually be a huge question mark over who is buying. Typically, it will be someone you’ve never heard of. There will be questions over the integrity and intentions of the new owner. The ‘fit and proper persons test’ undertaken by the Football Association which assesses any new owner of a club is notoriously lax and unreliable as a measure to protect clubs from the type of personnel it is intended to weed out.
With Randy Lerner, we had reached a point where nothing could seemingly get any worse. We’d just been relegated in embarrassing fashion. The players were taking the club for a ride. There was no structure at the club. There was no one with any football experience running the club. And most of all, Lerner wasn’t interested one iota. We had been run into the ground. In short, any new owner was destined to be an improvement. Despite the current mess, I’m not sure we’re at the point where a new owner would even help us right now.
Regardless of Xia’s naivety so far and the position the club is in, there is an argument for still wanting him to stick around. I don’t think we can debate that he does want the best for Aston Villa. I think his intentions were genuine and he hasn’t held back spending. Obviously, quite the opposite has been true in fact.
Xia’s one major flaw is being naive enough to go along with mostly Roberto Di Matteo’s, but also Steve Bruce’s, whims of trying to simply buy the best talent at this level in an attempt to gain promotion. Some of the transfer fees have been ridiculous. But it is the wages that have killed us. And we’ll continue to be crippled by them for the foreseeable.
It’s a real catch 22 situation for me; if Xia hadn’t backed his managers then the supporters would have been up in arms. But at the same time for the club to have been spending so recklessly with everything pinned on gaining promotion within these two years is madness and shows a real lack of business acumen.
Are we really going to attract a new owner of the ilk and statue that we’d ideally want? Probably not. Could we end up with an owner who sees an opportunity to milk the last little bit of profit out of the club? Possibly. It’s difficult to see anyone who’d be interested in taking on a club that is literally losing millions of pounds of money each month.
The likes of Micah Richards and Ross McCormack remain on stupid money and haven’t earned a penny of it. But even the likes of Mile Jedinak, who is an asset to us as a player, is still earning way too much at around £40k a week for what we can realistically afford. There is no way to shift the big earners without completely decimating the squad and then having to buy new players in to replace them anyway. Yet more expense.
For me, a new owner coming in right now would raise serious concerns. Why would anyone take us on when we’re pretty much guaranteed to lose money? If there was mistrust when Xia came into the club, there would be total paranoia surrounding a new owner at this time.
It is important to remember that there have been major improvements under Xia’s ownership. We should never forget the state we were in when he came in. The club was absolutely rotten. The very definition of a gravy train, full of people leeching all they muster. Xia’s positivity, ambition and interaction with supporters was seismic after such bleakness and despair.
If, and it is a big if, Xia continues to own the club, he must continue the interaction with supporters. He must keep his aspirations, albeit with a different strategy. We can’t have someone who is there for the good times only. It’s easy to do that. Even Lerner was a good owner for the first couple of years.
And hopefully, that is where the similarities end. Lerner completely endeared himself at the beginning. The refurbishment of The Holte Pub. The upgrade of Bodymoor Heath. The groundbreaking Acorns sponsorship. And reintroducing the club’s European Cup-winning heroes back into the fold after Doug Ellis had all but banished them. But ultimately, those things fade into the insignificance of how he ran the club into the ground due to what was effectively a lack of interest. When the going got too tough for Randolph, his enthusiasm in the supporters came to a shuddering halt also.
Xia has had plenty of detractors. And the truth is, we don’t really know much about him. This is his opportunity to prove himself to us after all. If he has genuine ambitions for this club and has the funds to regroup, now is the time to bite the bullet and go again.
At the very least Xia needs to open communication with supporters and give us some idea of what is going on. If it is farewell and we’re about to be thrust into the hands of another owner, we deserve to know. For some, that would be the best solution. Personally, even with the state of the club’s finances, I’m not so sure.