Christian Purslow has kept somewhat of a low profile since his appointment as CEO of Aston Villa back in August. A showing at Dean Smith’s unveiling press conference aside, Purslow has largely remained in the shadows despite urges to hear more from him. Until now.
On Sunday, Purslow appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 5’s Sportsweek programme. The transcript is doing the rounds on social media. I have to admit it makes for extremely promising reading.
Despite that, for many Villans, putting trust in someone in Purslow’s position isn’t easy. Our recent appointments in the job haven’t fared well, to say the least. Paul Faulkner seemed competent enough but ultimately couldn’t fight a regime that steered the club downwards. Tom Fox was a complete disaster in every single aspect, from alienating supporters to showcasing very little in the way of negotiating power. And of course, despite appearing as an improvement on his predecessor and helping fans reconnect with the club, Keith Wyness in due course helped lead us to the brink of being wound up.
So, what were the main points in Purslow’s interview? Well, there were the usual soundbites which will, of course, be used to coax in supporters. A proclamation that Villa ‘dominate the Midlands’ isn’t anything we don’t already know but such statements will always go down well.
Similarly, there are the customary claims that Villa needs to be playing in the ‘upper reaches’ of the Premier League. And that is, of course, the aim. Again, standard, but always good to hear.
Where it starts to get interesting is the claims that Villa aren’t heading for financial ruin if we don’t achieve promotion this season. ‘It’s not critical at all. We’re not expecting or requiring to be promoted quickly’. This, at first, kind of seems contradictory to the previous aspirations outlined. And also immediately begs the question – are we not in financial peril after all then?
The grand plan
As Purslow continues, there is a further insight into the grand plan; ‘We’re trying to do things the right way, in terms of the people we bring in to run the club, the way we play football and my job is to make sure we manage the club sensibly and sustainably’.
There is a lot to process here. Not being reliant on promotion this season is obviously a massive positive for the club. If indeed it is true. And trying to run the club in a sustainable manner is of course how things should be.
But we’ve heard this type of thing before. We have had the grand plans of Tony Xia. We’ve had the promises that there is a plan B if we don’t go up. We’ve heard so many times that this club needs to be operated without just throwing money at it. And yet still, we have nearly been wound up.
So, why should we believe Purslow? After everything, why is anything he says any different to what we’ve already heard and been let down by?
At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, I do think there is more to this CEO than the previous incumbents. On a very basic level, I personally like the fact that he didn’t feel rushed to make a statement of any sort upon his appointment. It shows that he wasn’t looking to simply appease the supporters for the sake of it.
Purslow seems to be a man who is keen to do his job to the best of his ability. What that level of ability is, we’ll find out in due course. We know his background is at the very highest level, delivering success in his similar roles at both Liverpool and Chelsea. But it’s much easier keeping a club at the top rather than trying to drag a club up; this role is much, much tougher.
There is an air of principle about Purslow that I very much like. Reading his comments is one thing, but it is well worth listening to the Sportsweek episode to really get an idea of his sense of professionalism as he talks. When discussing the new owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, our CEO qualified them by exclaiming ‘Those in it for short-term profit are a scourge on the game. Those in it without adequate resources, who borrow money and take risk, they are also the scourge of the game’. Pretty strong stuff. And also perhaps a swipe at Xia.
This isn’t a new stance Purslow is churning out to get the fans onside. Even back in 2014, when talking to BBC’s HARDtalk programme, he was quoted as saying that ‘greed is very prevalent in football’. Nothing unsurprising there, except that this seems to be a real bone of contention for him and it seems a mission of his to level the playing field as much as possible.
If that is the case, then that, in turn, shows real weight to the intentions of Sawiris and Edens. After all, such a principled man would surely loathe to work with people who he feels are purely in this just for financial gain.
Let’s not forget that Purslow himself had a hand in introducing the Financial Fair Play regulations that so very nearly crippled the club. This is effectively his baby. And whilst he didn’t directly address the issue outright in relation to Villa and how much the club can spend in January, he did explain that Sawiris and Edens had input ‘tens of millions of pounds directly into the club clearing all its liabilities and effectively creating a clean slate on which to try and build a recovery’. The rules of FFP are murky and complicated and I won’t pretend to have a detailed understanding of them. However, with Purslow overseeing the club, you would hope that his knowledge of such matters will surely help steer us clear.
It all seems incredibly rosy. However, as supporters, we should rightly ask questions. In recent times, most of us have been guilty of accepting new owners and new people in positions of power simply due to the fact that they come in and appear to improve upon the poison that has been dished out previously.
Whether Purslow is simply a silver-tongued charmer or will actually oversee a turn in fortunes for the club remains to be seen. It’s difficult not to feel some real optimism after listening to what appears to be sensible, reasoned and informed comments though.
I know we’ve been here before. But maybe this time, there is a sustainable plan being put into place and the right decisions are being made.