There are now a number of reputable journalists claiming Tom Fox, current Chief Comercial Officer (CCO) of Arsenal, will be named Villa's new Chief Exectuive (CEO) in the coming days. We can pretty much assume it is going to happen unless there is a last minute problem. Randy Lerner has flown in to Birmingham a couple of times recently and I'm sure the departure of Paul Faulkner and search for his successor were the main purpose of his visits. Robin Russell, our Chief Financial Officer (CFO), has been filling in temporarily but always seemed set to remain in his previous position.
With Randy Lerner spending all but a couple of days a year in the States, the position of CEO is of huge importance to Villa. They will be running the club on a day-to-day basis, brokering key deals and providing expertise to the Chairman to inform his decisions on the club's future.
As a young music industry professional, I haven't got the faintest clue what actually goes on behind the scenes at a football club, but I will attempt to put the key points into context.
What exactly would Tom Fox bring to Villa?
A Background in Commercial Success:
£179 million. One hundred and seventy-nine million pounds sterling. That's the value of the 2nd biggest kit deal in football history. Who played the key role in it's completion? Tom Fox. Prior to joining Arsenal, the American boasted an impressive CV working for sports behemoth Nike, (Pepsi-owned) drinks giant Gatorade and he also headed a media group in Los Angeles.
It's fair to say the man knows his way around a business partnership and will have a very strong set of football sponsorship contacts after 5 years with Arsenal.
Strong experience working at a leading football club:
Arsenal are a huge club in every sense. You don't need me to tell you that. They have managed their finances brilliantly to stay competitive whilst building an incredible new stadium, never dropping out of the top 4. Their current relative failures are bizarre, when the money and ability to attract players is clearly there. Exhibit A, one of Real Madrid's best players Mesut Özil for £42.5 million. Exhibit B, one of Barcelona's best players Alexis Sánchez for £35 million. Both in the last 2 transfer windows. Tom Fox might not have been the main man, but he has worked very closely with Ivan Gazidis for several years. Arsenal must be one of the best places if not THE best place to earn your stripes as a football businessman. All reports suggest that Arsenal rate him very highly.
An intriguing glance into the club's future:
A bizarre surge of optimism has hit the Villa fans in recent weeks. Newcastle may bring that all down to earth on Saturday, but there is good reason to be cheerful. Since apparently returning the focus to football rather than trying to sell the club, Villa have brought in 2 higher calibre players in Cissokho and Sanchez. They will surely have cost more in wages and transfer fees than previous signings this summer, though still not breaking the bank. They represent smart business and not the business of a Chairman that is only interested in fleeing at the first opportunity.
Fox is taking a decent promotion to move to Villa, but you would still assume that he is not just here as a stop gap until a takeover. I don't think that's a job a man in his position would take. I believe he will be here for a decent period of time, whether we can find a buyer or not. That means he is likely to have significant influence on our direction as a club over the next couple of years, which brings me to my next question:
What are the main challenges that Fox will face?
Preparing the club for a takeover:
The squad has grown stronger over the summer and Lerner needs it to be if he is to entice a buyer. In my opnion, Lerner has realised that he needs Villa to perform as a top half side with decent assets in the playing staff. He also has to prove in the next set of accounts that we are genuinely out of our financial slump, as the latest accounts still showed a huge loss of £51.8 million. Lerner clearly sees Fox as the man to oversee this key period.
Working to retain key players:
Villa have several players out of contract next summer, but the ones we really can't afford to lose for free are Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Jack Grealish. Not only could they be our best defender, midfielder and creative outlet over the next few years, they would have a huge potential sale value if they were tied down to contracts. This really has to be a priority for the club in the very near future.
Facing the media and Club PR:
Villa are simply rubbish at this. We scored more PR own goals than actual goals last season. Until recently, we heard nothing of note from the men running the club for several years. Even throughout the really tough times, when fans needed someone to face the cameras and explain what was going on, nobody showed up. We became an easy target for pundits and the national media, but nobody officially associated with the club was there to stand up and defend it. That has to change.
Financial Fair Play:
It's now widely accepted that FFP actually helps maintain the status quo and makes it harder for outsiders to break into the established Premier League elite. If Fox is to stick around after the takeover and work for a new owner, he will have to work hard to out-manouvere our competitors. Increasing our global fanbase, commercial deals, ticket prices, hospitality packages, on pitch success, trading of players, the wage bill. There are so many variables. Eventually a new contender will disturb the status quo of the top 6 or 7, by breaking into the Champions League and maintaining that position. I bet they will be the club that win this financial chess match.
Finding the right help:
Fox has a brilliant CV, but it is not one that suggests he is a specialist at setting up a club for success on the pitch. He is probably not the man we have all been crying out for that can give us direction, implement a long term style of play, a footballing ethos to be proud of. He is not the man to revolutionise our academy coaching and work out what is needed to help young players become superstars. He is not the man to find the next Messi in the league of Botswana. (Very unlikely.) If Villa are ever to return to the top we will need some sort of technical director, a stronger academy set up and a top scouting team. If Fox can help Lerner or a new owner to put these in place, where others have failed in the past, that will go a long way towards making Villa successful again.