So, Dr. Tony Xia:
I like you. I mean, I would irrespective of who you really are, since you aren’t Randy Lerner, but through the first month or so of knowing who you are, I’m a fan. You seem to have genuine ambition for Aston Villa, which is good, and hopefully you might be something that approaches being middlingly competent, something your predecessor never figured out how to do.
And when you talk about understanding the club will lose 10s of millions of pounds this year, that new signings and youth need to play next year and that promotion is the instant goal, I’m 100 percent behind you. Where two months ago I would’ve made the case Villa should focus on a complete rebuild, even if it took a few years, the financial backing you’re bringing to the club mean a target of promotion this year, and building a strong side next year, is feasible given the short timeframe.
Even when you’ve gone on in the past about Villa chasing the top six again, I stick with you. Aston Villa are a great, proud football club; founders of the Football League — and yes, that’s what I’m calling it. The EFL name sounds like some group that’s backing "Brexit" — and the biggest club in the second city. There’s no reason that top-half finishes can’t be the norm for a well-run Villa, and if the club do that, they’ll be in with a shout of Europe fairly regularly.
But every once in a while when you talk, you lose me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be ambitious, but it’s important to note the difference between simple ambition and being off-the-rocker insane. And I’m afraid you might be the latter.
After winning promotion again, you say you want to get Villa "back into the top five clubs in England," which sounds great, until you realize how difficult that’s going to be. I don’t see anything you can do (other than blow a bunch of money) to make the club larger than Liverpool or Arsenal, let alone Tottenham Hotspur or even West Ham United. There’s an important distinction between chasing after Europe and regularly qualifying for the Champions League, and the former is a good goal, the latter too ambitious.
And people will say that Villa are "historically" a top-five club in England, which is kind of true. What’s also true is that there isn’t a single decade over the last 100 years you could say Villa were a top-five club in England for. Regardless of how much we talk about Villa’s famous 1981 League and 1982 European Cup crowns, they were absolutely blips on the radar screen — the club didn’t seriously compete for the League another time in the decade, and as we all know, suffered relegation before the ’80s were out. Sometimes Villa can get bogged down by its history, with a perception that the club is bigger than it is. Please don’t get trapped into that line of thinking.
You’ve also talked about a "sports sector" of clubs in various countries, with Villa at the center. Here’s the thing: I don’t care about other clubs. I get that you’re ambitious and everything, but dedicating the majority of your attention on this club is needed. Focus on getting us right, please.
And of course, there’s the idea of Villa being one of the "best-known" clubs in the world, which is a preposterous idea. Given that you hail from China, I don’t doubt that you’ll be able to get people interested in the Claret and Blues there. But I’m sorry, the idea of Villa "competing" with Barcelona and Real Madrid is just… delusional. Despite the amount of money that’s been pumped into Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, neither of those have anywhere near the popularity of either La Liga side, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc.
It’s these things that scare me a little. If Roberto Di Matteo wins promotion and has Villa sitting 14th at Christmas 2017, what’s his job security going to be like? Will we run through managers quicker than Leeds United? What happens to the club in five years when these lofty goals don’t materialize? Will your interest in Villa wane after a half decade like your predecessor’s did?
Look, all I want from Aston Villa is a competently-run club that wins some, loses some and draws some more. I’m not delusional enough to expect anything materially better than the Martin O’Neill era, but I also want nothing like the last handful of years at B6. You don’t have to promise me the moon. Just bring home a star or two.