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Bennett transfer saga shows flaws in Xia’s hands-on style

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Undermining your manager’s decisions is one of the worst things you can do as an owner.

Aston Villa v FC Dallas - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Another day, another saga at Aston Villa. Joy!

Joe Bennett was all set to leave Villa for Sheffield Wednesday, which while a little disappointing, was a move that made some level of sense. At the close of pre-season, Roberto Di Matteo decided he preferred Jordan Amavi and Aly Cissokho to Bennett, and as such, the player and manager chose to part ways.

The fact that Di Matteo’s wrong about Cissokho being better than Bennett non-withstanding, that’s how running a football club is supposed to work. When you have a 26-year-old player who isn’t in your first team plans, you let him move. Period. This isn’t difficult.

But when owner Dr. Tony Xia swooped in to block Bennett’s transfer, he set an extremely dangerous precedent at the club. Xia’s reasoning, per the Birmingham Mail, is that he didn’t want to sell Bennett to a promotion rival in Wednesday, an idea that would have merit and all if, well, your manager thought he’d actually be of use for said promotion rival.

In deeming Bennett third-choice at Villa, there shouldn’t be any concern about him moving to another club. If your first-choice XI played a team consisting of your third-choice players, I’d like to think you wouldn’t have too much of an issue. Though this is Villa.

I’ve been more on the outspoken side when it comes to criticizing Xia’s social media posts, mainly because I feared two things: (1) That some of his tweets had the potential to hurt relationships, both with fans, players and coaches currently at the club and prospective players and coaches Villa might try to contract down the road, and (2) that they were the sign of an owner who’d manage the club in an incredibly unstable fashion.

I hate to say it, but he’s done both here.

I really like Joe Bennett and think he should have a place in this Villa squad, but after being told he’s third-choice at his position, it’s clear he doesn’t want to be here. And he shouldn’t want to; he deserves a chance to go somewhere and “rescue” his career. By denying Bennett of that opportunity, Xia has damaged a relationship with a current player and shown signs that he’s going to meddle in the everyday affairs of the club.

What message does this send to footballers as a whole? That even if you and the manager agree a move is best that the owner might block it because he’s concerned a player who isn’t good enough for his own club will somehow help a rival in a significant way? Please. If I’m a player Villa are going after, I’d have big concerns about playing for Xia right now. From this saga to dragging Idrissa Gana through the mud on his way out, Xia hasn’t shown himself in a particularly great light so far.

While Randy Lerner’s complete and total absence over the last five years was damning for the club, owners that try and play “director of football” or “manager” hurt the cause even more. We’ve long cried out for steady, calculated, solid management at Villa; this doesn’t help move us in that direction.

There’s presumably a reason Xia hired Di Matteo as manager instead of appointing himself to the position. And he needs to let RDM do that job.

In a vacuum, sure, Bennett staying at the club isn’t a bad thing. But Xia blocking his transfer doesn’t suddenly mean that Di Matteo’s going to view Bennett as a first-team option again at left back. That opinion isn’t changing.

So instead of giving Bennett a deserved opportunity somewhere else, Xia’s forced him to waste away on the Villa bench until someone who “isn’t a rival” tries to sign him.

Instead of respecting the judgement and decisions of your manager, the guy you’ve appointed to do this job, you’re undermining him and his knowledge about his own players.

To quote American gold-medal swimmer and national hero Lilly King, I’m not a fan.

Tony, please. Stop meddling in player evaluations and the transfer dealings of the club, stop saying stupid things on Twitter that only tarnish the club’s image, and for the love of everything that is good, stop conning poor fans with this repeated, absurd thought that Aston Villa will be the world’s biggest club in five years.