So, Dr. Tony Xia seems to really like Twitter. From posting updates about the club management’s trip to Beijing to discussing transfer plans, Xia’s made a name for himself on the social media platform in the few weeks since he joined.
But the name some are using to describe Xia’s Twitter posts? “Embarrassing.”
In his short time on the site, Xia’s been incredibly accessible to supporters and is always willing to chime in with his views. That’s a good thing, in a vacuum, and the vast majority of his tweets are harmless, if not outrightly positive.
But even if you don’t agree that he’d done it before, Xia probably crossed some level of line yesterday with his response to Ian Holloway’s prediction that Aston Villa would finish 16th this season in the Championship.
Nothing like some good, old-fashioned drama to spice things up around here, right?
Former owner Randy Lerner was not a good owner. He invested well early, but put the money in the wrong hands, and then turned into a recluse and pulled his funding from the club during the second half of his reign. That was bad, and a lack of communication from ownership was one of the weakest, most frustrating parts of the Lerner ownership at Villa Park.
Just because silence is bad, however, doesn’t mean being extremely loud is particularly great. I mean, sure, you probably have a preference between a blizzard and a heat wave, but I think we’d all agree on a nice, sunny temperate day before taking either of those. An owner who’s accessible, but not unnecessarily running his mouth about transfer dealings, pundit predictions or the incoherent rants and demands of supporters, is probably the ideal man to own a club.
On one side, fans see a man who’s like them. He’ll “shoot from the hip” and share his views as if he’s any normal supporter. In some ways, that’s lovely — I’d rather have the owner who cares myself — but in other ways, Xia’s first few weeks on Twitter could foreshadow some rapidly-arriving issues at B6.
The first will come down the road with those supporters. When Xia took over a few months ago, he promised between £30 and £40 million in transfer funds available for the new season. Yet today, as we sit five days from the opener, Villa haven’t even spent £15 million — and they’re about to sell two players, Idrissa Gana and Ciaran Clark, that will effectively bring the summer’s net spend back to £0.
That presents a potential public relations problem for Xia, who’s shown some… suspect judgment on Twitter so far. Was promising such a large transfer budget another misstep from the new owner? If the club don’t splash the cash this month, and Villa find themselves off the pace in the Championship, how quickly will patience thin with the club’s new leadership? From the promised transfer kitty to the claims of rivaling Barcelona and Real Madrid in popularity within a half decade, Xia’s made some bold, exciting quotes. If he doesn’t deliver though, will the environment at the club remain every bit as toxic as it was during Lerner’s reign?
The other one — and it’s a much bigger one, admittedly — is how Xia’s public face affects the club’s ability to recruit players and managers to Villa Park. While Holloway probably isn’t in Xia’s thoughts right now as a future headman at Villa, colleagues in the managerial profession may take note of Xia’s remarks, ones that won’t be viewed positively. And on the other side, let’s consider this shot at Idrissa Gana, who’s likely to depart the club for Everton after having a release clause triggered.
Once someone has clause in contract, looks like being giving a chance to betray. Said staying one day and escaped the other day. D now G!— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) July 29, 2016
Even ignoring the possibility that Gana’s transfer falls through, in which case this would be a pretty miserable misstep, this really isn’t a good look for Villa. The Fabian Delph saga was well-known, and that was his fault, but whatever happened with Gana wasn’t set to take place in the public forum. Sure, he might’ve done the things Xia alleged behind the scenes, but it’s not like Gana wrote a message for the fans explaining why he was staying to win promotion, only to leave a week later for a Premier League return. There’s no benefit to the club, or its supporters, to “know” that Gana did a 180 on a pledge to stay (which is a conversation I’d love to hear more about, to be honest), only detriments.
If players see how the owner treated Gana for making a move that furthers his career, how will other players, who are looking to use Villa as a stepping stone, react to interest from the club?
Right now, it’s impossible to predict whether or not these fears will be realized or go unfounded. But the notion that Villa fans can’t be “embarrassed” — because the club’s been a tire fire over the last five years — is a little short-sighted. Where it’s neat that Xia speaks his mind, it can also be pretty damaging to the club, and to his relationship with supporters. He’s a super energetic, enthusiastic guy, which is awesome.
But to be concerned about where that enthusiasm’s going? Yeah, that’s an okay thing to do.