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Don’t blame FFP when Jack Grealish joins Spurs. Blame Tony Xia’s selfish refusal to sell Villa

Instead of selling to ownership that can afford to run the club, Tony Xia has decided to stubbornly hold on, choosing to strip the club of its most valuable assets simply to raise enough cash to pay next month’s bills. Selling Jack Grealish will forever be his legacy.

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Semi Final:Second Leg
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa is seen at the full time whistle as fans invade the pitch during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Semi Final second leg match between Aston Villa and Middlesbrough at Villa Park on May 15, 2018 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

If there’s one thing we think we know about Aston Villa right now, it’s that at some point in the next couple weeks, Jack Grealish will join Tottenham Hotspur. He’s probably going to sign for a fee below his market value, and may sign for a fee around half of his market value.

If there are three things we do know about Aston Villa right now, it’s that (a) the club face a significant challenge complying with Financial Fair Play regulations due to mismanagement by the current owner, (b) that the club are in the midst of a cash-flow crisis due to mismanagement by the current owner, and (c) that Tony Xia (said current owner) is seemingly going to do whatever it takes to stay in charge of this football club, including turning down offers for stakes in the club that meet his valuation.

I have seen a thought floating around that reads something like this: It doesn’t matter that Xia refuses to sell, because Villa would have to sell Grealish to meet FFP anyway. In response to that:

  1. Why, at this point, are you defending Xia at all? He’s going to sell the club’s most prized asset of the last two decades for well below market value, solely because of a crisis of his making. Even if it truly doesn’t make a difference, what’s the point in making Xia’s self-centered decision not to sell seem less bad?
  2. It’s a fundamentally incorrect statement. Aston Villa do not need to sell Jack Grealish to meet FFP.

Tony Xia needs to sell Jack Grealish so he can afford to run the club.

Now, before you jump up and down, yes, FFP is still a concern. Most reports have put the gap at between £40 million and £50 million, and the analysis I did back in May aligns with that expectation. There are also savings that have already been made via expiring contracts, and my guess was that the gap was around £25 million or £30 million heading into any player sales this summer. While Alan Hutton has come back, I hope he’s not on a salary any higher than £1 million this season, so I don’t see a need to re-frame the discussion here.

The thing about Grealish is that he is (or at least should be) a slam-dunk way to fulfill the FFP requirement. Sell him for £25 million or £30 million, a very fair price, and you’re good to go.

Alternatively, if Aston Villa sold James Chester, Albert Adomah, Jonathan Kodjia and Mile Jedinak (all players that have been surrounded with rumblings of interest at various points in time this summer) for competitive fees, I would estimate an FFP savings of around £25 million or £30 million. Again, good to go.

If Aston Villa are going to sell Grealish, FFP regulations would dictate that they can keep Chester, Adomah, Kodjia and Jedinak. If Aston Villa are going to sell the latter four, FFP regulations would dictate that they can keep Grealish.

Doing one is an FFP-related concern that any owner, at this stage, would have to go through. Doing both is Xia’s cash-flow concern. There’s a very important distinction. Note that when Gregg Evans wrote Monday about Villa’s inability to bring on loan players or Bosman transfers right now, he wrote about it as a cash-flow crisis, not an FFP crisis.

In fact, Aston Villa will likely have no issue with Financial Fair Play this season because Xia will need to sell or pawn off so many of the club’s assets simply to raise the funds required to run the club through the season. Grealish? Gone. Chester? Gone. The employee car park? Collateral in a loan.

Even after the mismanagement that got Villa to the place they were after losing the play-off final at Wembley, it didn’t have to be this way. Two months ago, reports would indicate that former CEO Keith Wyness presented Xia with the reality of the situation, and by all accounts, the Aston Villa owner responded by sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting, “la la la la la la, I can’t hear you!”

It should’ve been seen from far away, to be honest. From his early days on the job, Xia was acting like a 12-year-old kid on Twitter by bashing outgoing players, other clubs and even the media. But that’s neither here nor there.

Perhaps expectedly, then, Xia’s actions over the last two months have been no less petulant than the childish attitude he’d approached his entire ownership to that point with, from the Joe Bennett sale through to the come-to-Jesus meeting with Wyness. He has no money. In order to fund the club, he’s collected less money on outgoing transfers just to get the cash ASAP. He’s taken out a loan using the employee car park as collateral. He’s now stripping the club of every worthwhile player asset for below market price.

Xia released a statement a couple weeks ago where he claimed to be acting in the “best interests of the club” — that was why he turned down approaches for Villa. Some people took him at face value, and I do not envy those gullible enough to believe him.

With every day that goes on, it is evidently clear that Xia is not acting in the best interests of Aston Villa, rather he is acting in his own best interests. Why? I don’t know. It’s not worth speculating on. What I do know, though, is that every day Xia continues to own this club, he’s doing irreparable harm to it.

When the Spurs account tweets “#WelcomeGrealish”, whenever that may be, remember that Tony Xia made a number of decisions to get us here, the most damaging being his inability to admit he’s failed, the inability to realize that this isn’t going to magically improve overnight, the decision to seek out his own interests of self-preservation rather than the interests of the club.

Selling Jack Grealish will forever be Tony Xia’s legacy.