Aston Villa head honcho Dr Tony Xia has been a busy man over the past few weeks. Not only was CEO Keith Wyness suspended and sacked, Director of Football Steve Round was dismissed just yesterday. This is all while the club seems to be within a state of flux in regards to both its ownership situation and its financial outlook for the near future.
On the club website, Villa’s owner apologised for his lack of communication over the past few weeks. He also thanks the fans of Villa for patience. There’s a lot off puff - where he reiterates that he is a proud and committed owner of a historic football club.
Perhaps the biggest reveal of all is the fact that Xia confirms that the club are open to accepting investment - but that the club are not officially up for sale. This is key, as it’s the first time those words have come from the primary source. Of course, Xia also states that the club will be sticking with Steve Bruce as Club Manager.
We could pad out the word count by copying Xia’s intro here, but for the sake of you all, I’d rather just annotate the list of points that make up the meat of his open letter. You can read the full letter on AVFC.co.uk, while Xia’s main points, with my thoughts on the matter, lie below.
Xia makes 15 points in the letter, that are all worth taking on board.
“1. I have not put the club up for sale.”
This is a big worry for me. It may as well confirm stories that Xia is chasing a return, not just for him, but for investors. The club - if it cannot be bankrolled - should be put up for sale so a new owner may move in. The club is in no good situation right now.
“2. I would consider minority investment stakes that bring strategic value to the club to help us achieve our goals but this will be considered extremely carefully.”
Good news here. Villa need to accept investment and be smart. As long as they are realistic, this is ok.
“3. I have not received an offer of 51%”
I doubted this offer anyway. The sum of 30% from the American consortium was much more realistic, especially.
“4. I have received an offer of 30% but we did not believe there was strategic value and we did not know the source of the money.”
This is a part that troubles me. 30% leaves Xia in control, gives him an investment (that he needs) and brings more people into the boardroom. If true, it’s a good thing. Dismissing the strategic value makes no sense to me (as an outsider). As for the source of the money, it seemed to matter not when Xia’s Recon Group took control of the club.
“5. We have been approached numerous times and we have turned away numerous approaches.”
Again, I can’t see any reason why Xis is turning away these approaches. Some of these offers are surely worth considering? Especially if Xia cannot actually afford to run the club.
“6. FFP is a burden and we need to work within the defined parameters over the course of the next 12 months and beyond and as we have done in the previous 12 months.”
We knew this was an issue.
“7. To be clear, to meet FFP we need to player trade. No shareholding sale of any size will contribute to meeting FFP. We must reduce costs and increase revenue.”
We knew this was an issue and we knew that Villa MUST sell players to meet FFP.
“8. Selling any size of shareholding in the club will not aid in respect to FFP.”
Technically, this is false. New ownership is accounted for in FFP calculations, with new owners allowed a chance to present plans to the EFL that showcase their roadmap with an end goal of meeting FFP. A new owner at Aston Villa, or a new majority shareholder will be given the chance to sidestep FFP as long as they are committed to righting the previous regime’s wrongs. AC Milan were given a chance to speak to UEFA about their FFP situation, but they ballsed it up - refused to meet the limits and instead chucked massive wage packets around.
“9. Steve Bruce remains in charge with my support.”
Villa’s manager was set for the sack, now he’s probably the only figure of stability at the club. His failure to win promotion last season should have heralded a change, and now he’s found himself needed within the club. That’s luck. Villa are clearly in no position to make good judgement when it comes to managers and as long as Bruce can get off to a good start, I back this move. I hope they don’t regret it, and we should all be realistic with our criticism this time around. Bruce and the club have revelled in good faith up to this point, and now the club is in a right state.
“10. There is significant football experience within our playing department and our football administration team who will be supported by the club admin team.”
I get that Steve Bruce and his crew have been around the block a bit, but they will have more responsibility than ever before - and even with a CEO and DoF to reign their plans in, Villa still overspent. I really don’t see the point in what the club are attempting to do here - as Bruce is going to need more assistance than ever. A technical director is needed to ensure the club plans for the future - how can that happen now?
“11. I have made significant investments into the club and all loans provided up to 31st May have now been converted into equity as part of the club’s compliance with FFP rules.”
We’ve heard this all before, to be blunt. I’ll just wait and see what happens.
“12. We are bank loan free but continue to evaluate opportunities to create sensible solutions with regards to financing as is common in most business practises.”
It’s just... I don’t know if I want to believe this at this point. There’s been too much good faith here just to believe whatever is said in a statement.
“13. The EFL have shown no concern over the ‘lack of football experience within the club’”.
The English Football League aren’t a fantastic organisation, and Villa would be much better off if the EFL had shown concern over the operation of AVFC at SOME point in the last two seasons. The fact that they have no concern over the ‘lack of football experience within the club’ doesn’t bother me, football experience in the operation of the business side of a football club is overrated. Football experience only matters in surprisingly few areas of a football club. Give me brains, smarts, and good planning over anything else.
“14. Work continues at pace at the Recon Training Complex as a result of the HS2 project & 15 - work continues on the pitch at Villa Park and is on schedule.”
Cool. I guess.
Dr Tony has been nothing if not outspoken during his time at Villa thus far, and while this is the most we’ve heard off of him in about a month or so, it confirms very little. In fact, I cannot bring myself to believe his words. There are two things here - either we are in this position because has been misled, or we are here because he may not fit to run Villa. Either of these situations are incredibly bad news for Villa, and one of them has to be correct. This open letter should be applauded, because the club should be calming people when it’s selling them tickets, training gear and shirts - but also critiqued. Is this just another game? I think we’ve all had enough of games.