In the last few days, Aston Villa, as you may be aware, has been subject to some considerable speculation with regards to its ownership situation. It all started with boardroomgate, followed by stevehollisisinnegotiationsgate followed by announcementinfourtyeighthoursgate, and finally lernerstatementgate. With all that in mind, on Thursday morning the Birmingham Mail ran with the headline that there were 3 contenders for the club, engaged in a rather concerningly titled "tug-of-love". Of these three, one was claimed to be either Larry Ellison or a consortium backed by him. This was backed up by a the Sun story the previous day. Subsequently, on Friday night, the Star ran with this headline, to add further smoke to this rather mysterious fire.
Larry Ellison is a name that Villa fans will be familiar with, having been linked to us in the past, but just how realistic is the idea of the Oracle boss coming to our club?
Larry Ellison, 71, is listed by Forbes as the 5th richest man alive and one of the co-founders of Oracle Corporation. He has a keen interest in sports, particularly yachting, motorsports, tennis and aviation, all of which he has invested considerable sums of money. He also signed up to the Giving Pledge in 2010. He wrote the following at the time:
"Many years ago, I put virtually all my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95% of my wealth to charitable causes. I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time."
Aston Villa certainly is a charity case right now, and what would interest him in our club?
Whilst whether we still are is up to some debate, we certainly have been a big club in the past, with our league titles and European Cup. There's no denying that that our rich history would have some appeal, and perhaps to this man (who in his lifetime would have seen us win all manner of trophies, even if he wasn't paying much attention) would feel excited by the challenge of restoring us to our former glories. With our big stadium and excellent academy and training ground, the infrastructure is there and ready to be capitalised on. The potential is there, but we're currently falling far short of it.
As such as a big old club as we may or may not be, we have a broad fanbase both in the UK and over in the States (and even in Hong Kong!). Particularly given our current owner is American there are footholds in that market already. Any new owner looking to promote a global brand, which is vital in modern football, would certainly find that desirable.
Our relegation could play into our hands in two ways. Firstly, and most obviously, it drags down the asking price for a club. Given there are no certainties that a return to the Premier League is going to happen (and right now the odds would suggest it won’t) Randy realistically can’t ask for as much as he has done in the past. In fact, reportedly, he already has dropped it, down to £75m with add-ons. Secondly, the relegation gives a new owner a real chance to clear the decks and instantly stamp their mark on the club, and should all go to plan create an instant legacy should they get us promoted, before they've even really started.
Finally, Leicester give us a big bonus should they win the title in the next few weeks. Whether or not it represents a power shift in english football remains to be seen, but it may still encourage potential owners to invest in clubs revelling in relative obscurity. If they can do it, why can't we?
So it’s clear why he might want to buy us, what about why not?
First and foremost, we’re not a Premier League club. As just said there are no guarantees that we will ever see the top division again, and that represents a huge issue for any potential buyer. To a greater or lesser extent, promotion from the Championship is pot luck, can be done off a run of form (see Reading, 2011-12) and missed despite years of dominance (see Leicester, Middlesbrough). Without the star power of the Premier League, clubs are virtually anonymous on the international market (shout out to my mate Martyn for pointing that out). If the 5th richest man in the world is buying the club, or even just backing a consortium, he’s going to want to be able to make something out of it, right? In the Championship, that will be virtually impossible.
Another huge issue for us is where we’re based. While there’s potential for regeneration and a considerable fanbase, it isn’t London. There is a reason why almost half the Premier League is based London. There’s simply a far greater appeal to both owners and players there. The larger population means more potential customers (ew icky word) and for players, particularly foreign foreign ones, nowhere else in the UK has the appeal of London, a truly global city (take West Ham's summer transfer activity. Would Payet have dreamt of joining them if they were based in Bolton? Unless there are plans afoot to relocate us (NO), count that as a black mark against us.
Another issue is our books. We’re as good as broke. Without the millions of pounds worth of TV money coming from the Premier League, we’re in real dire financial straits (there’s a good analysis of it here). For a man that has apparently tied up 95% of his wealth in trusts with promises to give it all to charity, we’re quite the money drain. Ellison obviously has deep pockets but there’s only so much help an owner can give to a club before FFP restrictions apply.
Which leads to the next point, FFP. Aston Villa really need to be rebuilt from the foundations up, and that’s going to require a hell of a lot of investment, and a lot of investment isn’t easy to achieve within FFP. Whilst it has been relaxed of late, the myriad layers (UEFA, Premier League, even the Football League) add up and despite the workarounds (see Leicester, Manchester City) the freedom to rise up from obscurity as City did but a few years ago is long gone. Leicester appear to be bucking that trend this year but there's no guarantee that their success will be replicated. In fact, with the superstar managerial transfers occurring over this summer, bringing some of the leading names in the game to our league, a Leicester title this year could well be one last hurrah for unpredictability in english football, before the league is virtually set in stone for eternity.
Whilst there are reason why Ellison may be tempted by the idea of buying the Villa, it is clear to see there are some very sticky sticking points. This, of course, is all before considering whether or not the Ellison links are actually true in the first place. Whilst the link did appear on the front page of the Birmingham Mail, which certainly adds credence, its source seems to be the article in the Sun, which is hardly a reputable source of news for Aston Villa. The story in the Express the following day merely referenced the Sun story as its source, and then friday's Star article is in the Star, famous for running a week's worth of front pages about a "ghost children epidemic sweeping Britain". Furthermore, Lerner’s statement today seems to pour cold water on the idea of a takeover being imminent, what with any lack of a goodbye and with the following quote-
"I will continue to try to put the club into worthy hands as I have"
Although the idea of Ellison merely backing the consortium gives the idea more validity, it still seems a tenuous link all said. It would though appear, that our wantaway owner is still trying to get out, as emphasised in his statement (which you can read in its full, rambling, romantically nourishing glory here).
Regardless of whether it’s Ellison or someone slightly more realistic, as fans we can but wait and hope that something occurs speedily, for without change our club is surely bound for anonymity or worse before too long.
Up the Villa