Aston Villa have new co-owners, with Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens taking control of the club with a 55 per cent stake in a move announced Friday. The move effectively solves Villa’s cash-flow crisis, which is nice, because I don’t like talking about cash flow, stripping assets or taking out loans. As football fans, what we really should have to care about is what happens on the pitch, and our focus can finally shift in that direction. Well, kind of...
What’s up with Jack Grealish, then?
The biggest question of the day, then, is whether or not Jack Grealish will be a Villa player when the season kicks off in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, I don’t think the answer is likely to have changed from “no,” with Financial Fair Play considerations (the severity of which we evaluated in May) still very much in play. Villa probably still need to find somewhere in the ballpark of £25 million or £30 million in savings, and a Grealish sale is still the quickest and easiest route to ensuring FFP compliance.
However, three things are now true that weren’t when we woke up this morning:
- Aston Villa are now in a much stronger negotiating position with Daniel Levy
- There may be a path forward for Aston Villa that does not involve selling Grealish
- Aston Villa are now much better-equipped to withstand a Grealish departure
On Friday morning, Villa needed to arrange a Grealish transfer this summer in order to simply help the club stay afloat. Now, EFL regulations are all that could be driving Jack’s departure. There’s a huge negotiating difference between the two, and Villa can now use it to their advantage. I’d expected Grealish to move for around £20 million before today, because Levy had all the leverage — now, the tables have (at least somewhat been turned). Villa can now set a £30-40 million price for their most-prized asset, and if Levy doesn’t want to meet it, they can tell him to shove it, because...
Villa don’t really need to sell Grealish anymore. It would be a little risky, because it’s dependent on other clubs bidding for players like Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Birkir Bjarnason, Albert Adomah and Mile Jedinak, but the club could either (a) ensure FFP compliance through the sales of other players or (b) accept that they might not be able to move everyone, but hope that the penalty for breaching FFP wouldn’t be too severe. We know that James Chester can be moved for a solid fee, and if Villa would get £10 million from Stoke City for the centre back, just about all of it would go toward FFP savings. That’s a good dent. Fair fees for Kodjia and Adomah would move the needle significantly, too, and would leave the club a few bit-part players moving (Gary Gardner could be one to leave) away from becoming FFP compliant, even without a Grealish sale.
Villa could also try to find alternate ways to raise the revenue required to hit FFP, perhaps through a sponsorship deal at Villa Park, for example.
All that said, if Villa can get market value for Grealish, they should take it and use the cash to kick-start the rebuild of the club.
Will James Chester still leave? What about other stars?
We talked a bit about these guys in the previous area, but we’ll go a bit more in-depth now.
Media reports indicate that James Chester is nearing a move to Stoke City, which is honestly fine. Villa will get a good fee for a player who, at 29, is in the middle of his prime and whose value is unlikely to improve without playing in the Premier League. He’s also on decent wages, and seeing as how Villa need to trim that wage bill to be long-term sustainable (more on that later), it’s not a bad move.
Players like Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia, though, may be more likely to stay now with new ownership aboard. If Grealish and Chester both leave, FFP constraints will all but assuredly be fulfilled, which means that the club wouldn’t need to sell either forward, and that’s key, because it protects the club from needing to take a low-ball offer. If fair transfer fees come in for Adomah, Kodjia or Scott Hogan, the club should take them to improve the wage situation — but if nobody’s willing to offer market value, the club should be more than happy to keep their dynamic players around in pursuit of promotion.
How about Steve Bruce?
When cash was short, Steve Bruce’s position as Villa manager was pretty secure, as the club would have had to spend money they didn’t have to sack him. Villa now have the cash to sack him — the question is, do the new owners want to? Would they rather replace the manager or have the funds to bring in one more signing? That could be the key question that determines Bruce’s future.
What could happen in the long-term?
Well, Financial Fair Play is going to continue to be an issue for Villa, at least heading to next year — I estimated Villa’s FFP loss in the 2017/18 season to be £29 million, which was really, really bad. Given that the maximum allowable loss for the three years spanning from 2017/18 and 2019/20 will be £39 million, that means the club can only have a combined FFP loss of £10 million over the next two seasons if promotion isn’t won. If Villa aren’t smart about decreasing the wage bill this summer, they could be forced into sales again next summer, with the parachute payments entirely drop off. Once the 2017/18 loss is finally off the books, then, Villa would be able to build back up.
On a different note, though, the wealth of the incoming investors means that Villa should have access to significant cash that could be used to upgrade the club’s infrastructure and increase potential future revenue streams — remember, these costs are excluded from FFP calculations. I could absolutely see the North Stand redevelopment finally going forward, for example.
Another long-term impact, of course, is that Villa shouldn’t have to worry about cash up until the point where the new owners decide they want out — but until then, a cash flow problem shouldn’t be on our minds.