By Ryan Pitcher
“Under the current circumstances, I think the club needs to rethink not only the past two years but also the past ten years.
Villa needs to be a sustainable football club. People join. People leave. That is the cycle of football. But the football club remains through it all.” – Dr Tony Xia, 30th May 2018
A little over a week has now passed since the owner released a short statement expressing his sadness over the play-off final defeat to Fulham. An utterance that included a synopsis of the challenges that lay ahead. At that time I didn’t think too much of it and then the week from hell ensued.
Within this article I will not be re-visiting the issue of the unpaid tax bill and everything surrounding that because, for now at least, I think all that can be reported has been done so and besides fellow Heart of the Holte writer David Jordan did a grand job of covering that earlier on in the week.
In light of the events over the past few days I sit here stewing and rather exasperated over Xia’s statement that preceded what was to follow. This at a time that Xia MUST HAVE KNOWN what was about to happen. And if he didn’t, then there is something very wrong.
The cheek of the man.
Casting my mind back to the summer of 2016 and I recall so much discussion surrounding how we were to move forward following on from several years of mismanagement under the stewardship of Randy Lerner. And I would’ve thought that those past failings would’ve been dissected at board level, rather than just words spoken to the press, where a strategy would’ve been put into place that covered all if not most eventualities.
Yet this weeks debacle proves otherwise and yet Xia – in his own words – wishes for us to re-visit the past dozen years rather than place a microscope over what has happened since his arrival at the club.
Upon the expiration of Gabby, Hutton and Bunn’s contracts this summer there will only be four players left (Richards, Gil, Gardner and Grealish) that were here under the Yanks’ control, and so I think we’re really scratching the barrel if we are wanting to use that as an excuse for much longer.
By no means is this me coming out and saying that I would like to revert to those toxic matchday atmosphere week-in-week-out, but one has to ask what has really changed for the better?
Despite running running up the largest wage will in Championship history, watching some of the most tentative football I’ve ever seen and then bottling promotion, up until this week our one saving grace was “stability.” A word that has echoed through the masses, on the terraces, on social media and across the forums for the past two years.
You can’t even use that one on me anymore.
We can all remember the infamous ‘Bomb Squad’. Given the situation we find ourselves in today, I don’t believe I’m being melodramatic when I say that there’d be more names on that list in the here and now than we had back then, when we were operating on Premier League revenue.
Before breaking this down I think it’s important that we understand just how much out-of-sync Villa are in relation to our surroundings. The average Championship player is estimated to earn around £9,000-a-week, whilst figures suggest that the average first team player will earn approximately £16,000-a-week (but it is Villa that are driving up that average by a considerable amount).
We currently have six high earners whose contracts are set to expire next summer: Micah Richards (£50k), Mile Jedinak (£45k), Glenn Whelan (£30k), Ritchie de Laet (£25k), Tommy Elphick (£25k) and Carles Gil (£30k). The latter two may leave the club on loan with the respective clubs that they join paying the majority of their wages.
If the club were to issue a wholesale clearout then of the remaining dozen players picking up a salary in excess of £20,000-a-week I’d estimate that wemay be able to shift half; James Chester (£40k), Conor Hourihane (£30k), Ahmed Elmohamady (£25k), Albert Adomah (£25k), Jack Grealish (£25k) and Birkir Bjarnason (£25k).
Taking our prized asset ‘Super’ Jack Grealish out of the equation as he appears to be in high demand from the ‘big boys’ and we’d be reliant upon only a certain calibre of football club to come in for the rest what with the high wages. I mean, which other Championship club is going to pay Conor Hourihane in excess of £30k-a-week?
And then even after the aforementioned hypothetical clear out we’d still be left with half-a-dozen players that we would certinaly struggle to move on permanently due to their disproportionate salaries: Ross McCormack (£40k), Henri Lansbury (£40k), Scott Hogan (£35k), Jonathan Kodjia (£30k), Neil Taylor (£30k) and Gary Gardner (£20k).
It didn’t need to be this way…
Aston Villa Football Club – the cash cow that just keeps on getting milked. Will there ever be a time that we run out of udders to suck from?
Take Scott Hogan for example, sources close to Brentford football club revealed to me that he was taking home around £7k-a-week at Griffin Park. And so what is the need to go and give the man FIVE TIMES as much as he was earning previously? Do we just sit players and their agents in a room and ask them how much do you want? And then not negotiate one bit.
No disrespect intended to clubs such as Brentford (Hogan), Barnsley (Hourihane), Lansbury (Forest) or Bristol City (Kodjia) but how are these four players – that have come from these football clubs – costing Aston Villa a combined £7 million every year in wages?
I’ll tell you why: because we haven’t learnt a single things since the fall of Lerner.
When we got relegated into the Championship in 2016 we might have been licking our wounds somewhat but we were actually in a privileged position in comparison to the rest of the league.
Ok – so we might have had a number of players bleeding the club for all it was worth, but we did have the guarantees of the parachute money and the opportunity to rid ourselves of as many of those leeches we could – and which we did.
What’s more is that we were a name that could attract the best at this level but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we had to pay over the odds in wages, because let’s face it, most of what we have brought in over the past two years were not really attracting interest from Premier League clubs.
We could have just dangled a carrot.
Continuing to use Scott Hogan as a prime example, a rise from £7k to £15k-a-week for a player that was playing non-league football just four years prior to joining Villa, would’ve of been seen as a significant enough increase in salary in the eyes of most. Insert bonuses into those contracts as an incentive to gain promotion; a one off payment, or an extra x amount per week, or a double your money.
Not Villa though. We just go and hand these players lucrative contracts from the off-set.
We are a Championship football club operating on Championship income and for the most part we are stuck with a group of players that are earning so much money that only top-flight clubs or perhaps newly relegated clubs (if they wish to take a gamble like we did) could afford to pay. The majority of which are too old or just not good enough to earn bigger contracts elsewhere.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when we’re left with little option but to bring an untimely end to a relationship that might just have gone on from strength-to-strength. We may never know.
As a boyhood Villa fan, Jack Grealish loves this football club just as much as you or I, and although I appreciate that there were no guarantees that he was to remain at the club following our failure to gain promotion, now there might not even be a choice to be made.
Like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter Grealish might end up being Villa’s saviour in a much more unorthodox and literal way in which we’d all have hoped for.
And for that I blame the current regime and not the one of old.
UP THE VILLA!