Aston Villa: Financial relief after sale of a prized asset

ASTON VILLA have had a mixed season in 2022-23; comfortably placed in mid-table in the Premier at present, but they have also sacked manager Steven Gerrard and tumbled out of the FA Cup to League Two side Stevenage on their own ground. Any hopes of building on the previous season’s campaign in which they finished 14th haven’t fully been realised, although they could finish in the top half of the Premier League, which would be some sort of progress.

From a financial perspective, the 2021-22 season saw them significantly benefit from the sale of Jack Grealish to Manchester City for £ 100 million in August 2021. Villa, after making accumulated pre=tax losses of £ 420 million between 2013 and 2021, made a small profit of £ 0.4 million in 2021-22, but it was the sale of Grealish that turned operating losses of  £ 96 million into profit. In some respects, the timing of the sale couldn’t have been better or more  appropriate for Villa. In addition, since the end of the 2021-22 financial year, their owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, have invested a further £ 98 million in the form of share issues.

Turnover in 2021-22 went down by 2.8% to £ 178.4 million, mainly due to a fall in broadcasting revenues of 21.6% to £ 123. 2 million. In 2020-21 they totalled £ 183.6 million, but this was attributable to the greater number of games played. Matchday earnings totalled £ 16.1 million, a massive return to normality after the wipe-out of the previous covid-affected campaign. Commercial income went up by 49% to a record £ 39.1 million. Villa’s revenues have only been bettered once before, the £ 183.6 million generated in 2020-21. Unsurprisingly, Villa’s profit from player sales was also at a record £ 97.4 million, higher than the combined profits made across the past decade. 

Villa were very active in the transfer market. They spent some £ 204 million and recouped £ 103 million from sales. Among the new signings were Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City for £ 33 million, Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen (£ 30 million), Southampton striker Danny Ings (£25 million) and Everton’s Lucas Digne (£ 25 million). Of these notable acquisitions, Ings has already left for West Ham United for £ 12 million. 

Gerrard was hired in November 2021 and lasted just over a year and 40 games, with a very mediocre win rate of 32.5%. Former Arsenal and Villareal coach Unai Emery was his replacement and so far his win rate is 50%.

Villa’s wage bill in 2021-22 totalled £ 137 million slightly less than the previous season, consuming 77% of income. In 2020-21, the ratio was 75%, a big improvement on 2019-20 (97%) and a pleasing development from the excesses of Villa’s championship years when wages outstripped earnings by 175% in 2019. The pursuit of Premier League football has prompted many Championship clubs to spend far more than they can ever afford. This situation is unsustainable and represents a big gamble on the part of clubs who desperately covet a place in the top flight.

Villa Park is one of the oldest stadiums in Britain and Villa enjoy strong support. Their average attendances in 2021-22 were 41,670 but the club is aiming to expand their home and take the capacity up to 50,000 through the rebuilding of the north stand, the oldest part of Villa Park. The club has a 28,000 waiting list for season tickets. 

It is well documented that Aston Villa’s golden era was the period between 1887 and 1900 when the club won five Football League championships and three FA Cups. Their last trophy was the Football League Cup in 1995-96, 27 years ago. This is the second longest period in the club’s history without a piece of silverware, the longest was between 1920 and 1957. Villa are a big club that could become a contender for  major honours on a regular basis. But in order to move up the ladder, the club has to find ways to increase its revenue streams and move turnover way beyond £ 200 million. Leicester City have shown that the Midlands, which has a plethora of medium-sized entities with loyal support, can produce clubs that win prizes. A visit to the winners’ podium is long overdue for one of football’s grand old names.

Gerrard proves that great players rarely make the managerial grade

ASTON VILLA are without a manager, their fans must be wondering who will take over from Steven Gerrard as their club battles to stay clear of the Premier League relegation zone. While Gerrard is now out of work, probably not for too long, Villa start the process all over again. There’s two sides to every managerial story, although all the talk has about what comes next for Gerrard, an inexperienced manager at the highest level.

His dismissal, as inevitable as the demise of Prime Minister Liz Truss, brings to an end the assumption that Gerrard was the Liverpool manager in waiting, the natural heir to the Klopp throne. A great player, a local lad, returning home to begin the next stage of his marriage to Liverpool Football Club. That was the script.

Gerrard was one of the best players of his time, a genuine class act among the mis-named “golden generation” that achieved nothing for England. But great players do not necessarily make decent managers – the list is endless and there’s a number of reasons. Players are managed by people who tell them what to do, there’s something almost militaristic about being a pro. But being the man in the suit changes everything and you become the “gaffer” telling others what to do. Quiet men and deep men struggle to be the bastard in the dugout. Bobby Charlton couldn’t do it, Bobby Moore didn’t make it, countless others never got a look in. Nice guys just don’t survive.

Appointing somebody who spent all of his time with one club is also something of a mistake. The stalwart is well versed in the mechanics of his club, understands the DNA of the club, but in the role of manager, you need a person who has a rounded view of the game, drawn from spending time across the industry. Institutionalised people are loyal and reliable, but when you’re managing different players from all over the world, you need a manager with a global view of football.

It would seem very unlikely that a club like Liverpool, which is owned by American investors, would appoint a coach for old time’s sake. Sentiment just doesn’t come into it, and even if Gerrard has been earmarked for the future, he needs to serve an apprenticeship and bring to the job the experience of managing a top club with some degree of proficiency. Elite level clubs don’t do experiments.

His win rate at Aston Villa was just 32.5% but crucially, it is this season’s stats that count and they are looking dire. His record at Rangers was good and he won the Scottish Premiership with some degree of style, but putting it into perspective, the gap between Celtic and Rangers and the rest of Scottish football is huge and no real comparison with the Premier league can be made – just look at how Liverpool dismantled Rangers in the Champions League.

He didn’t rush into a job, preferring to sensibly transition via a coaching role at Liverpool. From Rangers, a Championship role would have been more suitable and would have formed part of his training. The Premier came too soon, just as it did for his contemporary, Frank Lampard. Yet getting sacked at this stage of his career isn’t the end of the world, but it does pose questions about his ability to become a top manager.

He does need to reflect more on the team rather than making it about himself. It is understandable that he should want to take the blame, but he often sounds like he is conducting an exercise in self-analysis: “I don’t doubt myself because I believe in myself…. I’m a fighter, I will never quit anything… It’s tough, but I’m a man”…. Mud has flown my way before”. It’s clear what Gerrard thinks about himself, but what about his employer and his players?

Gerrard will recover from this blow and he will doubtless be working again soon, but like so many others who have rushed into a top job, he needs to ask himself if moving to Aston Villa was right for someone with no Premier league managerial experience. And maybe Villa should ask themselves if they were a little too easily seduced by Steven Gerrard’s playing career stats.