What life would be like if Aston Villa remain in the Championship for a fourth season
I’m not the kind of person that puts much thought into hypothetical scenarios. The what ifs. I’d be scared to open my front door each and every day if I did. But after Saturday’s 3-0 mauling up at Wigan I began wondering what life would be like for us should we remain in the Championship for a fourth term.
Unlike some fans, who are already willing to write-off this season, I am not saying that it’s beyond the realms of possibility that we end up in the mix come early May. But it’s also hard to deny that we’ve got a fair bit to do in order to get there.
But let’s just say we don’t, what can we expect? Well today I’m going to give you a crash course on said imaginary…
In the three years since our relegation from the top flight we have received a total of around £90 million in parachute payments (with this season’s payment coming in at approximately £15m). Next season we will get diddly squat.
The aforementioned parachute payments go some way in supplementing the huge loss of the television revenue we would’ve earned in the top division.
Premier League clubs now earn upwards of £100m per season through broadcasting and prize money whereas Championship clubs currently receive a mere £6-7million (although this is set to increase due to the new TV deal in which clubs will receive approximately £8m and TV appearances of £200k per game).
Our broadcasting revenue appeared quite handsome in our 2016-17 accounts because that’s the column where the parachute money was attributed.
Other ‘Notable’ Revenue
Relegation from the top flight has an obvious and profound impact on various other revenue streams. Our 2016-17 accounts gave us an indication as to what we can expect year-on-year in the Championship as long as supporters and corporate clients continue to make their way through the turnstiles and spend as they did in our first year at this level.
Gate receipts, sponsorship and other commercial revenue such as merchandise and corporate entertainment totalled £24 million for the year ending 31st May 2017 (down over £18m on what we posted as a Premier League club). It’s unlikely that these figures will have altered significantly.
Financial Fair Play
To say that we are towing the line would be a massive understatement.
Regulations state that clubs cannot exceed losses of £39m, or £13m a season, over a three-year period, although this includes an assessment of projections/draft accounts for the final assessment year as financial statements are not required to be finalised until 2020.
With Villa posting an estimated loss of £33m for its first two seasons in the second tier (stripping out FFP allowable expenses such as youth and community expenditure) it means that we can only afford losses of no more than up to £6m this term which simply isn’t possible when you consider the spend on player wages alone is estimated to be somewhere in the region of £45m (vs revenue of roughly £40m). Furthermore, the club have significant operating expenses above and beyond player wages.
I’m no accountant but the math just doesn’t make for good reading. Yet CEO Christian Purslow appears relaxed about it all and is confident of making it all tally up.
It seems almost certain that in the soon to be disclosed 2017-18 accounts and/or the 2018-19 accounts will include an ‘exceptional item’ so that it’ll appear as though we’ve lived within the confines of FFP. If that’s the case then he’s going to have to magic up around £30-£40m from somewhere.
Out of Contract
Micah Richards, Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan, Ritchie de Laet and Mark Bunn are all expected to leave the club this summer when their contracts expire in June – saving the club over £130k-a-week in wages.
With a shortage of centre-backs it’s conceivable that Tommy Elphick will be offered an extension, but having been ostracised from the first team for a large portion of his time at Villa, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he were to reject it.
Alan Hutton is out of contact in the summer and at 34 years of age it’s unlikely he will remain at the club for a ninth consecutive season. Having said that – having signed-up again on reduced terms last summer – he might be offered a similar deal if the club believe he still has one more season in him as a back-up option.
Jed Steer started the season as our number one goalkeeper but has quickly slipped back down to third in the pecking order following the arrival of Lovre Kalinić. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the club asked him to stay on in order to provide competition but Jed will know in his heart-of-hearts that it’s time to move on if he really wants regular first team football rather than being shipped out on loan time-and-time again.
Alarmingly, Villa have yet to get some of our brightest products in our academy to sign-up past the summer. In times of austerity the club must become as self-sufficient as possible and that will involved blooding more of our youngsters and bringing them into the first-team fold. Callum O’Hare, Easah Suliman, Mitchell Clark, Jacob Bedeau, Harvey Knibbs, Harry McKirdy, Kelsey Mooney and Jordan Lyden are all out of contract this summer.
Four of our six loanees are proving to be pivotal members of our first-team squad this season. Tammy Abraham, Axel Tuanzebe, Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi will all return to their parent clubs. André Moreira’s loan move here was a complete waste of time.
Although we have an option to buy El Ghazi it’s unlikely that we’ll exercise this right should we not gain promotion. Kortney Hause arrived at the club just last week and so it’s far too soon to gauge the likelihood of him staying past the summer.
Villa will have Andre Green (Portsmouth) and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Cambridge United) returning to the fold. Whereas Gary Gardner, Aaron Tshibola and Ross McCormack will likely still be deemed surplus.
Contracts mean very little in today’s game. Despite penning a new five year deal just a few months back there will of course be speculation surrounding Grealish next summer if we don’t make it back to the big time.
It’s believed that our young talisman now has a £45 million release clause and it would be of little surprise if a Premier League club were to come sniffing again and truly put our resolve to the test.
Villa are still feeling the effects of the frivolous approach to spending when we first dropped a division. McCormack, Tshibola, Gollini and Hogan cost a combined £35m in transfer fees alone. I think that we all agree that this money would’ve been best spent elsewhere.
I am fed up on seeing supporters just wanting us to spend more and more each and every transfer window. It’s completely unsustainable.
Besides how easy do you think it is to move on some of the biggest earners in this division? If you don’t consider Henri Lansbury to be a £40k-a-week midfielder then there’s very little chance any person in football will think the same either.
Scott Hogan is the latest target for the boo-boys. But tell me: which football club is prepared to part with a few million quid for a striker whose lacking match fitness, void of any confidence and picking up around £35,000-a-week? Nope – me neither.
By no means am I saying that our players aren’t exempt from criticism. We all pay our money and are entitled to our own opinions. But this is real life not Football Manager and so perhaps we should all learn to be as pragmatic as possible with our thought-process before blurting out improbable and impractical ‘solutions’.
The key to success is patience. And in Dean Smith I truly believe that we have the right man.
Although there has been a few disappointing performances and results, namely the three since the turn of the year, anyone who knows anything about football can see the bigger picture and appreciate the tactical advancement we’ve seen since the fall of Steve Bruce. We’ve seen a couple of big wins such as the three-nillers’ away at Middlesbrough and Derby along with the free-flowing attacking additive for the large part. Smith is one of us and has the club at heart – which is an added bonus in my book.
The financials tell us that Smith will need to be much more economical than most of our previous managers. Spending obscene amounts of money doesn’t guarantee promotion (à la Burnley, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Cardiff who’ve all gone up without blowing a shed-load). You only have to look at the current top three (Leeds, Sheffield United and Norwich) to appreciate that it’s possible to compete at the higher end of the table without parting with huge sums of money.
We all saw what Smith was able to do at Brentford and that’s essentially what we’re wanting him to replicate here – just on a grander scale. On paper at least, Villa have a talented group of players, much more so than what he worked with down in West London and now it’s all about moulding all of that together and carefully selecting the players that he can trust to deliver what he wants. His style of play and philosophies.
In football you have two main types of management style and very little in between. There’s those that I would categorise as the ‘rigid’ sort; Steve Bruce, Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock and Sean Dyche are the old school that I’d place firmly within this camp. Although this style has served a purpose at this level in the past I strongly believe that over the past few years we’ve started to see a much more exciting and expansive brand of football taking a hold. The reason for this is simple: there just isn’t enough surplus cash available in the Championship to go out and buy the players to deliver success and so managers with a higher level of tactical nous are becoming more and more sought after. The work that is done on the training ground is arguably now more important than ever before.
Dean Smith has been tasked to go and find a way to get these players playing for him, to really buy into his mantra and give it their all. As a Championship club – especially in our possibly soon-to-be fourth year and onwards – we will not be generating enough income to go and spend, spend and spend some more and so it’s very likely that should we not get promoted this season then he will have little option but to revert to the transfer strategies that he was renown for during his time at The Bees i.e. picking out some gems on the cheap and turning them into worthwhile financial assets for the club. Very few – if any excluding Jack Grealish – of our current squad hold any real market value and so how do you think we’re going to pay for all these new players that you’re yearning for every transfer window?
‘Possible’ 2019-20 First Team Squad
GK: Kalinić, Nyland, Sarkic
DEF: Chester, Elmohamady, Bree, Clark, Bedeau (plausible others: Elphick, Hause, Suliman)
MID: McGinn, Hourihane, Lansbury, Bjarnason, Adomah, Grealish, Doyle-Hayes, O’Hare, Green
STR: Kodjia, Hogan, Davis, Hepburn-Murphy
Based on a mixture of some ITK knowledge and media ‘guesstimates’ the above squad pockets around £500,000-a-week (and that’s not including the hefty wages that we’ll still likely have to pay Ross McCormack whilst he’s out on loan yet again). This brings me nicely onto my next point…
The base of our income comes in three main categories; gate receipts (c.£10.5m), broadcasting revenue and prize money (c.£10m) and commercial revenue (c.£15m).
In addition – it is rumoured that we are to be getting c.£10m compensation for HS2 rail disruptions – which, whilst nice, is a one-off income stream.
That’d give the club a budget of around £45m to work with in its fourth year as a Championship club whereas ‘normally’ we ought to be operating at no more than £35m.
When you consider that our current playing squad take home c.£45m per year then that’s a scary proposition for any accountant to try and make work.
For this article I have endeavoured to strip back the ‘possible’ first-team squad for next season as best I could and their wages alone still came in at c.£30m. When you chuck in other costs such as amortisation (players that we still owe money for) c.£15m, social security c.£5m, youth and community expenditure c.£7m and we’re already up towards the £60m mark without even taking into account the salaries of the management and coaching staff let alone the dinner lady!
So as you can see – we won’t have much if any funds truly available to play with should we remain in the Championship. By no means am I saying our future looks dead-beat if we can’t find our way out this season but it’s sure going to become a lot more trickier – especially if the EFL choose to sanction us one way or another down the line for breaching FFP (assuming that we’re found guilty).
All of the above is why I get super annoyed when I see fans posting stuff like “relegation was the best thing for us.” I’ve seen this countless times over the past two-and-a-half years and it’s arguably the most ridiculous statement ever. A sensible change of approach from the top has all that has ever been needed.
There is no getting away from the fact that Aston Villa Football Club has operated naively and way beyond its means for as long as I can remember. Should we have to play in this league for a fourth season, or possibly even longer, then we’ve got little option but to turn to youth, start to pay players reasonable salaries and look to add players that increase in value rather than decline (as is our tendency).
We will no longer be able to go and splurge big on a ‘star name’ and whack him on £40k+-per-week. If there’s something we’ve all surely come to learn: spending big doesn’t always get you to where you want to be. Hopefully the board head this advice.
I’ve every faith that Dean Smith will lead us out of this mess. Whether it be this season, next season or the season after that. Stick with him, trust in him and get behind the boys.
(And just pray that we make it back to the Prem!)
UP THE VILLA!
Written by Ryan Pitcher
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Categories: Opinion Piece