Aston Villa find new owner Xia Jiantong

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Randy Lerner has agreed the sale of Aston Villa Football Club to Chinese businessman “Tony” Xia Jiantong. The deal is reported to be worth £60 million and is pending approval by the Premier League.

The club stated that: “Aston Villa Football Club is pleased to announce that an agreement has been signed for the sale of 100 percent ownership by Randy Lerner to Recon Group, owned by Xia Jiantong. Randy Lerner has sought the right new owner for Aston Villa who would take great care of the club and restore its fortunes. He believes that Xia Jiantong is an excellent choice.”

The sale marks an end to the Lerner era, a decade of two distinct halves which saw the midlands club challenging for European places at the top and struggling at the bottom. The club recently succumbed to relegation in the most recent season and undoubtedly influenced the final selling price Lerner was able to command. It has been a painful journey for supporters and owner alike, with the former enduring years of lackluster play and the latter feeling the financial pain of a mismanaged property.

Lerner purchased Villa in 2006 for £62.2m and had invested close to £150m in the push for the Champions League, recently however the club recorded a £52m loss in 2012-13, a £3.9m loss in 2013-14 and a £27.3m loss in 2014-15. While it’s likely that Lerner recouped a portion of his investment through earned interest on debt extended to the club it doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to what was invested. This loss is especially likely given some of the debt-equity conversions he has Lerner completed recently (Swiss Ramble breaks this in incredible detail) which total approximately £175m over the past three years. Barring some yet undisclosed swap or agreement that equity is now sold off as part of the new deal. £175m in equity to £60m is a decent amount of pain.

Questions remain around the new Chinese owner “Tony” Xia Jiantong and his plans and ability to invest in the club. Recon Group appears to be a holding company with interests in diverse businesses like food additives and financial services. Xia has an equally diverse history spending several years at various educational institutions apparently including Harvard and Oxford ultimately studying design and landscape architecture.

Villa supporters will be hoping that Xia’s arrival marks a new, brighter future for the club.

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Aston Villa find new owner Xia Jiantong

Aston Villa close to new owner, end of Lerner era

Aston Villa chairman Randy Lerner is close to selling the club for a price close to £150m. The Telegraph reports that the American has been in talks with three interested parties but that a sole “mystery bidder” has now been granted exclusivity to complete the due diligence process. The other interested groups were rumored to be of Chinese and American origin with one led by Paul Smith, former business director for Chelsea FC.

 

The Lerner REVOLUTION

The sale would mark the end of a nine year roller-coaster ride for the West Midlands club that saw the team swing from top four ambition to relegation desperation. Following his 2006 takeover Lerner made substantial improvements across the club: investing in players for the first and youth teams, modernizing academy infrastructure, and renovating match-day facilities. The club challenged for Champions League qualification in the following seasons until the wheels appeared to come off in the 2010/11 season, most notably punctuated by the acrimonious departure of Martin O’Neill early in the season. Results declined steadily as investment dropped off, with this season’s 17th place finish marking the lowest position of the club in almost 20 years, only to be surpassed the 18th place finish of the 1994/95 season.

From 2006 – 2011 Lerner invested nearly 200m into the club before limits on his own resources forced him to curtail spending. In the four years since, the net spend on players has dropped off considerably, with estimates at a much more modest £10m annually. The club’s biggest purchases in the post O’Neill period were Charles N’Zogbia and Christian Benteke, both brought in for £10m or less.

 

CHALLENGES OF THE MIDLANDS

The new investors have several key issues to address, in particular the need for immediate investment to stabilize league position and revamping the club’s approach to youth development. The Villans have been the fourth lowest spenders among clubs in the league for the past five seasons, having invested less than £29m on a net basis and only being underspent by Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham (Spurs also only included because of the tremendous outlier that was the Gareth Bale transfer).

EPL Net Spend 2010-2015
Net Spend of Premier League Survivors 2010-2015

Where there has been under-investment in the first team, there has been under-performance from the club’s academy system. Few of the crop brought in under Lerner have claimed regular spots in the senior team and it’s unclear whether those who have are of the quality needed to push Villa forward.

Most important is addressing Lerner’s lack of a long term growth strategy, arguably the biggest failure of his tenure, relying primarily on squad investment only to be out muscled by existing competitors and outflanked by the emergence of Manchester City. Is there room for Aston Villa in the Top Four? Is it feasible with Financial Fair Play in effect? Is mid-table stability the only realistic goal for the foreseeable future?

 

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

Despite recent troubles Aston Villa remain a club with a deep history, large supporter base and substantial resources to draw upon. The hangover of the past five years has been a crushing presence and lifting the burden of that history can only be a positive for the club.

Any new management that comes in will be able to work with a team that has shed its older, costly players and retained a core of talent surrounded by good prospects. The club is also still the presumptive king of the West Midlands, with control over the second most populous city in the UK to draw upon for local support and commercial opportunities. Meanwhile, the Villa name is still rated as one of the Top 25 brands of world soccer, the actual figure and ranking might need to be taken with a grain of salt but clearly there is something of value for ambitious owners to work with.

Bringing in an owner with a long time horizon and the ability to reinvigorate key areas of the club may finally realize the promise of Aston Villa in the modern era.

Aston Villa close to new owner, end of Lerner era

Why are there no buyers for Aston Villa?

The past several years have not been kind to Aston Villa or its supporters.  An apparently drained Randy Lerner has been interested in selling the club for some time only to find no willing buyers at his desired price of £100m pounds (already reduced from £200m earlier in the year).  Villa are a club with considerable history, large supporter base, and decent infrastructure, so where are the suitors?  Is there no one willing to take a chance on this West Midlands Black Friday deal? Why is no one buying Aston Villa?

Randy Lerner has owned Villa for almost a decade, securing full ownership late in 2006 and quickly making substantial investments across the club including players for the first and youth teams, academy improvements, and supporter facilities.  To avoid going into a detailed history I will summarize: things got much more exciting for the Villans…and then they got much more exciting going in the wrong direction.  As key players were sold and Lerner dialed back investment the supporters have seen the club go from Champions League hopefuls to relegation muck brawlers.

There are a few reasons AVFC might be having trouble attracting a new owner:

Diminished Academy

Lerner garnered much support for emphasizing the revitalization of the club’s youth system as an engine for the long term growth of the club.  While several academy players have taken key roles over the past two years, one suspects this would not be the case with larger transfer budgets available to Paul Lambert.  Unfairly or not, Lerner’s vision has largely gone unrealized and any new owner would have to invest substantial amounts of time and capital to restart the engine.

The attractiveness of the academy is further reduced by the adoption of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan.  The plan abolishes the “90 minute rule” for youth development which limited clubs to signing players within their geographic region (“catchment area”), effectively ending the significant control that Villa held on talent from the West Midlands.  Losing the catchment area brings the club into direct competition with the academies of the elite (Arsenal, Chelsea, United, etc.) and more renowed (Southampton).

STABILITY REQUIRED = £££

Villa’s place in the top flight has been genuinely under threat for the past several years; while the club has managed to survive on the cheap so far history suggests that underinvestment is a poor long term strategy.  The club currently falls 13th in the league based on estimates of player market value.

An incoming owner would likely desire mid-table safety for the next several years, a target that would likely require an immediate net investment of £20 – 30m, followed by regular, smaller investment each year as the remaining squad from the Lerner years is rotated out.

NO European Adventures

The most pressing concern is the almost non-existent chance that Aston Villa have of accessing the Champions League and all its bounty.  Manchester City’s arrival was a significant disruption to Lerner’s plan because while a foundering Liverpool kept Villa’s European dream alive Manchester City’s ascent quickly closed that window.

What was a duel for fourth became a three club brawl where Villa found itself holding the proverbial knife at a gun fight.  The gap has only grown wider as the incumbent clubs have collectively invested hundreds of millions in players and infrastructure to secure the four valuable berths.  Financial Fair Play has also reduced the effectiveness of the ‘Chelsea’ model as any new owner would be restricted in transfer spending or significantly deep-pocketed to simply pay luxury tax fines of FFP.

With little chance of European glory there are few ways to grow the brand and even fewer large revenue opportunities to tap into.  It is little wonder that few were willing to entertain Lerner’s price.

Why are there no buyers for Aston Villa?

Fight for Fourth Watch: Villa Win Ups Pressure

A 2-1 win by Aston Villa tonight at Wigan has brought them up to 7th on 49 points, piling the pressure on Liverpool as well as the other clubs fighting for Champions League entry.  The four teams in contention, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Aston Villa are separated by a mere 3 points, with games in hand confusing the scrap even more.

As I mentioned previously, losing out on Champions League participation could be disastrous for Liverpool.  Can they push on with their recent form and fend off the challengers? Or will it be one of the new upstarts who find themselves in Europe’s top competition come May? Have your say in the comments.

Fight for Fourth Watch: Villa Win Ups Pressure

Show Me The Money! – The Premier League

Cristiano Ronaldo

I am always astounded by some of the figures thrown around in the Football industry. It never made sense to me how clubs could pay

blockbuster transfer fees, pay oversize wages and still make as much money as everyone thinks. Favorite Portuguese boo-boy Cristiano Ronaldo is reported to currently be earning £183,000 a week

at Real Madrid with the figure eventually rising to £556,000 a week (!!!) by the end of his contract.

But do big paydays for stars result in big paydays for football owners? A quick, unscientific look at the data for the current grouping of Premier League teams.

As you can see profitable clubs are in the minority even in the Premier League.

Highlights:

  • 17 of the 20 clubs are unprofitable with an accumulated deficit over the past 17 seasons.
  • 15 of the 20 clubs have an accumulated deficit of £15m (!) or more
  • The 3 most profitable clubs also have the lowest wage/turnover ratios with the exception of Arsenal which ranks 4th behind Aston Villa. (this might actually be due to incorrect/misleading data)
  • Wigan, Chelsea, and Portsmouth have the highest wage/turnover ratios; 89.5, 84.5, and 77.6 respectively
  • Man United has been profitable for 15 of the past 17 seasons
  • Fulham has been profitable for 1 of the past 17 seasons

It is even hard to argue that the deficit belongs to recently promoted clubs or that Premier League survival brings financial stability. If we only keep clubs who have had at least a 5-year tenure in the top flight the numbers improve only marginally.

The main lesson? Unless you’re a footballer, a footballer’s agent, a footballer’s wife, Arsenal or Man United, you’re not making a lot of money in Football.

Some info about the data I used. Data was supplied by the wonderful website The Political Economy of Football.  The time period sampled was from the 1991/92 – 2007/08 season, not all clubs have complete datasets within this period as some were not in the Premier League, however the missing data is not substantial enough to throw off the general trend. I plan to do a more in-depth analysis in a future post, on the relationship between wages and a club’s financial stability.

Next time on “Show Me The Money!”: Digging into Serie A.

Show Me The Money! – The Premier League