Aston Villa hierarchy have delusions of grandeur over sizing Europe
Aston Villa, 125/1 outsiders with Coral for a top six finish this term, are to target challenging for European football within three years, according to an ambitious statement from CEO Tom Fox.
Such designs, given the club’s current place in mid-table mediocrity, may seem laughable to punters, pundits and fans of the West Midlands outfit at present, but this is what greets them as football turns festive.
“We should be finishing seventh or eighth consistently,” said Fox during an in-depth interview. “We should be competing consistently up there for a place in Europe, and putting us within touching distance of the larger clubs. And I don’t think that takes four years.”
Commentators and supporters alike may be forgiven for being skeptical, though. It is, after all, one thing to talk big and make grand plans, and quite another to undertake and see them through.
“What I’ve communicated to our owner Randy Lerner is that this club can be seventh or eighth in terms of revenue,” continued Fox. “I think it will take three years to put ourselves in a better position than we are now. We don’t have to wait that long to determine whether we’ve been successful against where we want to be.”
So, overnight success is not expected of Paul Lambert, though improvement is the obvious target. It’s a good thing Villa’s board don’t expect too much too soon, because his squad, the joint-lowest Premier League scorers with 10, looks pretty threadbare in places ahead of a Second City derby at West Bromwich Albion. The visitors are 11/4 to win.
One big question this proposed push for Europe poses is will we see a return to the exorbitant spending of the Martin O’Neill era? Lerner has really reined in splashing the cash in recent years, and there is no indication he has stopped looking for a buyer. Villa’s summer transfer policy is compelling evidence.
Whether Lerner will put his hand in his pocket once more is not something fellow American Fox has answered directly, however. Nor did he move to scotch continuing speculation that key players in the Villa spine, namely captain Ron Vlaar, midfielder Fabian Delph and star striker Christian Benteke, would be sold.
Lambert will be delighted to hear that he is part of these plans the club hierarchy have hatched, though. “I am from a business background. And, in business, you don’t change one of the most important positions at the club easily,” Fox added.
“We believe continuity is absolutely critical. I know one of the things Randy really appreciates is Paul’s honesty and his ability to admit mistakes when he makes them. I’ve seen since that since I came in.”
No firm details have been given by Fox on how this turnaround from perpetual relegation battles to regular top half finishes (a 6/1 shot for Villa this season), though. In fact, he’s been rather vague.
“It’s on two fronts,” Fox continued. “It’s what we can do with the football set-up, to strengthen, right from the academy up to the first team, and on the commercial front.
“How do we put the club in position to capture its value? If we can do that, we believe we can put this club back where it deserves to be.”
Perhaps, and this is taking a cynical perspective, we are simply being fed a PR stunt, which will only lift the spirits of the most gullible Villa supporters.
No blueprint has been mapped out; no clear ideas put on the table on how this is to be achieved. We’ve got the mission statement and expected time-frame, but not the details or how Lambert and Lerner will go about it.
Fox has simply invited more disappointment on a jaded, but loyal fanbase if he cannot follow through on his claims.
Reports that the Holte End stand will be the subject of a sponsored naming rights bidding war surfaced at the start of December, but Fox then denied this was part of any plan.
His proclamations first refuting that and seemingly committing to getting the Birmingham-based club back into European contention may placate some people, but they are bold. With Villa rated as likely to be relegated (6/1) as end the campaign in the top half, they do rather sound like delusions of grandeur right now.