How the Equation of Aston Villa Net Spend Has Held the Club Back


The above table of Premier League team net spend over the past five seasons did the rounds a couple of weeks ago after the January window slammed shut, but in light of all the talk about Alan Hutton’s position, it showcases the key to Aston Villa’s recent problems.


Villa’s Uneven Balance

Hutton’s deadlock predicament is symbolic of the reversal in attitude of the Villa board to spending, with the need now to drastically alter their net spend position of the last five years. Villa’s sixth position on face value suggests a club spending speculatively with success in mind. Of course, the reality is, of a club that has been forced into a spending rethink due to apparent naivety and recklessness in some of the contracts they have given players in recent years and the lack of money coming back into the club once these players are moved on.

The likes of Hutton, Reo Coker, Given, Ireland, Dunne, Bent and N’Zogbia were all players brought because they were meant to be at the peak of their powers, so were rewarded with big wages and lengthy contracts. It was meant to be the recipe for success. Yes, they cost a lot, but hey, fans moan if you’re not spending big.

The problem was that all the aforementioned players (for starters) resale value was potentially a small percentage of what they were brought for.

The likes of Given and Dunne were essentially at their last big-time club. And Bent, who had been a big transfer journey man before coming to Villa, was never going to be valued again anywhere near his £20 million-odd transfer price. Villa was potentially going to be the highlight of Bent’s career or the beginning of the end.

In short, if Villa weren’t enjoying success on the field (to bring in extra £ to cover this spending), then the lack of sell-on value on some of these players was obviously going to be a concern to the balance sheet.

To say some of these players underperformed is a bit of an understatement. Villa got nowhere near value for money on the field. If your net spend is the sixth most in the league, then you’d expect your team to be finishing around sixth spot in the league. Likewise when Villa were actually finishing sixth under Martin O’Neill, they’re net spend was of a top four team at the time. That’s the simplistic maths of the situation.

Villa fans used to decry the outcome of Villa selling their best players, but this is actually something that if done intelligently can bring success.

The Recent Villa Financial Cul-de-sac

If you look at the above the table, the advantages of getting in the right type of player at the right age, can give you room to be competitive and also ultimately balance the books and give you funds to remain competitive. Look at Spurs, Arsenal, Everton, and to a lesser extent, Newcastle. All at the bottom of the net spend table, yet in the upper echelons of the league. All have sold their top player in recent times – Bale, Van Persie, Fellaini and Cabaye, who helped them be competitive while at the club, yet provided the club with a substantial sell-on revenue in order to help replace, rebuild  and keep the cycle of success going.

Remember when Aston Villa sold David Platt? The Villa midfielder was England’s golden boy at the time and the heart beat of the promoted Villa team. However, after selling Platt, Ron Atkinson soon built a team from of the money he got, that challenged for the first Premier League title and went on to win the League Cup in 1994.

Selling Platt was short-term pain, but long-term gain.

That was just one player, look a little closer at a more recent time, and Villa potentially had the foundations in place to maintain a competitive edge around the European places, if they re-invested wisely.  Villa had the likes of Ashley Young, James Milner, Stewart Downing and Gareth Barry. All were top talents with what proved great sell-on potential. Unfortunately, instead of replacing them with up-and-coming talent that could blossom as they did, with future sell-on value, lesser versions of the players were signed at prices that were never going to be recouped, never mind make a profit on.  It led Villa into a financial cul-de-sac.

Also, Young and Barry weren’t really replaced, as there was a lot of high-wage deadwood at the club to compensate for.

Of course, there was also the problem of managerial stability at Villa at the time, in maintaining a flow of talent that would pay-off, both on and off the pitch. For example, remember, Gerard Houllier had Yohan Cabaye lined up to come in for Villa, before the Villa boss’s illness dictated proceedings.

Stick or Twist

It’s clear why Lambert has gone the way of his buy young and cheap policy. He has in eliminated the potential for high-wage deadwood, with just driftwood that won’t cost the club much to shed, the worst case scenario for a player that doesn’t work out.While the likes of Benteke and Okore offer Villa a chance to build-up some success and get the ‘recycle’ cycle going again.

With the rising costs of creating a decent team in the Premier League, it’s inevitable that a business model is needed to dictate what happens on the pitch. Ex-Spurs boss Juande Ramos in a recent interview in the Guardian  essentially highlighted that this was the way Spurs were approaching the game.

 “Spurs spend a lot of money but only sign players who are 20 or 22 because they’re thinking of future sales. [Gareth] Bale, for example, or [Luka] Modric: I advised Spurs to sign him. He’s a great player but you still need patience; it doesn’t happen immediately. The idea is: sign players, see if they take off, sell and reinvest. Fine but are you trying to win money or titles? The criteria at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea is that the sporting side is the priority. If City sign [Jesús] Navas or [Álvaro] Negredo, they don’t look at the player’s age; they look at his performances.

“Spurs aren’t going to win the league. Economically, it works well but in sporting terms maybe it needs retuning. You can’t demand something that doesn’t fit the reality.”

In the case of Villa, they aren’t going to be chasing titles any time soon, so economically, it makes perfect sense to try and build success this way. Obviously Spurs have a head-start on Villa at the moment, but where do they actually go from here? Look at the top three teams in the table in the post, there’s a reason the Manchester clubs and Chelsea compete for the league title – they literally buy the right too!

Once the final deadwood of Hutton and Given are ushered out of the club, Villa will be see a more balanced net spend take effect. The challenge then will be making sure the young players brought in have the quality to grow into desirable  big time players. A once in a blue moon player like Benteke isn’t going to cut it. Villa will need to unearth three or four of his ilk to then really fast-track progress. Then as to the scope of potential success, it becomes a matter of how successfully a Villa manager sticks or twists with the players he’s got. UTV



  1. Too much spend on what Ron Atkinson used to call “milk bottle players”. You get nothing back on them.

  2. So Kevin Starkey where is your money ? you talk of anarchy but what are you going to run the club with — fresh air ?
    you claim Lerner is putting the club into debt HOW ? The club now has greater investment in it that when Doug was in charge but it is not enough, in these times when fans judge how good players are on how much they cost !
    And does it really matter where a player is bought from? As after all all players have to start somewhere and yes there are some youngsters who start late just as some youngsters selected for greatness never develop to their full potential

  3. The only solution is anarchy at Villa park
    Let’s get the club back
    Our docile passionless attitude at Villa park has to stop
    Lerner out
    He justs puts us in more debt so like a bank make money for nothing

  4. As for our owner completely clueless
    We have gone from a great club founders of the league forward thinking under Ellis yes many failed projects but the effort was there to an absolute shambles under Lerners short reign it feels much loner tho

    • In some respects Lerner has been let down by some of his manager’s signings. O’Neill as the article alludes too, got part of it right, he brought in youngish talent that was capable of performing in the present – Young, Milner, Downing – yet, had great sell-on value, that could then be reinvested. The problem was he also brought in too many players, that didn’t justify their wages, creating the high-wage deadwood.

      Some though, ultimately didn’t fulfill their potential. There were few grumbles from fans when Reo Coker and Sidwell came in, but they didn’t get close to what was expected. Even Petrov, didn’t really reach the heights of his performances for Celtic.

      If O’Neill had brought in a natural goalscoring striker in the season when we were in the Top 4 in January a few points clear of Arsenal, who knows what would have happened? Instead he brought in Heskey, while Wenger brought in Arshavin. In one game, Arshavin scored four goals, which was almost half the total Heskey scored in three seasons at Villa!

      You can’t blame Lerner for that.

      They have started from scratch with Lambert and have been licking their wounds from previous seasons The foundations are getting there and the wage bill will hopefully have the last wasters off it this summer. The net spend will be transformed, so they’ll be room to buy the odd decent player.

      Then Lambert & Lerner have to be a bit bolder. Personally, I think three decent players could transform the team we have now.

      The third season is more one for proper judgement. If Villa fail to get those players in (the elusive creative midfielder & proper DM, for starters) and don’t kick on, then there’s no real excuses.

  5. Come on
    We have nothing like the spurs model at the moment
    Spurs are not getting players from Chesterfield or looking at non league players
    Spurs don’t have a hr man as the ceo

    • It is the same principles, young players with lower risk wages & more potential sell on, but I agree, the quality of players brought in, on the whole needs to be better.

  6. Of course there is a solution even if some can’t see it , and the topic gives a good idea as to how it can be acheived . It’s easy to quote ManU’s rise from the ashes of Munich and then look despondantly @ how different the Prem is from the old Div 1 & think that it is not possible . But Lambert has 1st hand knowledge of how it was acheived more recently by one of his old clubs in the Bundisliga . Alright the Germany league is not the Prem , but many thought the same of the youthfull German National side and how wrong they were !

    • Even though the Prem is a different beast from Div 1, it took Fergie a good while to get things going there and he was running the fan’s wrath at the time. Patience and understanding the Villa plan, I can do, but I’d like to see just a little more evidence in the present that Lambert could potentially be successful. Fans will stick with him, if they have faith in their man to succeed, but the home record, performances and some decisions & signings have understandably created serious doubts. The ball’s still in his court though and it will be an interesting end to the season and a fruitful summer hopefully.

  7. hows about giving the players time to prove them selves before writting them off ? How minutes playing time has Helenius had ? , And how long did it take Petrov to become a Villa legend ? certainly a lot longer than his young protege ! And it’s not long ago that Bennet was one of the heros of the England U21 squad but since being @ Villa has had several inuries that have kept him from showing his full potential Bowery is perhaps the exception as a Spierite I know said they were suprised we bought him

  8. All very well but we are now buying younger and cheaper but what the hell is the sell on value of Bowery, Helenius, Tonev, Bennett etc. Not a lot the way they are developing. So this new system aint working either
    apart from being cheaper.

    • So there’s no solution? It’s very days with some of the players you mention. Yes, I’m dubious of some of them, but next season we’ll have a better idea if this approach is starting to work. First of all we’ll see if the purse strings are loosened in the summer. Hopefully, we’ll also see a bit more of what Okore brings to the team, as he was the key signing last summer.

Comments are closed.