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