How will History Judge the Fernando Torres of Finance?
The shock departure of a polarising figure such as former Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow would always cause debate in the Villa fanbase, but was he the devil incarnate some made him out to be?
When Christian Purslow arrived as the public face of Aston Villa’s new owners NSWE in 2018, he arrived upon a club on its collective arse.
Tony Xia had squandered the majority of the Premier League parachute money on failing to gain promotion and subsequently skipped the country leaving the club 40 minutes from a winding up order from HMRC.
Steve Bruce was in charge and Jack Grealish was about to move to Spurs for three million pounds and Josh Onomah.
However, Christian Purslow leaves Aston Villa with the club in its highest position in the Premier League since Martin O’Neill’s last sixth-place finish. In European Competition and having sold Jack Grealish for a staggering 100 million pounds. Josh Onomah, for context, currently plays for Preston North End.
On pure Football Club trajectory, not taking the journey into account, he has been a success.
There is no doubt about the role Purslow played in representing Aston Villa at Premier League and national level. The proposals for the new North Stand and ground development, Villa Park being chosen to be part of the UK and Ireland Euro bid and leaning on the support of Prince William to raise the profile of the Club, were all down to Purslow.
Despite being one of the most historic clubs in the world, when Villa were promoted, they had to make up for lost time and reestablish themselves in the Premier League. Having Purslow, who previously represented Chelsea and Liverpool at meetings with other clubs, made sure that the best interests of Aston Villa were always at the forefront.
Think back to the meetings during the first Covid-19 shutdown. Aston Villa were in the relegation zone when the league was suspended, but crucially had a game in hand. Purslow took every opportunity to remind the other clubs and the media of this fact, when many were considering stopping the season as it stood. The phrase sporting integrity will always stick in my mind as coming from Purslow.
I can’t say I’ve any personal experience with Christian Purslow (ala MOMS’ editor) and will rightly leave that to more qualified commenters, but he always reminded me of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko character in the movie Wall Street.
Gekko’s catchphrase was ‘Greed is Good’, and while you could make a lazy comparison with the rise on rise of season ticket prices, the smart suits and smooth operator persona along with a healthy dose of ego is what had me making the connection.
By the end of Wall Street, Gekko is brought down by a protege of his and you could argue that Purslow suffered the same fate after the disastrous appointment of Steven Gerrard as manager.
It should be noted that there was a due process and interviews for the job and the final say would have come from Wes Edens and Nassef Sawaris. However, the presence of Purslow, who was associated with Gerrard from their time at Liverpool, would have helped the former Liverpool captain land the job.
Despite this, there was a general consensus at the time that Villa had pulled off a bit of a coup, with the young title-winning manager from Scotland with legendary status as a Premier League player.
Dean Smith had run his course as manager and Villa were very much in a relegation fight, despite spending Grealish’s 100 million fee on Leon Bailey, Danny Ings and Emi Buendia. Gerrard arrived and his no-nonsense approach brought immediate results, guiding Villa away from danger and into the top half of the table.
Then the January transfer window happened and from then it was downhill. Philipe Coutinho and Lucas Digne arrived on the back of the Gerrard’s name in positions that Villa already had covered in Buendia and Targett. Purslow and the owners backed Gerrard and it didn’t work.
Gerrard played Coutinho into the ground, alienated the dressing room and the entire fanbase and despite a bright start is now considered one of Aston Villa’s worst managers.
This stain on Purslow’s reputation never left in the eyes of many fans and meant other missteps were amplified.
Season ticket price rises, Conservative party members playing on the Villa Park pitch at the expense of paid-for fan tours, the ‘aggregate’ signings to replace Grealish, and even the sacking of Dean Smith got added to the Gerrard bat to swing at the Villa CEO.
Rightly or wrongly, the appointment of Steven Gerrard was bad for Christian Purslow in the end.
Football fans can rightly celebrate when a bad owner leaves a club. Celebrating when a CEO steps down after the most successful end to a season in over a decade is a bit weird.
It’s not a million miles off Man City fans making a banner for Lord Pannick, the KC who is defending their FFP charges, as it’s something that football fans wouldn’t have cared about a few years ago.
While it may turn out to be a good move for all concerned, there would seem to be a weakness for Aston Villa in the short term.
The new structure of Aston Villa reads as follows:
President of Football Operations
Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo
President of Business Operations
Global Director of Football Development and International Academies
Director of Football Operations
None of these scream experience when it comes to the killing ground that is regular Premier League meetings. Chris Heck is expected to be the one who steps into the breach, yet would he have got the airtime and been the voice of those outside the Super League Six when that crisis was unfolding?
Heck may experience the xenophobia that many Americans face when involving themselves in British football. Will Radio 4 and Sky News be asking Chris Heck for soundbites or will they lean to CEOs like Crystal Palace’s Steve Parish to be the leader of the rest?
If that proves to be the case, Villa will not enjoy the same standing at these closed-door negotiations for some time, as they did when Purslow was at the helm and just when everything is on the up, it could be the only ugly blemish moving forward.
Heck has already rightly or wrongly questioned the merit of the new Villa badge, which is now very much on trial during next season.
Villa fans will hope that in the months to come, it won’t end up being a case of ‘better the devil you know’.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame