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FFP & The Future of Jacob Ramsey

Back in June 2022 I wrote an article titled ‘Paying The Price for Success’. At the time, there were concerns from the Aston Villa fanbase surrounding an over 40% price increase on season tickets, ridiculously overpriced Castore training gear and replica kits, and just an overall feeling that Villa were moving in a new direction that was more aligned with other so-called elite Premier League clubs. A lot of supporters felt priced out, and rightfully so. Having said that, the counter argument was that if Villa wants to be an elite-level club in England, then maybe we have to act like one.

In the 18 months that have followed, this back-and-forth struggle between the supporters who feel they are being taken advantage of, and the Villa hierarchy who continue to push head first into this brave new world, has never been more prevalent. Just this week alone there's been justified complaints about last-minute tickets being released on the morning of the Newcastle game that ranged between £63 and £68. All while season ticket prices continue to rise year-on-year and expensive hospitality options remain the only option for some supporters to see their beloved Villa week in and week out.

The question we should be asking here is simple; are these decisions necessary in order for Aston Villa Football Club to move forward?

Playing An Unfair Game

There's an elephant in the room here, and that is of course FFP (Financial Fair Play), or maybe more accurately, PSR (Profit & Sustainability Rules). Earlier this week, The Athletic reported that Aston Villa could be open to selling Jacob Ramsey if an offer of £50 million or more was on the table. We all know that the only reason Villa would even consider selling such a talented homegrown player is purely down to balancing the books for PSR. It's fair to say that this news came as a huge shock for the Villa fanbase and acted as an eye opener as to just how difficult it's going to be to break into the ‘big six’.

Firstly I should say I'm no expert and there are plenty of accounts across social media that do a brilliant job of breaking down the numbers for FFP/PSR, so please do seek them out. However, even a layman can see the harsh reality when it comes to these rules, and that is that Villa are having to play an unfair game here. A club like Villa, and yes, even state-owned Newcastle United for example, have a much tougher job of working around these rules & regulations than the established big six. Well maybe with the exception of Manchester City, who played fast and loose with said rules and now find themselves with 115 charges to deal with.

Essentially, a Premier League club is not allowed to lose more than £105 million over a three-year period. On paper, this rule is simply in place to prevent teams doing what the likes of Leeds United, Portsmouth, and maybe even Aston Villa, have done in the past and spend more money than they have in order to compete at the top, resulting in huge losses that have almost gone on to cripple said clubs. That's all well and good, but what it is also doing is stopping wealthy owners from putting in the amount of money they would like to in order to push their club forward. Now some may say that's actually fair given that it stops clubs from doing exactly what Manchester City have done, but it also means the top end of the Premier League has become a completely closed shop. This is due to the already established income of those clubs that means it is much easier for them to avoid such a loss over three years.

In an ideal world, a team outside the big six would be able to compete fairly within the rules and eventually break into the UEFA Champions League on a regular basis, maybe even taking the place of a team who's been around the top of the table for a long while. This is usually the case in most other sports outside of football, where the teams on top are usually rotated for lack of a better term. Sadly that's just not the world we live in. Sure, Leicester City were able to do the unthinkable once upon a time and were even able to push for Champions League spots in the years that followed, but look at them now.

Chelsea and Manchester United have both arguably been ran worse than any other team in the Premier League in recent years, but because of their gigantic incomes from being established at the top for so long, they can continue to just buy their way out of trouble. If any other team outside of those big six clubs wasted the amount of money that Chelsea and United have on duds such as Romelu Lukaku or Jaden Sancho, and had little to no European football to show for it, they'd soon find themselves having to make up those losses by selling many valuable assets thanks to PSR. This almost always leads to the team in question dropping down the league like a stone, and maybe even being relegated having sold their best players. And what happens if the team can't make up those losses? Well just ask Everton about that. Unfortunately you'll likely never get the chance to ask Chelsea or Manchester United. The current rules & regulations do indeed protect the current big six, even if that was never the original intention.

This may sound like sour grapes, and maybe it is, but the point I'm trying to make is that this is the size of the mountain that Villa have to climb if we ever want to be established among the elite. You only need to look at Spurs, who are likely the closest team that Villa could realistically catch when looking to break into that big six. According to a recent report from Deloitte, Spurs recorded a revenue of £470 million last year. This is over double Villa's revenue of £214 million. Simply put, we're a very long way from being able to spend anywhere near as freely as the sides financially above us, despite having some of the richest owners in the league. This is exactly the reason we're seeing ticket prices going up, a sudden rise in hospitality areas, and sales of multiple academy talent that may soon include Jacob Ramsey.

The JJ Conundrum

I have no doubt that everybody involved with Aston Villa, NSWE and Unai Emery included, would hate to see Jacob Ramsey leave his boyhood club. After all, competing against the best teams in Europe with a homegrown player who would do anything for the badge is what football is all about. However, the rules as they are may leave the powers that be with very little choice.

Another one of the PSR/FFP rules that we all know very well, thanks to the £100 million sale of Jack Grealish, is that any homegrown player sold will count as pure profit. Meaning £50 million for Jacob Ramsey goes a lot further when proving our profits to the Premier League than selling say Leon Bailey or Ollie Watkins for a similar price. Which is, of course, the exact reason we've seen Cameron Archer, Aaron Ramsey and Jaden Philogene all sold this season. (Admittedly with buy-back clauses included). And this isn't just an Aston Villa problem. Everton had to sell Anthony Gordon and were still hit with a points deduction, whilsts bigger teams are using the rule to enable themselves to spend even more. Manchester City selling Cole Palmer and Chelsea selling Mason Mount are great examples of this, however it's only the big six who are benefiting as they are the only ones in the market for the best young players with high price tags.

It's a rule that completely contradicts what running a football club should be all about. Bringing young players through the academy and eventually into the first team should be encouraged on every level by every footballing organisation in the world. Sadly though, PSR has only encouraged teams to sell their promising young stars in order to be able to compete in future transfer windows, or worse, avoid punishments such as point deductions.

Now I'm not saying for one minute that Villa are in a position where we have no choice but to sell valuable players in order to avoid these punishments, but we do need to keep PSR in mind at all times. If anything, scouting young players with big potential, buying them cheap, and then selling them on for pure profit (or close to it) seems to be a smart strategy being implemented by the club. The current January transfer window is a great example of this as Villa have signed five players aged between 16 and 23 with at least two of them going straight out on loan for vital first team experience. I would not be at all surprised if a couple of these never even make it to the first team and are purely brought in to sell on at a higher value later down the line.

It may not please everybody, but once again we have to look at the huge gap between ourselves and the big six, and accept that Villa, alongside the other thirteen, are just playing by different rules. Which brings us back to Jacob Ramsey. Simply selling JJ for £50 million would give Villa a huge amount of room to manoeuvre in future windows, it would be the equivalent of doing what the club has already done with Cameron Archer, Aaron Ramsey, Jaden Philogene, and Finn Azaz in one move with extra money likely left over. Again, I do not believe that NSWE & Emery want to sell JJ, but you can understand why they would at least consider it.

The Alternative

Another important part of The Athletic’s report on Jacob Ramsey’s potential departure was the mention that Villa could raise those funds through other methods. This brings us full circle to how unhappy we all are over the current overpriced match day experience. The harsh truth is that if we want to keep all of our best players, then it is likely us who will have to pay up to keep them from being sold.

Once again, this wouldn't be a problem exclusive to Aston Villa. Ask any fan of a big six side (some say you're never more than 10 feet away from one) and they'll likely tell you the amount of hoops they have to jump through just to watch one or two home games a season. Chelsea tickets can go for as high as £240, and that's not even a hospitality ticket. Speaking of which, good luck trying to get a regular ticket at Old Trafford, with the Manchester United website being littered with hospitality packages, all while they ask paid members to enter ballots for a chance to purchase regular tickets. Even Manchester City, who are often ridiculed for lower attendances, start their tickets at £44 each. The cheapest season ticket at Arsenal is a staggering £973, with the most expensive ticket reaching an eye watering £1,895.50.

So to answer the question posed at the beginning of all of this article; are these decisions necessary in order for Aston Villa Football Club to move forward? I think it's an overwhelming yes.

We all want Aston Villa up there with the elite sides in England and Europe. The sad truth is that we may also have to start behaving like one, especially if we want to keep our best players. It's the sad state of football all thanks to a broken system, but it's the only system we can play by sadly.

I will say there's a great argument to be made that a lot of supporters would actually be okay with all of this as long as it was communicated properly with the fan groups, unfortunately that is not always the case, but that's a discussion for another day.

Finally before I finish, I just want to reiterate something that was mentioned in that 2022 article. With all these new price increases amongst a cost of living crisis, please do not belittle anybody who can no longer afford to support their beloved Aston Villa. Everybody's situation is different and many supporters may feel they simply cannot afford to keep going to Villa Park. Speaking as a new parent, I'm very much in this boat. Regular trips to VP are temporarily off the table for me right now and these price rises haven't helped. Times are tough and that's okay, it doesn't mean that person supports Villa any less than the away game regulars.

And at the same time, please don't slate anybody who is able/chooses to spend their hard-earned money on following Villa around the country every week, or is happy buying every variation of every kit. These people are part of the reason we can afford to continue moving in the direction we are as a club. We're all in it together, and hopefully alongside Jacob Ramsey playing European football for the foreseeable future.


As always, make sure you don't miss the latest episode of the AVFC Faithful podcast with Dan & James talking about the Villa games!

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