It hadn't even been 24 hours since the end of the season, and Villa saw their first new face through the doors at Bodymoor in the form of Boubacar Kamara. It then didn't take long for the club to follow that signing up with another one, announcing that we had reached an agreement with Sevilla for the sale of Brazilian centre back; Diego Carlos.
These 2 signings, plus the permanent acquisition of Coutinho, add up to roughly £43 million in transfer fees. Of course - wages, bonuses, agent fees etc. are also added on top of that, and this is what has caused a bit of scrutiny of our transfer strategy, and the sustainability of our project. So i'd like to put forward my view on the situation, and address the concerns that are shown by outsiders (and some of our own fans).
So, first off, let's talk a bit about the finances within the club. Now I'm no financial expert, and i only have a loose understanding of the finances within football, so please bear with me. In terms of turnover, the club's accounts that were released around about 2-3 months ago boasted a turnover of £184 million, up from £112 million, an icrease by 64%. It's important to note that these accounts are for the 20/21 season. Back to the turnover, those numbers don't tell the whole story, as there were some deferrals from the accounts the season before that.
The brilliant lads at @UTVpodcast_ did a video on our finances back in March, and were joined by Dave Jordan, their finance guru. He explains how taking into account all deferrals, losses of matchday sales/sponsorships (due to Covid) etc. the difference between the two seasons is more like £23 million, not £72 million. The video in general is extremely fascinating, give it a watch if you have time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSeglPBui94&t=201s
The point i want to make regarding turnover is: that £23 million icrease comes majoritively from finishing in 11th last season, compared to 17th the season before. Therefore, you can see the importance of each place higher you finish each season, and then take into account the extra money you would receive being in a European competition through increased TV rights and commercial revenue, the increased pressure from the board to achieve those goals so quickly is understandable.
Looking at our spending since promotion, Transfermarkt has us down for £351.61 million spent, and £119.49 received through player sales. So a net spend of £232.12 million pounds. Then take into account the roughly £170 million we received for winning the play-off final, that figure begins to look more like roughly £60 million altogether out of NSWE's back pocket. But that is just transfer fees, the extra fees involved in the structure of deals is far more complex and detailed for me to go into detail on.
Before my final conclusion on spend, it's fair to look into the context of the expenditure. Upon promotion we had to rebuild a team, having lost many players from the promotion squad through contract expiries of ageing players, and players returning to their parent clubs. The season after, we strengthened our squad in an attempt to solidify our existence in the Premier League, and we managed that.
Last summer, we added the likes of Buendia, Bailey, and Ings to our squad, in hope to ease the responsibility on Jack Grealish's shoulders in games, and push us on further. But as is well known, Grealish went for a British transfer record of £100 million to Man City, which kind of helped balance the books more for us, and is a reason our spend this summer can be higher again.
In conclusion then (on expenditure), it's not so drastically black and white, but money spent is money spent. You would hope £350 million spent on players would bring enough quality to your squad that you achieve a respectable league position in the top half of the table.
Sustainablity. A simple question; is this current outlook of transfer strategy sustainable? Well, technically, no. Not in this form. But that is because as of yet, we haven't seen too many player sales to keep the books more balanced. However, we haven't really been in a position yet to think too much about selling players, as we've still been in the process of building a long term, stable squad. This summer, when we have recruited the targets we want, i think we will see a large number of outgoings, covering some of the costs of incomings.
Aside from the financial aspect, is the strategy of signing more experienced, older heads for your squad, sustainable? Yes and no, given the right context of our situation. Now, i've said it already on Twitter this week, 29 years of age is far from old for a footballer, in fact it's in their prime years. The scrutiny from rival fans and some sections of the media, however, comes from the length of the contracts these players are put on. Coutinho on a 4 year deal, Carlos you would expect 3 years minimum, if Suarez comes into fruition how long will his contract be for? etc. etc.
These signings clearly demand a much higher level of success, and pretty much instantaneously. So the concerns over the sustainability have SOME merit. However, what has repetitively been brushed over is the fact our squad is already quite youthful, and actually lacked a bit of that experienced, top quality talent. There are a lot of players not quite at their peak yet, who also hold a higher value than we paid for them. There is much more balance - i believe - to our squad than is made out to be. On top of that, Boubacar Kamara is only 22 years old, and we signed him as a free agent. Sustainable signing. Of course - the wages, the agent fees, the signing on bonus, the incentives etc. make the deal far from free. However, comparing the total costs to other deals that are made would most likely add up to a value that is about right for one of the most exciting prospects in world football.
So, as i say, as much as some of these signings, and rumoured signings, demand immediate success with little resale value, i don't think the situation is as dire as some may suggest. Certainly is high risk/high reward with this approach, it could obviously all go wrong, with Gerrard ending up sacked (worst case scenario) and a new man coming in, who doesn't want these players, and they're hard to shift on big contracts and on a lot of money. But on the flipside, and the side i truly believe will happen, it all goes right. We have a solid squad that is consistent and capable of achieving our goals for the short term, and then supplementing them with high potential signings who eventually take over.
Enter; Aston Villa's academy. One major component i've seen not mentioned much in consideration of the topic. We have invested heavily into signing some of the best young talent around the country, and even north of the border recently. Just over a year ago, Villa's youth team won the FA youth cup, pipping Liverpool to the trophy in the final. The likes of Carney Chukwuemeka, Louie Barry, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Chrisene, Kaine Kesler-Hayden all involved, and all very highly rated at the club, and even outside of it. The club added more talent to the academy last summer, such as Joshua Feeney (who has captained England at U16 level), Kerr Smith (highly rated in Scotland), and Tim Iroegbunam (making his debut already this season, and even starting against Norwich).
The club have always made it clear that the pathway into the first team for these young starlets is clear. Jacob Ramsey is the clear example of this, after really seizing his place in this squad and putting in some brilliant performances. So having these seasoned pros to learn from will massively aid their development, with the aim that they eventually capitalise on the inevitable decline of an ageing player, and becoming first team regulars. Of course, not all players will stick around. Some may want to find game time sooner, in which case we could ask for a decent fee, and explore the route of sell-on clauses for those players, further balancing the books.
When i assess our squad, looking at who could leave, who stays, and who comes in, i think we look like we have a decent balance to our squad. Some young prospects, some established players still yet to reach their peak, and some players in their pomp who provide vital know-how when it comes to success. In which case, it makes me not so worried about the sustainability of our project.
Now, i understand that those points do rest on us being successful in all those aspects of the plan. But that is true for every team that is looking to gatecrash the top table of English football. It's not cheap, it's not easy, and it takes quality business sense and smart recruitment, alongside brilliant coaching to achieve that. But, from the POV of a Villa fan, i think it would be silly not to be excited about the signigs we are making. These are undeniably big signings, signings with huge quality that really improve our squad. I am personally very confident that we will see drastic improvements on the field next season, and we will witness much more consistent, exciting football.
To summarise; when reading the scrutiny objectively, there are reasons to have reservations, but there are plenty of reasons to hold huge excitement for our future. One thing is for sure, this club is serious about its ambitions, and from the top down, we are acting on those ambitions, in a way that is pretty unprecedented. So let's enjoy the ride, we've experienced a lot of the bad times over the past decade, let's revel in the exciting times now.
As ever, up the Villa!