Be afraid...Villa have ‘elite’ running scared
‘‘THERE’S hope’’. That was the text message sent to Dean Smith by Aston Villa co-owner Wes Edens, who knows a thing or two about the unpredictable narratives that only sport can produce.
It’s the mantra the Montana-born, self-made billionaire has followed throughout his rewarding business career.
The Wall Street Journal describes Edens as a man who ‘‘likes a counterintuitive bet’’, and if that’s anything to go by, Villa is the club for him.
Edens and fellow owner Nassef Sawiris are fearlessly progressive and determined to restore the club’s place among Europe’s elite.
Supporters are no strangers to illinformed claims from regimes promising to fund and mastermind Villa’s charge back into Europe, but this is different.
The ownership of Villa has been passed across four continents in the past 15 years with European tours, top-flight relegations and promotions the price of swapping the keys to Villa
Park around the billionaires club all too often.
Perhaps matching Barcelona’s global appeal within five years of Dr Tony Xia walking into Villa Park was unrealistic, but actions speak louder than words and Sawiris and Edens are becoming quite the power couple.
The two billionaires’ transfer expenditure since taking control nearly three years ago is now in excess of £300 million. NSWE’s first statement of intent was to reject Daniel Levy’s approach for prized asset Jack Grealish, whose move to Tottenham was blocked when the new owners swooped in to save the club from financial ruin.
Winning promotion back to the Premier League through the play-offs a year earlier than expected was the first step achieved for NSWE, who had big plans for Villa upon arrival back in the big time.
Smith hadn’t been in the job longer than eight months before the owners put their money where their mouth is to back the head coach to the hilt ahead of the 2019/20 Premier League season.
In reality, for Villa, they had a mountain to climb to survive relegation but with belief in the staff who they recruited to lead the club back to the top flight in the first place, Sawiris and Edens have been around business and, importantly, sport for far too long to succumb to knee-jerk reactions.
Having secured the signature of Emiliano Buendia from Norwich as Villa’s first signing of this window, they have now broken the club’s transfer record for a third successive summer and continue to test Arsenal’s resolve over talented playmaker Emile Smith Rowe, as well as being linked with bigmoney moves for Tammy Abraham and James Ward-Prowse.
Sawiris and Edens boast some serious financial muscle and, according to Forbes, their combined wealth comes within the top four of the Premier League owners’ rich list.
It’s about time Villa’s ambitions were taken seriously. A breakaway European Super League might well have already proven that the self-proclaimed English football elite were quaking in their boots at the prospect of intruders like Villa, Leicester, West Ham and Leeds threatening a top-six shake-up.
Sawiris and Edens’ ambitions had the ‘elite’ cartel running for cover and while their investments into academy operations, recruitment departments and facility upgrades at Bodymoor Heath and Villa Park show no signs of letting up, supporters are indebted to the commitment of their owners.
From providing enough funding to ensure all non-football staff wouldn’t be furloughed during lockdown to offering up Villa Park’s North Stand to host weekday maternity clinics, NSWE’s running of the club has been nothing short of exemplary so far.
After some 12 months of gruelling weekends without the Villa last season, a limited number of fans were able to catch a glimpse of NSWE’s top investments, Emiliano Martinez and Ollie Watkins, while also observing the improvement many of the players had made since the last time spectators were allowed in football stadiums around the country, during a 2-1 season-finale victory over Chelsea at Villa Park in May.
Though fans and players alike were ultimately disappointed to miss out on a top-half finish, the club’s progress cannot be overlooked and neither can it be understated.
Even a year ago, Villa had to make history to survive in the Premier League with four games to go having slipped seven points behind Watford.
From afar, Edens and Sawiris watched Grealish – the player they kept at the club as their first statement of intent – carry the club over the dotted line and with fans returning to stadiums next season, supporters might well be watching the best Villa side for over a decade.