I heard the Chief Executive of Aston Villa give an interview, writes Vernon Grant. He’s an American called Tom Fox. Aston Villa sit at the bottom of the Premier League, stranded and relegation beckons before the season ends.
I fell off my chair when I heard what Tom Fox had to say.
He said “I have the ability to look behind what everyone else looks at, which is the table. I look at everything in the past year when it comes to the commercial development and we’ve made significant progress. I’m really pleased with that. We’ve generated more revenue on shirt and kit deals, and also secondary deals and we’re in control of costs. We’ve developed a network of scouts so our ability to look into European football markets is much different than it has been.
“While it’s easy to look just at the table, I am also able to see the positive changes we’ve made in the last year and I am very positive about the changes we’re making and where we are going.”
Ay? Que? You what? You are going down!
Another big club is going down to the Championship and will, like Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, struggle to get back to the top flight. Who is to blame for the demise of Aston Villa? For me, that has never been in doubt.
Years ago I took stick from Villa fans for suggesting that Randy Lerner was not the right person to run the club. That he was an absentee, non communicative owner who would not be the philanthropist figure the long suffering Villa fans were expecting him to be. Now I will go further.
Randy Lerner has been an unmitigated disaster for Aston Villa FC.
The experienced BBC reporter Pat Murphy has seen many changes at Villa Park over the years.
Pat said: “It starts and finishes with Randy Lerner in terms of culpability. He may be an absentee physically, but he is still across what is going on.
“He made the decision to appoint Tom Fox as Chief Executive in the summer of 2014. Lerner said he was determined to butt out of the daily running of the club and he trusts Tom Fox. Lerner sacked Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood on the recommendation of Tom Fox.
“It doesn’t seem to concern Randy Lerner that Fox built his reputation at Arsenal as a Chief Commercial officer. But selling replica kits and securing sponsorship deals for a high profile glamorous London club is not the same as turning round the good ship Villa. Relegation has been a distinct possibility there since the 2010-11 season, and now it’s a certainty.
Pat Murphy says: “Stubborness has been one of the key characteristics of Lerner’s nine year tenure at Villa Park. Plus increasingly faulty decisions in key recruitment.”
How true. Lerner refused to further fund the spending of Martin O’Neill – a manager who got the team to finish in the top six for three consecutive seasons. He then appointed the surly, past his best before date Gerard Houllier. Lerner and Fox followed the sacking of him with the appointments of Lambert, Sherwood and now Remi Garde.
I am saddened that Villa are going down. The Holte End full of passionate supporters has long been a sight and noise to behold. But I’m afraid Villa fans have played a part in their own downfall. Many of them booed and jeered O’Neill out of the club and for years after refused to believe losing the talented and experienced current manager of the Republic of Ireland was a mistake. Some are still in denial over that.
Aston Villa were lucky to have Martin O’Neill. But they failed to realise it.
As a Sheffield Wednesday supporter I know only too well how long it can take to get back to the Premier League. We may do so this season via the play-offs. But for Aston Villa I fear a return to the top flight is a long way off. Or at least until the Americans have left the building.
One man who didn’t agree with me back in December 2015 was the actor Adil Ray. He is the creator of the hit BBC 1 sitcom, Citizen Khan. And he is a Villa fan. Here he is talking to me about his beloved club.