A handy windfall

Richard Keeling talks numbers and next season.

A friend of mine supports Newcastle, who were in the Champions’ League last season. He tells me he doesn’t have N.U.F.C. tattooed across his beer gut for display to the TV cameras, so I have suggested to him that he lacks commitment to the cause. Anyhow, with Villa’s forthcoming European adventure in mind, I asked him how much money he reckons Newcastle made and what other benefits accrued from their entry into the elite competition.

They were in a tough group, of course, with PSG, Milan and Borussia Dortmund and were unable to progress to the knockout stage. My friend reckons they received a pile of money plus useful experience. He thought the Champions’ League foray will undoubtedly have raised the club’s profile internationally and will perhaps give them extra negotiating power when it comes to sponsorship deals and the like.

Another outcome of their European adventure was a high number of injuries. We Villa fans thought we were unlucky last season with injuries, but the BBC website provides a league table of the number of individual players injured in each team and Villa come fifth, with 20 players having been injured, the same as Newcastle and two fewer than Tottenham, at the top of the table. Manchester City had the lowest number of players injured – fourteen, which demonstrates how a top team needs to be able to rotate the squad to get the best out of the players.

Possibly there is a need to break a lot of rules too, but I couldn’t possibly comment on that. On the evidence of last season, when we seemed to run out of steam – not to mention available players – I would say that the Villa squad is at present some way from having the strength in depth to compete successfully on several fronts (if you include the domestic cup competitions).

Newcastle’s windfall last season was apparently insufficient to cover all the money they spent on players, and they are reported to be backing a proposal by Villa to increase the seasonal overspend limit in the Profit and Sustainability Rules from £105 million to £135 million. That puts into perspective asking the bank for an increase in your credit card limit, doesn’t it? It will give clubs’ billionaire owners the leeway to run up an extra £30 million debt each year, which I find difficult to square with profit and sustainability.

Any short-term benefit is of course likely to be neutralized before long by inflation. Jack Grealish’s £100 million transfer in 2021 is currently the seventh most expensive and my guess is that before the end of the decade it will be well out of the top twenty (Incidentally, Philippe Coutinho went from Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018 for more than Grealish. I wonder how much he is worth now?).

Back in 2021 I seemed to be in a minority of Villa fans who thought the sale of Grealish to Manchester City was a good piece of business. He was increasingly being treated in the media as Mr Aston Villa, which is extremely unhealthy for all concerned and £100 million for an injury-prone player is a no-brainer, however talented he may be. What is more, the Grealish money contributed towards the purchase of some of the players who have helped to propel us up the table over the last two seasons. I think he is unfortunate not to be in the squad for the Euros, though, and I have a feeling Gareth Southgate may soon be regretting leaving him out. Managers generally seem to prefer workhorses to the more mercurial talents.

For years we Villa fans have watched a lot of other clubs pull away from us in the money rankings as well as in the league tables. In the early Premier League years Villa were inside the top 20 in Europe in terms of turnover, but Doug and subsequent owners seemed to be incapable of addressing the growing discrepancy.

The Deloitte Football Money League report for 2024 covers the 2022-23 season and Real Madrid was the highest revenue generating club, with a turnover of €831.4 million, closely followed by Manchester City with €825.9 million. Now remind me who has just won this year’s European Cup and who won the Premier League? Elite football can’t be about buying trophies, can it? Surprisingly, Villa almost made the top 20 in 2022-23, finishing 21st with a turnover of €250.5 million. The owners must know what they are doing because we haven’t been near the top 20 for quite a while.

Villa as a business was about the same size as Manchester City when the Abu Dhabi boys took over back in 2008. Now we are considerably less than a third of their size, which makes an enormous difference in terms of prestige and purchasing power. Arsene Wenger was mocked for claiming that a top-four Premier League finish was equivalent to a trophy back in 2012. He was right though; the prize money on offer for a Champions’ League place is worth more than most trophies.

The Champions’ League has a new format for 2024-25 – with increased prize money. Well, well well! Villa will receive £15.9 million just for qualifying. Each win in the league phase brings in £1.8 million and a draw is worth £0.6 million. If we finish in the top eight in the 36-team league phase we will receive £1.7 million, otherwise we will receive £0.9 million. I make that a £16.8 million windfall even if we lose all our games in the group stage, which hopefully we won’t. If we win four of our eight group stage games, we will make over £20 million. Contrast that with £2 million for winning the FA Cup (if only) and £1 million for the losing finalist.

Then there are the less tangible benefits resulting from a higher profile, such as the experience gained for the future, the increased likelihood of being able to attract top players and the ability to negotiate more lucrative sponsorships. With a busy season ahead, let us hope all the players return from the Euros (and their other summer activities) still in one piece. We will need everyone fit, well and available from day one. There is plenty to play for – especially another lucrative Champions’ League spot next season.