After the last five seasons Aston Villa supporters have had to endure, it’s easy to understand that some fans wanted the new Tony Xia ownership narrative to run something like – Lerner is gone, a rich owner is in, everything is ok now. DO NOT QUESTION THIS!
Xia Jiantong (aka Tony Xia) maybe the new claret & blue messiah, but as some more cautious supporters and investigate journalists have suggested, he may also be the Wizard of Oz. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to look behind the curtain.
When the club announced that Tony Xia and the Chinese Recon group would be the new owners of Aston Villa, the original club statement, as well as getting giddy over the incoming owner’s financial wealth (that has since been muted and altered on the club statement), included claims of making Villa the most famous club in China and noted Xia ‘became a fan of Aston Villa many years ago’.
The ‘Villa fan’ emphasis and other subsequent statements like the aim to make Villa one of the ‘top three clubs in the world’, seemed unnecessary and unrealistic. Surely if you wanted to inspire the masses who take things at face value, just stick to the standard ‘Europe in five years’ protocol (copyright Faulkner & Fox).
Xia Jiantong (aka Tony Xia) admitted in a Chinese TV interview though, that he had been looking into eight Premier League teams to buy over the past two years, but since Villa has been up for sale publicly for two years now, if he had the wealth and was indeed a Villa fan of ‘many years’, why look elsewhere?
Until the public move for Aston Villa, Xia and his associates’ perusing of the market for Premier League clubs has largely been under the radar; no doubt aided by non-disclosure agreements.
Were they the mysterious Chinese consortium that were interested in WBA last year and granted exclusivity? One clue is that rather than paying the full amount upfront as WBA chairman Jeremy Peace had desired, the Chinese consortium sought a staggered payment schedule, which is exactly what Xia has offered to Randy Lerner. The Baggies deal is thought to have collapsed because of this, as well as not being helped by a drop in the Chinese share market at the time.
Team Xia perhaps also cast a fleeting glance at Swansea City too, who were on the market, as the public courtship by two known two American consortiums over the last year has proven. Swansea’s currently have major Chinese sponsorship connections with the Goldenway Global Group (GWFX), so you’d expect them to have been considered, although, whether the current Chinese sponsors would be a benefit or cause a conflict is unclear.
One firm previous Xia link with a club that MOMS has discovered came when looking into a Chinese Consortium interest in Everton earlier in the year. A couple of phone conversations MOMS had with a Everton source last week, confirmed that Keith Wyness himself and a Chinese consortium had been looking into Everton earlier this year.
Wyness, who is expected to take a leading position on the new Villa board, is a former Everton CEO and apparently still owns shares in Everton, so his interest in leading Xia to the Merseyside club is understandable.
Any deal to buy out the current Everton owner Bill Kenwright outright would have been in the £200m ballpark, a figure that had previously put off the US consortium headed up by John J Moores and Charles Noell (who had also been interested in Swansea City).
Interestingly, in the end, Everton favoured a longer-term staggered deal with former Arsenal shareholder Farhad Moshiri, who reportedly sold his shares in the Gunners to the tune of £200m. Up to £100m of that has been reinvested into Everton for a 49.9 per cent stake in the club. He is expected to takeover entirely from Kenwright within the next two years.
Tony Xia maybe the new claret & blue messiah, but…he may also be the Wizard of Oz.
So did Xia fall short there or did he see Villa and the growing city of Birmingham as a better value opportunity, despite the gamble of needing swift promotion from the Championship?
MOMS was informed that one of Wyness and the Chinese consortium’s specific interests regarding Everton was in the Football Quarter project in Liverpool, a regeneration space that would celebrate the city’s footballing tradition and was proposed by both the ‘Keep Everton in the City’ group and the Spirit of Shankly.
Wyness allegedly was keen to meet council officials, including the Mayor of Liverpool, to discuss the possibilities.
As we know, Xia studied design and landscape architecture at Harvard and his company Recon have a distinct interest in urban design.
There’s a distinct possibility that the concept of the Football Quarter in Liverpool sparked the idea of a similar venture in Birmingham, because packaged in the deal of buying Aston Villa, as the brochure originally selling the club (see below) details, is an additional 12 acres of land located half a mile from Villa Park.
Slightly smaller than the 16 acre site of Villa Park itself, it’s considerable real estate that would be an ideal size for such a development.
While the media has made a joke of a Villa ‘theme park’ for the sake of clicks, the venture would be a serious redevelopment programme, including local community benefits (including educational and renewable energy solutions), commercial opportunities, a football museum, improved match-day parking, fan zone potential for Villa Park events & concerts, and not forgetting more jobs in the area.
Check out the full prospectus of the Liverpool Football Quarter here to give yourself an idea of what could eventually happen in the Aston area.
Obviously, such a development fits into the long-term plans category, as does increasing the size of the stadium to 50,000 by redeveloping the North Stand. Realistically, both are a long way off though, as there are more pressing concerns.
Click ‘next page’ for part 2: The Chinese Gamble and the Three Season Concern