The Last Time
At the start of last year Aston Villa CEO Tom Fox attended his first Aston Villa Supporter Trust AGM to do a Q&A with supporters. He had sacked Paul Lambert in the run up to the meeting (after giving Lambert a new contract earlier in the season) and remarked in his opening address to the gathered Villa supporters, previous to the management change, he understandably wasn’t exactly looking forward to the AGM.
With Tim Sherwood appointed, Fox spent the evening gushing about Villa’s new manager and selling his vision for Villa’s future. There was a lot broken with the club, we were all in agreement about that.
“I am allowed to sign whoever I want in the summer as long as I can justify it, but I believe even if we didn’t make a signing we wouldn’t be in this position again.” – Tim Sherwood last season on relegation
Fox stated Villa were five years behind in commercial terms, something I personally concurred with, as I’ve always thought the club considering its size, heritage and potential allure was very parochial in it’s outlook and marketing.
A year on, and with the new Villa chairman Steve Hollis in tow, Fox perhaps got the kind of atmosphere at this year’s AVST AGM, he was initially expecting a year ago. It didn’t go unnoticed that security guards had been called up (unnecessarily in my view) to keep an eye on events.
As we all know, Villa have been in trouble the past four seasons. We were half-expecting another relegation battle as Fox’s changes took shape, but what we didn’t expect was (likely) relegation with barely a whimper.
As I said to Fox last night, “No good football plan or business plan starts with relegation.”
Next season, as it is well-documented, the TV rights revenue for Premier League clubs increases in an unprecedented manner – and a rising tide floats all boats. Teams like Crystal Palace, Stoke, Leicester City will suddenly become far richer than an Aston Villa dwelling in the Championship.
Parachute payments will give Villa a possible two-season window to get back up, before the gulf gets severe.
Aston Villa are entering very dangerous times.
Below is the exchange between MOMS and Tom Fox during the AVST Q&A with Tom Fox and Steve Hollis on 21st January 2015, where essentially I ask him to be accountable for what has gone on so far this season…
AVST AGM Exchange
Location: Trinity Stand Hospitality Suite with between 100-200 Villa supporters.
MOMS: At the start of season supporters got together to fund a mosaic in the Holte End for the first home game of the season. The mosaic was decided to spell ‘PREPARED’, the club’s motto. The club even promoted the supporter fundraiser for the ‘PREPARED’ mosaic on their website, but a couple of days after that, fans were told the design had to be changed. I heard that you vetoed it and didn’t allow it because you thought we weren’t ‘prepared’ for the season. A sentiment I actually agreed with, that’s why MOMS didn’t back that mosaic design because Villa were not ‘prepared’…
TOM FOX: I don’t know where you heard that. I don’t think I vetoed it and I certainly wouldn’t have done it for that reason.
[Readers please note: we have evidence of correspondence from the club on behalf of Fox stating: ‘We agree that ‘Prepared’ could be perceived negatively if we haven’t fulfilled our player recruitment plans by this date’ and ‘Lots of uncertainty around players and ownership doesn’t sit great with thousands of fans holding up ‘prepared’. This correspondence was sent literally within days of the marketing department helping promote the fundraiser for a ‘PREPARED’ mosaic on the club’s website.]
MOMS: I felt it was apparent that due to when and where these players came from, we probably needed three or four more weeks of pre-season [to be prepared]. What has happened this season is a complete shambles. This is a complete drop (compared to previous per seasons) which nobody expected. We were here last year [at the AGM], and you detailed your plans for the club then, but in terms of what has happened to the club, you have to take responsibility.
Supporters are struggling to find anyone who’s accountable and is actually taking responsibility. Lerner has disappeared, Sherwood has left, it’s too early for Remi Garde [to shoulder blame], you are the only person who is accountable for this season. How do you view your second season compared to what you expected?
TOM FOX: I’m the CEO, I’m accountable, I’m responsible. It’s my responsibility to make sure we don’t put ourselves in the position we are in right now. That’s why I’m sitting here answering questions.
We had a very aggressive plan over the summer. I understand there are people who have opinions that the squad isn’t good enough and the players aren’t good enough.
We had a big job to do based on what the manager at the time inherited as a squad. We had 14 players leave us. I think during Paul Lambert’s reign we signed 27 players, 14 of those went out over the summer, three of those remained the 18/19/20 man squad.
We had many windows where we didn’t get the right quality, not because it’s Paul’s fault, but because we were not making good decisions. We not actually have a set-up where we have got more of a focus.
This club never had a director of scouting and recruiting or scouts to cover if a manager said ‘I like this players’ we could then show him an alternative. There are eight full-time scouts working under Paddy Riley and they are watching every player they can possibly watch. All the information that is coming in is much better.
We have a sporting director who is working on all of the things behind the scenes that make you better – strength & conditioning, physio, doctor, athletic development, analytical breakdown. Everything that the club do above us – the Southampton’s and Watford’s and Leicester’s, we are starting to do, it’s very recent. There are things happening, we had a lot to do over the summer.
“I’m the CEO, I’m accountable, I’m responsible” – Tom Fox
Rémi is working with the players and he’s actually quite satisfied with what he’s got. We clearly didn’t do everything we needed to do. It was difficult to replace Benteke and Delph when we were already battling relegation with them.
We’re trying and we were trying to build something while we stayed up, but it’s proving a difficult challenge and there were pieces we didn’t execute. It’s my responsibility. I’m not walking away from that. I came in and for the past 18 months I have lived it every single day to try and get us to a better place. I haven’t done it alone. We try to make the best decisions. We have made some mistakes even since I have been here.
MOMS: How do we trust that you’re the right man to lead us after this season? Because it’s a shambles. No good football or business plan starts with relegation…
TOM FOX: It’s certainly not where we want to be, nobody is happy about it. I understand the passion and I understand when you bring your children here and you’re trying to make them into Villa fans and the result isn’t the one you want it to be, I know how difficult that is.
What I don’t want you to think is that people who work for this club don’t care. I haven’t been a Villa fan for as long as anyone in this room but I have lived this every day. Anyone who knows me, know that this club is deeply personal to me.
This club exists to make the fans proud. All we’re doing is based around that. We are not succeeding right now. We didn’t plan at the start of the season to be in a relegation battle. The fact of the matter is that we have been heading here for four straight years, even with Delph and Benteke we scraped by last season. That was a massive job to turn it around in one transfer window this summer. We tried but we weren’t successful for the reasons I mentioned earlier.
Why should you trust me? We have more quality in the set up now. I’m telling you Rémi Garde is the manager who understands what we’re trying to build. We did not go out to find a manager who would keep us up at all costs. We have done that and made mistake after mistake.
We wanted someone who believed in the greatness of the club and wanted to put us back on the right track so we were not fighting relegation year after year. We want to get talent in to turn it into great results on the pitch for the fans. All we’re doing in football is for the fans.
This was a club that needed a massive turnaround, I’ve been here for 17 months or so and Steve [Hollis] has just come in – it still needs a massive turnaround. It’s struggled for a long time. I’m committed to making it better. I didn’t come here to ride some wave of success. I came here because I knew it was going to be difficult.
I’m committed to seeing it through. Every company I’ve worked for, Gatorade, Pepsi, Nike, it all looks different from the inside, including Villa. It’s got everything we need to be successful. We have enough to put this club back onto a successful path. It’s going to be hard for everyone.
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