Our much-anticipated return to Premier League action is within touching distance. The so far interminable summer of players leaving, social and mainstream media meltdown on those incoming and contracts discussions and extensions continues, albeit at a glacial pace. But there will be developments aplenty between now and August 10th, where Tottenham Hotspur will be lurking at their swanky (settle down at the back) new stadium.
The Villa squad of the 2019-20 vintage will be unrecognisable from the shower which stunk out the division in our horrendously forgettable relegation season and whatever happens between now and the end of the summer transfer window, we will surely improve on 2016’s pitiful record of three wins and seventeen points. Yes, we really were that bad.
Since arriving last October, Dean Smith has overseen a quite remarkable turnaround, from 14th in the Championship at the start of February to a fifth-place finish and the delirium of playoff success in late May. Records tumbled and the Lions roared again, reclaiming their (some would say) rightful place at the top table of English football.
With the murky water of Financial Fair Play (sorry, Profit and Sustainability) apparently behind us, the vast wealth of the current owners of the club has fans licking their lips in anticipation at the possibilities going forward, but we must learn to walk before we can run.
A seventeenth-place finish must be the initial aim, with anything else a bonus. We will all set our sights a great deal higher than mere survival, but the Land of Milk and Honey is very different from the landscape we pathetically departed in 2016 – with all due respect, no-marks such as Bournemouth and Brighton have left us in their wake, while former contemporaries like Tottenham are swaggering into 60,000-seater stadiums and European Cup Finals.
Fortunately, we are the biggest club in the country’s second city, and as we all know, we have the ability to draw on huge support, actual and potential, home and away. The sale of 30,000 season tickets is a testament to this and even if we don’t perform as we all hope in the coming season, it will be a rare occasion when Villa Park is not sold out, or very close.
So, assuming there is no meltdown, we will overhaul the Bournemouths and Brightons of this world in pretty short order. Retaining our a top-flight status will bring vast domestic TV income and Premier League prize money, along with improved and sustained matchday income from a well-attended Villa Park and associated spend in the club shop.
The inevitable commercial gains from more lucrative sponsorship, foreign TV income and merchandising abroad will follow, allowing us to stabilise and kick on.
But if it all assumes the shape of a pear? Stress not.
In Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, we have some of the strongest financial muscle in English football. Recruitment in all areas of the club has been in a different galaxy to the profligate times of the late Lerner era and Dr Xia’s ill-fated spell at the club. We are a much leaner outfit in every respect, so immediate relegation would not be the catastrophe it might seem.
But this kind of talk is for another day. We are back where we belong. Yes, I am one of those who believe this. And although promotion was achieved 12 months sooner than envisaged by most (even those sporting the most claret-and-blue tinted of glasses), I am utterly convinced that we are here to stay.
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