How did it come to this? Tony Xia battling to rescue Aston Villa from crisis
On June 5, 2017, Tony Xia vowed to ‘fight through his whole life’ in order to make a success of Villa.
Now, just 12 months on, the owner is battling to keep the club afloat, salvaging what is left of his own reputation and the £150million he is thought to have invested in Villa over the past two years.
Less than two weeks since they were dreaming of a return to the Premier League, supporters are now facing up to the biggest crisis ever to engulf their proud club.
Xia and his board spent Wednesday desperately trying to find the £2million needed to stave off the immediate threat of a winding-up order from HMRC.
Yet even if that money is found, it would merely be a temporary barrier against the flood of financial woe now threatening Villa.
The club are facing a cash crisis, with Xia struggling to move money out of mainland China due to rules, enforced last year, clamping down on overseas spending.
It is understood the owner had been unable to effectively finance Villa for the past three months, before last Friday’s missed tax payment finally tipped things over the edge.
Prior to that, every option in the book had been exhausted to keep the wolves from the door.
In February, Villa cashed in early on payments due this summer and next on the transfers of Carlos Sanchez and Jordan Amavi.
Money from 17,000 early bird season ticket sales was spent as soon as it came in, while it is believed the club have already borrowed against parachute payments they were due to receive next season, their third in the Championship.
In addition, money has been borrowed against a series of properties owned by the club.
Yet eventually, inevitably, the cashflow dried up. Even if Xia is able to find a way round the current issues with HMRC, it does not solve the bigger problem.
How, tens of thousands of fans are asking, has it come to this?
The answer is simple: Villa – or more precisely Xia – bet the house and more on winning promotion to the Premier League last season. Once they had failed, the owner had no Plan B.
Privately, those inside Villa Park have been voicing concerns for several weeks.
Budget forecasts requested months ago were not forthcoming, while in a meeting of the club’s hierarchy prior to last month’s play-off semi-final against Middlesbrough, Xia sat silent when the scenario of another year in the Championship was spelled out.
Tensions between Xia and chief executive Keith Wyness, which had been mounting for weeks, finally boiled over this week after the CEO recommended the club be placed into administration.
That remains a very real possibility, even though Xia is fighting to prevent it. Any measure taken now, however, would only be buying time.
A sale is perhaps the most likely scenario, though Xia – eager to recoup the £76.2million he paid Randy Lerner two years ago – will have to seriously lower his asking price.
Villa are currently leading a hand-to-mouth existence, certainly not the scenario envisioned by the owner when he first walked through the doors and promised to restore the club to the European elite.
Since then, Xia has not been shy to take on his critics, using Twitter to slap down journalists, rival supporters and even other clubs. Wyness, in truth, behaved similarly.
There has been a definite sense, since news of Villa’s trouble with HMRC broke on Tuesday, of chickens coming home to roost. Sympathy for Xia is thin on the ground and – considering all the evidence – neither is he deserving of it.
Instead it should be given for supporters, who must now begin to be ponder the unthinkable.
Most of all, sympathy should be saved for the many hard-working staff, who are rarely if ever seen but who make Villa the great club it is, who now stand on the threshold of an uncertain future, due to the actions of those who have brought a famous club to the edge of the abyss.