Express & Star

Aston Villa desperate to keep James Chester

Villa are ready to play hardball over James Chester as they desperately try to hold on to their player of the season.

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Chester’s future has been thrown into doubt due to Villa’s financial woes and both Brighton and Championship rivals Stoke have been linked with the Wales international.

But no firm offers have yet been received and the Express & Star understands the centre-back will only be sold as a last resort, should Villa be struggling to balance the books by the end of the transfer window.

The club is working to fill a £40million Financial Fair Play shortfall over the next two windows.

Yet selling Chester would have a minimal impact on that front, particularly with Villa still due to pay the Albion a portion of the £8million fee they agreed for the defender two years ago.

The most immediate and pressing issue for the club remains Tony Xia’s cash crisis, which can only be solved by the owner sourcing fresh investment in the coming days.

Xia, who returned home to China the day after Villa’s defeat to Fulham in last month’s play-off final, is understood to be in discussion with a number of interested parties.

Time is increasingly of the essence, with the club’s next round of bills due to start arriving from Friday onwards.

Villa narrowly avoided being hit with a winding-up order by HMRC earlier this month after missing a tax payment and could quickly find themselves in trouble with the tax office again, should Xia fail to resolve his cashflow problem.

A positive outcome would allow the club to concentrate fully on the FFP issue, with the hope selling homegrown talent Jack Grealish can plug a significant portion of the hole.