By Graham Hill
CHRISTIAN Purslow did not give too many interviews when he first arrived at Villa Park.
After all, there was not a great deal to shout about – Villa were treading water in the Championship.
Sure, the club was now in the hands of the richest people ever to own the club.
But what good was that when Financial Fair Play was biting hard? The money was there last year, but it would almost another 12 months before any of it could be spent in a way that would significantly make an impact. on the squad.
Ironically, it was the £2.7million – peanuts in today’s football world – to bring in John McGinn that had the most effect last season.
From there, a decision to replace Steve Bruce with Dean Smith – and thankfully not Thierry Henry – eventually paid dividends along with the return to form of newly-appointed captain Jack Grealish.
Chief Executive Purslow had only spoken publicly in the briefest terms before then as Villa’s Chief Executive.
Villa could easily have remained in the Championship this season and the club’s alternative spending plan would have been implemented. Instead, Villa went from near bankruptcy under former chairman Tony Xian’s reign to boom time with Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. And that is what has made the club’s unprecedented spending spree so significant.
Twelve months ago, Villa almost went under and Purslow confirmed this when speaking to supporters in the USA last month.
And here is the sea change in the way Villa is being run right now – transparency.
Randy Lerner barely said anything to let fans know what was happening at Villa – then criticised the media for trying to second guess him.
Yes, he spoke when he first arrived at Villa, but those comments became less and less when his interest waned. Even the incendiary online comments from his right hand man General Charles Krulak began to fade from view.
Xia tried to communicate with supporters on Twitter, but while the financial risks he was taking were there in plain site, with even players warning about the consequences of not winning promotion in 2018, the sheer size of the mess created by the Chinese businessman were shocking.
So now, not only are Villa financially stable and able to spend in order to compete with their Premier League rivals, they are also letting the wider public know why they are behaving like this.
Critics have lambasted Villa for spending upwards of £125million in this summer’s transfer market while the likes of other newly promoted clubs have taken a more prudent approach.
The comparisons with Fulham’s doomed Premier League campaign last season are inevitable but wrong.
Remember, Purslow has previously worked at Liverpool and Chelsea – that alone speaks for itself when Villa are accused of being reckless in the market.
Purslow was remarkably candid last month when he addressed supporters before the pre-season friendly in Minnesota.
And he kept little hidden when he spoke to The Times and Sky Sports in the wake of Villa’s opening day defeat at Tottenham – a display that promised much for the rest of the campaign.
Purslow is making it clear not only why Villa spent so much, but the necessity behind it if the club is to restore its former status in the top flight.
He is insistent that Villa have not adopted a Supermarket Sweep attitude to their transfer policy.
Purslow said: “It is a lot of money, and I’m incredibly grateful to our owners, but a couple of important points. Firstly, at the end of last season we had 12 players leave Villa, so we would have been starting with 10 players had we not bought.
“With or without promotion, Dean Smith and Jesus Garcia Pitarch came to Aston Villa with the certain knowledge we would be rebuilding our club this summer.
“It’s essentially 12 out, 12 in. £127million, before add-ons, is a huge amount, but it is about a year’s worth of television money. My board and I feel strongly that in the Premier League we have an obligation to be competitive, not to be promoted to the Premier League, spend no money, take some TV money, say thank you very much and go back down probably.
“We feel like we’ve invested to try and make our great club competitive in the Premier League. At £10m a player, that does not feel like an enormous amount of money spent.
With or without promotion, Dean Smith and Jesus Garcia Pitarch, the sporting director, came to Aston Villa with the certain knowledge we would be rebuilding our club this summer.
“We bought a goalkeeper at 33, Tyrone Mings at 26, the rest of the 10 are all 24 and under. Young players we hope will establish themselves in the Premier League and in doing so, grow their value. So far from being a liability, we are trying to invest in assets that grow their value, to protect the future financial health of our football club.
“I wouldn’t comment on another club’s transfer policy, and I’m not briefed on the fine details of Fulham, but I am extremely close to our policy.
“Of the 12, four players were with us last season, loans that we converted into transfers. Three players had either played for our coach at Brentford or had been about to sign for Brentford, so that’s seven of the 12.
“This is not: find a footballer, bring him to Birmingham and hope he works well for Dean Smith. These are players intimately familiar to our coach and our coaching staff.
“We had a scouting department put in place from last October. All the players we signed were watched by our coach, by our sporting director, very frequently.
“Most of our business was done very early in the window, so those new players who hadn’t played for Dean before were in the building, going on our overseas training camp in America and maximising the time they had to familiarise ourselves with our great club.”
Purslow also spoke in glowing terms of Jack Grealish’s value to the club – even likening him to Steven Gerrard when he was a Liverpool player.
He told the The Times’ Henry Winter: “ Jack is the heart and soul and face of our club. He’s kind, generous and incredibly driven. He lit up the Championship.
“He was unplayable. If we hadn’t been promoted it would have been impossible to keep a player who’d performed at that level. He had a £60 million escape clause. Somebody would probably have invoked it. Jack can be Villa’s Steven Gerrard in terms of importance and impact to his club.”