Something For The Weekend (372)
There I was these past weeks, anxiously awaiting Villa's financial results, like some bingo widow, desperately praying for that last number on her card. Worn down by Villa's misery machine in this endless winter of discontent, I was just frantic for any kind of good news.
Unfortunately, we got to see some numbers, but there was no good news in sight.
Like a substantial portion of the Villa fraternity I am desperate to know, if things are going to get better, because as things stand everything looks a bit s**t, as regards the weakness of the squad, the football product and the financial state of the club. Relegation has become a distinct possibility.
With the club management having withdrawn into purdah and retreated into a state of incommunicado, we are all left to guess the situation, and a chance to look at the numbers seemed to promise an opportunity for insights denied us by the present aloof and taciturn custodians of Aston Villa football club.
Alas, as a guide to the present state of the club and its future prospects,the information, when it came, was pretty useless for anyone except those expert in the art of divination. Villa's figures were about as useful as last week's weather-forecast is, for those wishing to know whether it will rain tomorrow.
The figures are far worse than expected and all relate to a period between one and two years ago, which offer absolutely no reassurance about the present; quite the opposite in fact. The Evening Mail's hopeless attempt to put a positive spin on the figures (rounding down the numbers and suggesting O'Neill got £12m) was laughable, but obviously well meant.
Having reduced the club's losses from £46m to £38m in the previous year, the club looked like it might be heading in the right direction, but somehow the club's management have contrived to reverse that trend. Posting losses of £53.9m.
This figure included an 'exceptional charge' of £12m, which was the cost of hiring a man with a history of serious illness and who obviously got a big cheque with his get-well-soon card. No wonder he's feeling better, these days. But, even discounting that amount, the club had still managed to reverse their attempts at reducing losses, by increasing them to £41.9m (£800k a week).
It would seem that £12m is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to counting the cost of poor Villa management decisions. In terms of what concerns the fans, these losses are the cause of some considerable distress, when those fans have been led to understand that Villa won't have a decent team, until the books are put into some kind of order. Every poor decision delays any hope of a Villa renaissance.
What we know from previous results is that an unnamed director, earned £237k, and that £7.7m was paid to Reform Acquisition Limited (Randy Lerner), as a management fee. And that a further payment of £5.7m was paid in interest to Randy Lerner. We know from these latest, albeit sketchy results, that Randy Lerner has increased the club's debt to himself by another £25m, on which, no doubt, interest will be charged. This interest is paid at 2% above the inter-bank loan rate, which is a higher rate than you'll get at your local building society.
This is all interesting stuff but its not what we need to know. What we really, really, need to know is, how bad is it likely to get before it gets better? Everything about the Wigan result was the cause of distress: the team-selection, the big signings on the naughty-step, the performance and the result, all added up to a perception that Villa are in disarray.
Unfortunately, the release of Villa's outdated financial results, did nothing to dispel that perception, or offer any hope, that things have improved this year.
This week over at Arsenal their man at the helm was talking about transparency, as he presented a financial statement which was dated as recently as November and which revealed a full and clear picture of the club's position, which included the surplus produced by the sale of Fabregas and Nasri (£50m).
This allowed the fans a firm grasp of the situation and the cheering news that despite their on-going disappointments, the club was in a position to sign the sort of players who might improve the team.
This contrasts strongly with Villa, where even in the face of possible relegation, with a squad full of sulkers, crocks, duffers, veterans and kids, the fans have no idea where the club stands, or whether anything positive has actually accrued at all, from two years and counting, of cost cutting and general retrenchment.
There are reassurances in the financial statement but an increase in income of 1.5%, does not really compensate for a massive increase in losses and debt. The figures do not include this season's fall in attendances, the sale of Stewart Downing, or the compensation paid to Birmingham City for the manager the fans were glad to see the back of. So as a guide to Villa's present situation the figures are not much use at all. No Villa fan believes that Villa have the cash reserves enjoyed by Arsenal; what they need to know is whether Villa have turned the corner yet, or when that happy event may be expected.
Some fans think that the club chose to publish such out of date information because of political considerations, to manage expectations or hide the even worse news about the present, which an up to date report would have revealed. The truth is that, for the club to engage in such machinations, they would have to care what the fans feel or think, and they clearly do not.
But whether they care or not, Villa's present reduced status looks set to continue, and the threat of relegation looks likely to become both a present and future reality.
Its true that Villa do have a little margin for error, as things stand, but the general consensus amongst the pundits, was that Villa were the only club likely to score enough goals to avoid getting sucked into the relegation morass. But, now that Darren Bent is out for the season, Gabby is a winger (with an injury), and the club's big-money signings have both been banished to the naughty-step, Villa goal-scorers look scarce.
Villa are likely to survive, this time around, but if the present quality of the squad represents the board's highest aspiration, and they are determined to stick with the present manager, there seems very little to look forward to, except endless exasperation and struggle.
This week's Villa struggle takes the form of a visit to Blackburn, who at least have a goal-scorer in Yakubu 'I ate all the pies' Aiyegbeni. Villa must rely on the creaking limbs of Emile Heskey, Weimann the Wunderkind, and good old Gabby, who has been alternatively bulking-up or slimming down, playing wide, or tracking back, depending on the manager's whim this past few years.
So should Carlos Cuéllar, who Villa tried to sell, produce another man of the match performance, its quite possible that McLeish could get the point he demands.
Obviously, expecting Villa to beat a team in the bottom-three, is too much to ask these days, but three points would represent the most pleasing numbers, Villa fans have heard for quite a while now.
It does not promise to be a great game but it might be an amusing spectacle, with the real possibility of opposing fans fighting each other over who has the worst manager.
One set of supporters are likely to be carrying banners demanding 'Kean Out!', while the other set of supporters chant, 'We want Keane'.
It might be painful, but luckily, it only hurts when I laugh.
Keep the faith!