Tribal Football

Exclusive: Breaking down Aston Villa, V Sports & why Sawiris' complaints could be wide of the mark

Exclusive: Breaking down Aston Villa, V Sports & why Sawiris' complaints could be wide of the mark
Exclusive: Breaking down Aston Villa, V Sports & why Sawiris' complaints could be wide of the mark
Exclusive: Breaking down Aston Villa, V Sports & why Sawiris' complaints could be wide of the markAction Plus
Aston Villa are celebrating one of their best seasons of the modern era as they can look forward to top level European football for the first time in 42 years having finished fourth in the Premier League, which will delight their co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wesley Edens. 

Not since the 1982-83 season after the club’s finest hour when they became European champions beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam, has Villa competed in either the European Cup or the Champions League. 


This is despite finishing second in the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93,  and fourth three years later, as at the time it was not enough to qualify for the Champions League. 

The financial bonus of Champions League football will be a huge tonic to Sawiris and Edens, who created the joint venture V Sports and bought the club six years ago for around £76 million. 

At that time the club was in the Championship, but after promotion was gained in 2019 the club has competed the past five seasons in the Premier League, making steady progress finishing 17th, 11th, 14th and then 7th and eventually 4th to enter into Europe’s elite competition. 

While there has not been a major trophy to add to the last one they won, a League Cup triumph back in 1996, Villa’s owners can point to a progressive advancement of the club in a way that many other foreign owners cannot boast. 

They have backed the three mangers that have been at Villa Park since their takeover,  Dean Smith, Steven Gerrard and Unai Emery, by spending over £500 million in transfers. 

This has included several club record signing deals, such as Moussa Diaby’s signing from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for £51.9 million, eclipsing the £35 million for Norwich City’s Emiliano Buendia three years ago. 

Prof Rob Wilson, football finance expert at VSI Executive Education, explained to why the V Sports experiment has so far been a success. 

“I think a great deal of the relative success is down to the hire of Unai Emery,” said Wilson.

“The owners targeted a manager with some key principles and pedigree. Someone that would work with an existing group and build incrementally. 

“That’s meant wages have been kept down and there are no stand out ’stars’ to disrupt the playing environment.

“While all good in theory, they have also benefited from upheaval and changes at some of their competitor group; Spurs, Chelsea, and to a lesser extent Manchester United as their fortunes have dwindled. This has meant an exceptional rise.” 

According to Forbes, Sawiris has a current net worth of $8.8 billion, and is part of Egypt’s most wealthiest family 

He does have other sporting investment interests, as in December 2020 he bought a 5% stake in Madison Square Garden Sports, who are the owners of the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers teams.

Sawiris’ other investments include a 6% stake in sportswear giant Adidas, OCI, one of the world's largest nitrogen fertilizer producers and Orascom Construction, who are an engineering and building firm. 

Edens has a net worth of $3.4 billion Forbes revealed, and like his partner at Villa has other sport related interests, as he is the a co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, along with fellow billionaire Marc Lasry. 

In 1998 he was the co-founder of asset manager Fortress Investment Group, and remains with the firm as its chairman.

Edens first became a billionaire when Fortress went public in 2007 raising huge amounts of capital from investors. 

Recently in April, V Sports announced that investment firm Atairos has become a minority partner in the company, but will have no operational authority. 

Atairos was created eight years ago and has over $6.5 billion  of equity capital.

It has a wide ranging investment portfolio comprising of Auto Tune a musical software company, operations management company EXL, alongside Arcis Golf who  run public and private golf clubs. 

V Sports have also put together an expansion of the club’s network, having a minority stake in Vitoria S.C. of the Portuguese Primeira Liga who finished fifth last season. 

There are also partnerships with  Real Union from Spain, Egyptian Premier League side, ZED FC, and the recently crowned Japanese J1 League champions Vissel Kobe.

Prof Wilson reflected on the network spread: “It’s quite typical of the direction of travel for large sporting investments, and the development of a multi-club or sport model.

“The network helps knowledge exchange and player development. It should yield medium and longer term benefits for all members in the network if run correctly.” 

Sawiris has recently angrily criticised the Premier League’s spending rules. He has labelled the profit and sustainability rules  (PSR) as being “anti-competitive”, and says they’re stopping aspirational clubs such as Villa from challenging the traditional powerhouses of the Premier League. 

He has even said that he is seeking legal advice over whether to make a formal complaint against the Premier League. 

At the Premier League’s Annual General Meeting in April a spending cap was agreed in principle 

The Premier League said that the existing PSR rules will remain in place, but clubs will trial Squad Cost Rules, where there will be a 85% cap on squad spending for those clubs not competing in Europe. 

Those who are in European competition could face a 70% of turnover cap, this would be in line with a Uefa ruling where there will be a 70% spending ceiling from the 2025/6 season. 

Next season the cap will be 80% of club revenue for those playing in Europe, the next step in a three stage process as last season a 90% cap was in place. 

Also, Top to Bottom Anchoring (TBA) rules is to be trialled. 

A Premier League statement said that TBA is a league-level anchor linked to football costs, based on a multiple of the forecast of what the bottom club earns from broadcasting rights revenue. 

It is designed to be a pre-emptive measure to protect the competitive balance of the Premier League. 

Prof Wilson disagrees with Sawiris ‘ stance: “The only upset is because it limits what they can do as a singular entity i.e. they can’t invest heavily if they wanted to.

“The rules should actually make the Premier League more competitive to a point and, with the Champions League competition next season, they will be in good shape from a revenue perspective. 

“The biggest danger for Villa is that they tweak their formula and invest in the wrong playing assets.”