The Crazy Rule Forcing Aston Villa To Sell Its Stars

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 22: Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring the team’s … [+] first goal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on October 22, 2023 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

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As the 2023/24 Premier League season drew towards its conclusion praise was heaped on an impressive Aston Villa side challenging for a Champions League spot.

The club’s incredible turnaround from relegation strugglers two years earlier to the brink of Europe’s top club competition was a remarkable story given the core of the team was essentially the same.

Unsurprisingly the players who’d stepped up were attracting interest from more established members of the elite and,by that stage, it was obvious that Brazilian midfielder Douglas Luiz would be a target, especially if the club failed to land a spot in the Champions League.

Fortunately for Villa fans, when the subject was raised in April, Luiz gave it little credence.

“We’re all very happy with how this season is going, especially me, with all the history that the club is building and for my goals and assists, too,” Luiz told DAZN Portugal.

“Personally, I’m very happy with it all and I think it’s just the start of a new chapter. As I always say, Aston Villa is a huge club and we’re prepared to write a new chapter.”

“Since Unai arrived there was a huge boost in the group’s confidence. I think he brought confidence to the team because we always had a good group of players.”

“The squad is pretty much the same, only one or two players were bought in, so I think his work was important for the history that we’re writing.”

As greatness neared his words of commitment grew stronger still.

“I’m really grateful to Aston Villa because it was the club who gave me a real opportunity to play in the Premier League,” he said ahead of the crucial clash with Olympiacos in the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final.

“And every time I take to the pitch, I want to show that I’m really grateful for everything Villa have done for me.

So when qualification for the Champions League was confirmed by Manchester City’s victory over Tottenham Hotspurit would seem clear cut: Luiz will stay.

Except rather than bolstering its core with talent that will enable Aston Villa to compete with the best in Europe and the Premier League it is having to dispose of the Brazillian.

Last week, it was confirmed Juventus had agreed a $53 million deal to acquire Douglas Luiz.

The reasoning looks fairly obvious, to comply with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules [PSR] Villa has to sell some players.

Unfortunately, the sums involved mean that a couple of squad players won’t suffice, talent with some serious value must be disposed of.

In March, Aston Villa reported a loss of $151.2 million which was a concern because according to Premier League, PSR teams can only record up to $132 million in three years.

The statement accompanying the announcement couldn’t have been more definitive, combined with the $379,000 profit the year before, there was no problem.

“It is important to note that these figures are in line with the strategic business plan, and we continue to operate within the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules,” it said.

“The owners of Aston Villa remain committed to the long-term and sustainable development of the Club, and we look forward to continued progress on the delivery of our strategic plan.”

Yet everyone knows that the Birmingham side needs to sell this summer.

The PSR Carousel

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 23: A fan wearing an Aston Villa scarf ahead of the Premier League … [+] match between Aston Villa and Brentford FC at Villa Park on October 23, 2022 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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Following Luiz out the door is likely to be the more than capable Jhon Duran who impressed as a deputy for Ollie Watkins last season and, you would have thought, been crucial to Villa’s challenge on two fronts.

Long-time servant Matty Cash has also been rumored to be attracting interest from AC Milan.

The club is bringing in players to offset these potential departures but there is a consistent theme: youth players are arriving from other clubs facing potential PSR issues.

In at least three cases, Villa is poised to both sell and buy a player from the same team.

As Luiz departs for Juventus, Enzo Barrenechea and Samuel Iling-Junior arrive for a combined $23 million.

Everton meanwhile has bought Tim Iroegbunam for $11.47 million with Villa acquiring the Liverpudlian’s winger Lewis Dobbin for $12.65 million.

Omari Kellyman has signed a six-year contract with Chelsea in a $24 million deal whilst Villa has swooped for the Blues right back Ian Maatsen for $47 million.

When you calculate the incomings and outgoings for all those deals the overall balance is roughly flat, which is significant given one big factor in soccer accounting: amortization.

Rules allow clubs to amortize acquisitions over the length of a player’s contract but can book the entirety of the sale immediately.

Therefore Ian Maatsen’s cost for Villa in its accounts is only $7.8 million this season as he signed a six-year deal.

Iroegbunam’s $11.47 million fee on the other hand can be booked as pure profit.

As a consequence, these deals have raised some eyebrows in the League’s offices with the BBC claiming to have seen a letter from the Premier League sent to clubs about “swap deal concerns.”

But it is the league that has itself to blame. It is an indictment of the rules themselves that a club that has just achieved unexpected success against wealthier opponents finds itself looking over its shoulder and disposing of great players rather than adding more to double down on its success.

A pro-competitive division would enable a stronger Villa side to go further and be capable of pushing for the title, a year older and wiser. Instead, they face a harder task.

It increases the body of evidence which suggests these are not rules that cement the established order and increase the competitive advantage of the clubs already at the top.

As Aston Villa’s co-owner Nassef Sawiris told the Financial Times: “Some of the rules have resulted in cementing the status quo more than creating upward mobility and fluidity in the sport.

“The rules do not make sense and are not good for football.”

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