As storied club Aston Villa crumbles, Chinese chairman Tony Xia doles out tips on Twitter

Chairman and owner of the midlands club appears to be taking a hands-on role but to little effect

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 11:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2016, 12:48pm

Aston Villa are just one of an increasing number of European football clubs that have been the subject of Chinese investment but they are the most interesting for the outside observer.

That’s because their owner, Dr Tony Xia, is the most public and vocal of all those who have taken the plunge so far. It is only Xia who has decided embrace Twitter and he uses it in the manner of a non-league, fan-owned club rather than a club that has just ended a 28-year stay in the Premier League and were champions of Europe in 1982.

The chairman has weighed in on everything that he can in 140 characters or less. He interacts with fans on matters from ticketing policy to policing to pre-match entertainment.

Whether it is congratulating fans on birthdays, weddings or offering trials, nothing is too much and he even explains his absence from Villa Park.

Xia offered mercurial winger Jack Grealish some sage advice after the England under-21 international was fined and suspended for again being caught out on the town without permission.

When this public interjection from the chairman, which is unusual in English football, was questioned, Xia explained his reasoning for what many interpreted as a threat to the young Villain: “No. It’s not warning but just elder brother’s talk. I trust jack can really learn and be a MAN!”

It’s an approach that not everyone has taken to but Xia seems to have a genuine fondness for his club, even if that is something that has only been formed since he took the Villa Park side over this year.

“Shame for the 2nd half! Need BIG talk again!!!” was Xia’s response after Villa lost to Bristol City, turning a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 defeat at Ashton Gate back in August.

Truth is that the chairman could have tweeted that quite often this season given that Villa have dropped more points from winning positions than anyone else in the division.

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This weekend it was Xia himself who tried to deliver the big talk that the team is in need of, with manager Roberto di Matteo playing a video from the chairman to his players before kick off at their away game against Preston North End.

The video had no effect. The game ended in a 2-0 loss. Villa left Deepdale with nothing and were a clear second best. This proved the last act of Di Matteo’s reign.

Only relegated from the Premier League last season, Villa are in real danger of dropping down another division if they keep up the form with which they have started this season.

The club have just 10 points from 11 games and more worryingly they are only one point above the drop zone.

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This comes despite spending more than £50 million (HK$497.3 million) on players in the summer in a bid to bounce straight back to the top flight and Di Matteo has struggled to get the best out of a squad that on paper is among the strongest in the Championship.

Xia hired the Italian on a two-year contract with the belief that the former Chelsea manager was the best man for the job and even though results have been far from ideal, sacking the Italian was a last resort and it won’t have been taken lightly, which is why it did not happen earlier.

Xia’s public profile may be at odds with other Chinese owners in the West Midlands, but aside from that he has followed a similar path in trying to stabilise the club and has either retained or brought in local upper management.

Villa brought in former Everton chief exec Keith Wyness, while Fosun tried to get Jez Moxey to stay on after they sealed the deal for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Elsewhere West Bromwich Albion chairman Guocheng Lai brought in former Blackburn Rovers chairman John Williams.

Right now Wolves are mid-table, West Brom are in the top half of the Premier League and even Birmingham City – a club which has been waiting for a takeover by Trillion Trophy Asia to go through next month, which will swap one Hong Kong owner for another – are flying high in the Championship play-off spots.

Meanwhile, Villa, the biggest club in Birmingham, are struggling so the decision has been made to change manager.

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When he took over Villa, Xia stated that he wanted to make it into the Champions League in the next five years and win it within a decade.

That was a bold statement but what Xia does in the next couple of days is his real statement of intent. That David Wagner, the manager of table topping Huddersfield Town, is their first choice speaks volumes but whatever happens, we’ll be sure to read all about it on Twitter.