The most valuable football match in the world: Fulham and Aston Villa clash in £160m promotion shoot-out
Fulham are hoping to end their four-year exile from the top-flight, while Villa are looking to get back to among the elite two seasons after their relegation
Slavisa Jokanovic has challenged Fulham to “cross the magic line” as they bid to return to the Premier League by beating Aston Villa in the £160 million (HK$1.7 billion, US$213 million) Championship final.
Jokanovic’s side hope to end their four-year exile from the top-flight, while Villa are looking to get back to among the elite two seasons after their relegation.
Whoever wins at Wembley on Saturday will bank a huge financial windfall, with the rise in revenue estimated at least £160 million across the next three seasons, which could rise to in excess of £280 million if they retain their Premier League status.
Reflecting the thirst for fame and fortune provided by success in English football, Fulham are controlled by American tycoon Shadid Khan and Villa by Chinese businessman Tony Xia.
But while the owners might be counting the cash, for players and fans it is the pride of competing with the best that offers the biggest incentive this weekend.
Fulham missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the regular season despite a 23-match unbeaten run, but they bounced back to see off Derby in the play-off semi-finals.
Now Jokanovic is urging his players to finish the job as Fulham make their first appearance at Wembley since losing the 1975 FA Cup final against West Ham.
“I arrived here two and a half years ago fighting against relegation, we must try and make great steps, we have a great opportunity to bring this club back,” Jokanovic said.
“We are now at the front of an important chance. We are going to follow our style and be confident we will cross the line.
“There is a huge job ahead of myself. It is an opportunity for a side to be part of the best league in the world.
“That is a big motivation for us. Behind us is one great season but we can’t think about past games.
“We have one opportunity to cross the magic line. We are ready for everything.”
No manager has won more promotions to the Premier League than Villa’s Steve Bruce, whose team is littered with players who have experience at the highest level, including former Chelsea and England defender John Terry.
In contrast, Fulham, who finished five points above Villa, are a young team driven by the precocious talent of 18-year-old wing-back Ryan Sessegnon.
“Villa have players who have experienced playing in this stadium,” said former Chelsea midfielder Jokanovic, who led Watford to promotion from the Championship in 2015.
“We are the youngest team, one with more energy, we believe in our style, we believe we can dominate the situation, we believe we can score the goals.”
Bruce was more cautious than Jokanovic, saying: “How can you call it? Fulham are favourites? They’re always wrong the bookies!
“It will be close. We are all looking forward to it.”
Villa were a consistent presence in the play-off places in the second half of the season and saw off Middlesbrough in the semi-finals.
Given his club’s size and history, Robert Snodgrass, who played in Hull’s Championship final victory against Sheffield Wednesday in 2016, believes a fear of failure could be a valuable motivating factor for Villa.
“I know some of the other lads have experienced it as well. That’s beauty of the play-offs, it’s the fear of losing that drives you forwards,” the Villa midfielder said.
“Everybody wants to be on the good end, the club have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get back there.
“It’s very rare you get a second chance to get to your final destination.
“We fell short in the automatic places, we know now there’s no room for error.”