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    5. Aston Villa's £400m revamp to prepare for Champions League and ..


    Aston Villa's £400m revamp to prepare for Champions League and beat 'big six'

    Chris Heck is the man charged with driving Aston Villa's financial and commercial growth. Photo: Darren Staples for Telegraph Sport

    Man running Aston Villa's desire to permanently establish itself among the elite of English football clearly reflects the club's ambitions: Villa want to get there within the next three years, and when they do, they plan to get there to stay.

    The first new English club in the modern Champions League, Villa, of course, won the European Cup in 1982 – after Leicester had experienced a summer of important change at Villa eight years earlier A park”. The plan to increase their revenue to £400 million by 2027 was developed by Chris Heck, President of Business Operations and US hire. He clearly understands that he should seize the moment.

    “There was such a gap between the [Premier League] big six and everyone else,” he told Telegraph Sport. “What will it take for one or two clubs to get into this space? We have a plan to get there. We think we'll be there within the next three years. We're definitely playing in that space from a performance standpoint. We are one of the best clubs in the world on the pitch. Our manager [Unai Emery] is probably the best band in the world.”

    “We have the infrastructure with an incredible fan base in the Midlands. A brand that is globalizing and owners that are smart and capable of getting us there. It's quite exciting. Not many clubs have this opportunity and we are probably one of two.”

    Villa Park is undergoing rapid modernization. Photo: Getty Images/Charlotte Wilson “We have a PSR plan”

    We're talking at Villa's new office in central London, where Heck, 55, lives part of the week. At Villa Park, the club is set to announce what Heck says is the biggest hospitality achievement in European football: 18 new premium offerings, including a private club space and more suites. On the pitch, Emery is preparing for the club's first season in UEFA's biggest club competition since Villa were crowned champions in 1982/83.

    This means that Villa Park is undergoing a rapid and major upgrade, which must be completed before the start of the new season on August 17th. “Tens of millions of pounds” is the closest figure Heck can spend on refurbishment of the hotel complex across the three stands, excluding the Holte End. A similar amount is being spent on the Bodymoor Heath training ground, including the construction of a 40-bedroom hotel for players and staff, as well as new women's team and academy facilities and new pitches.

    Heck has been tasked by the club's billionaire owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens with increasing the club's annual revenue to the £400m they believe is needed to compete with Europe's superclubs.

    Larger income. High class hospitality. London offices for Birmingham's largest club. These are the priorities that can drive fans crazy. However, this is a game now, and Manchester United and Liverpool have long had London bases. We meet the day after the Premier League's AGM and Villa's bid to increase allowable losses under profit and sustainability rules [PSR] to £135 million over three years has failed. Sawiris himself will continue to describe PSR as an “anti-competitive” obstacle to the ambitions of a club such as his. Heck's job is to find a way around this.

    The challenges of PSR compliance are enormous. John Duran, the Colombian international striker who joined from MLS last summer, is a target for Chelsea. Douglas Luiz, another player Villa would normally be reluctant to lose, could join Juventus for £18m. However, Weston McKennie and Samuel Ealing-Junior will join Villa in the other direction and Luiz's fee will immediately count towards PSR eligibility.

    Chris Heck believes Villa Park should cater to different types of football. Fan Credit: Darren Staples for Telegraph Sport

    At the request of fans, more season tickets will be on sale next season, and more the following season, although the changes came at a cost. Around 900 season ticket holders were forced to change seats. As for the big question of the proposed demolition of the North Stand for something bigger and better, the club's view is that it simply doesn't make sense.

    “How do you best use the money you have for the club?” Damn it says. “We could tear down the grandstand, add seats and take 17 years to pay for it. It was math. I thought [last November] this doesn't make much sense. We don't have the infrastructure to add 10,000 seats overnight. We also played very well and we had a vision that we could qualify for the Champions League in November. Do we want to demolish a quarter of the stadium and then have this little 36,000-seat venue to watch a Champions League club?

    “He's taking this club to a new place.”

    Instead, the plan is to achieve early success on the field as quickly as possible. “I understand that it's an inconvenience [for season ticket holders who have moved], I really do,” Heck says. “I just hope we can be clear and that everyone understands what the big picture is. That is, the fans come first, and the most important thing we want to provide our fans is a winning team.”

    According to him, there are no prospects of moving from Villa Park. “First of all, it costs a lot of money. Secondly, it takes a lot of time. We strike while the iron is hot. Not many people can start a project as long as you are good at acting. You start a project and then expect it to play well six to eight years later. We are playing well now. Okay, how quickly can we catch this train? We say that we will catch this train – we have three more years. After the first year we are at the right pace.”

    Emery's new contract means he is no longer a head coach, but a manager in whom the owners and club have full confidence. It is not difficult to understand why, amid the struggle, others had to appoint an equally transformative figure to this role. “He’s really our manager,” Heck says. “This [change of role] means that there is stability, that we trust Unai and work together with Unai.

    Aston Villa management fully trusts Unai Emery. Photo: PA Wire/Barrington Coombs

    “We have the same vision, but he's taking this club to a place we haven't seen before. You can't overstate this. He is a wonderful person. Not only in the way he works with players individually and as a team, but also in his support group of coaches. We are doing something that will change the club. This is really so.”

    There's clearly a strong sense at Villa that this is one of the least publicized property revolutions. Outside the Premier League's big six, only Villa, Newcastle, Leeds United, Blackburn and Leicester City have qualified for the Champions League group stage since 1992.

    'It's not easy and not for the team. faint of heart, but an incredible story is happening before our eyes,” says Heck. “Why should anyone care? “The Big Six will make room for one or two more clubs and we will be one of them.” This year marks Villa's 150th anniversary and Heck points out that they have the advantage of being the biggest club in the biggest English city outside Greater London.

    “We're at a really exciting time in English football right now. says Heck. “It was a good decade of Big Six stability, meaning they kept everyone out. Newcastle last year, us this year. I think things are changing and I wouldn't bet against us.”

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