Aston Villa’s sale of Villa Park is to be probed by the Premier League to check whether it breached financial fair play regulations, the Daily Telegraph has learnt.
After it emerged independent valuations had been ordered by the English Football League into the sale by Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading of their own home grounds, it can be revealed that Villa will not escape scrutiny after winning the Championship play-off final to secure a return to the top flight and a £170 million jackpot.
All four clubs sold their stadiums to their own owners – who then leased them back again – in an apparent attempt to balance their books and avoid a transfer ban or points deduction.
It was unclear last night whether the Premier League would follow the EFL’s lead by ordering an independent valuation of Villa Park or simply examine evidence provided by the club before deciding whether the £56.7 million sale represented the kind of “fair market value” required under its rules governing related-party transactions.
Villa, Derby, Wednesday and Reading all exploited an EFL rule change that ended a ban on its clubs using profits earned from selling their stadiums to comply with its financial fair play regulations.
The Telegraph has learnt the 2016 rule change was never intended to open the door to such a practise, which was branded “cheating” in May by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani and saw Middlesbrough threaten to sue Derby. Moves are afoot to close it again amid concerns a club could sell their stadium to balance the books and buy it back again without breaching rules which also exempt investment in facilities.
Premier League profit and sustainability rules, with which the EFL’s own regulations were harmonised three years ago, do not prohibit clubs using cash earned from stadium sales to comply with them.
However, Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, on which the EFL’s original regulations were based, do, acting as a deterrent for top-flight clubs.
Villa declined to comment last night but a source with knowledge of Villa Park’s sale to owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, via a group subsidiary company called NSWE Stadium, has told the Telegraph the EFL had already approved it after the club commissioned three independent valuations of the ground.
The Premier League newcomers are thought to be entirely confident of complying with its rules.
Derby, who lost to Villa in the play-off final, sold Pride Park to owner Mel Morris the season before last for £80m, almost double the amount for which it was listed as an asset on the club’s book.
That allowed them to post a pre-tax profit of £14.6 million that year when losses in excess of £39m over a three-year period amount to a breach of the EFL’s profit and sustainability rules.
Last season, Birmingham City were docked nine points after recording total losses of £48.8 million between 2015 and 2018.
Derby, Wednesday and Reading have consistently denied having breached any regulations. www.telegraph.co.uk