'Unthinkable' Liverpool transfer sums up Aston Villa's PSR stance

Ollie Watkins
-Credit: (Image: Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Ollie Watkins to Liverpool? Could there be a transfer rumour more likely to make Aston Villa fans scoff? And yet the prospect of such a deal has been used to highlight “the debate that will go right to the heart of the Premier League annual general meeting” this week.

For the record, it seems new Liverpool boss Arne Slott has no interest in the Villa striker, who did more than most to fire Unai Emery’s upwardly-mobile team into the the top four last season - therefore ensuring they play Champions League football next term.

Watkins had a brilliant campaign, scoring 19 Premier League goals and also chipping in with 13 assists. No wonder there is talk of transfer interest from rival clubs.

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Award-winning Telegraph journalist Sam Wallace has used the Watkins speculation to highlight what is wrong with the Premier League’s contentious Profitability and Sustainability rules - while also doubting Villa’s attempt to change permitted losses at Thursday’s AGM in Harrogate.

He writes: “Profit and sustainability rules have dominated 2023-2024, and as the summer window opens, it is still live. Aston Villa are at the centre of the question and by extension leading players at the club, like Watkins.

“In any other circumstances, selling Watkins would be unthinkable ahead of this, Villa’s first European Cup season since 1983. What makes it plausible is the PSR factor.”

In March, Villa posted losses of nearly £120m, said to be amongst the highest in Europe and putting them in danger of a PSR breach of the kind that saw Everton and Nottingham Forest hit with points deductions last term.

As a result, Villa have a proposal on the PL meeting agenda to raise losses allowed under PSR from £105m to £135m, ostensibly to counter inflation. If passed it will give them greater PSR wriggle-room - but also, claims Wallace, exacerbate financial inequalities within the game.

The Telegraph’s chief football writer explains: “The great problem PSR faces is that not all the models of distributing the great wealth of football are under the Premier League’s control.

“The biggest clubs are paid by UEFA for their participation in the Champions League and that system is weighted in favour of the clubs who qualify every year.

“This [weighting] coefficient is an anti-competitive pill for the competition, one that ensures new entrants to the Champions League like Villa cannot make major strides in revenue in their first season, and may struggle to have an impact. Until Uefa gets rid of this historic performance bias then the biggest, wealthiest clubs will always have an advantage.”

For example, Manchester United will earn £60m from the Champions League this season, almost twice Newcastle’s pot of £34m, despite both clubs going out at the group stage.

Yes, Champions League football will still bring great riches for Villa, while work behind the scenes to boost commercial revenue will put the club in a better position to invest in Emery’s squad without fear of contravening PSR spending limits.

Yet Wallace claims Villa’s attempt to change spending parameters within the domestic top-flight, if successful, will merely “import the inequalities of UEFA to the Premier League and potentially damage its competitive balance”.

He concludes: “It is a difficult problem to solve… PSR is there to protect the Premier League and the competitive balance of the competition. But it is fighting against the measures that mean established Champions League clubs earn more in Europe regardless of performance.

“The problem for clubs like Villa is that these measures prevent them from investing anew when they reach the promised land of the Champions League. The €2.5 billion it generates should be distributed by UEFA as part equal share and part performance-related – and nothing in between.”

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