Interview: Chinese entrepreneur's ambition to build "open system" in Aston Villa football club

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-02 01:39:46|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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By Zhang Jiawei, Jin Jing

LONDON, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- After becoming the owner of Aston Villa, a football club that has deep root in the English sports culture, the Chinese entrepreneur Tony Jiantong Xia and his twitter remarks have been pushed into the media limelight.

Rarely has anyone heard of Xia's name in England's football circle before his company Recon Group bought Aston Villa in 2016.

Obviously Xia is not a conventional English football club owner -- he likes to communicate directly with fans and comment on match results on twitter. Sometimes his tweeting habits may even get himself into trouble. Xia was fined 4,000 pounds (4,760 U.S. dollars) by the Football Association in Britain after sending a tweet that suggested a referee was against the club in October, according to a BBC report.

"I will continue to use twitter," said Xia in an interview with Xinhua. "The main reason is that I cannot participate in many of the club's activities and even watch the team's every game due to my busy business schedule."

But he admitted that this is not what a conventional English football club chairman would do, as he is expected not to interfere too much in the day-to-day operation of the club.

"At first, some of them would say that I was different, talking to fans on twitter and such", but "I think open communication is very important, which is also the case in my company," said Xia.

"Openness" is a word Xia likes to use when he speaks.

When he officially became Aston villa's new chairman, the club's team has been relegated from the Premier League after a struggling season competing in the top-flight. Its first season in the Championship after the relegation was hardly satisfactory, as the team continued its poor form dashing any hope of going back to the top-flight.

But villa's new chairman is ready to push forward his vision in the rebuilding of the club. He said he believed a good club is one with an "open system", in which young talents from the clubs academy coupled with some seasoned and match-proven players. "That is how you create a relatively good balance, and a better ecological system."

This season, former England and Chelsea captain John Terry joined Aston Villa. The 36-year-old defender is part of Xia's efforts to create that open system, and get the team back to the top-flight.

"When we took over (Aston villa), we really hoped that we could go back to the Premier League as soon as possible, but now that we have thought it over, it is not that realistic, even if we did go back, we will possibly be relegated again given the difficult situation of the club," said Xia.

"This season would be a better timing for us to go back to the Premier League," he added.

It's never easy for a foreign investor to be accepted by the fans community, especially in a club whose fans include Prince William. The Prince and his wife Catherine recently visited the club as part of a showcase of their Royal Foundation apprenticeship program.

Xia said that he himself is a football fan, so he could think like one, and he recognized the fact that in England, a football club is usually operated in an open community, which is a key factor in English football, and some activities and decisions must be made on the basis of open communication with the community.

Now that the Chinese entrepreneur is Villa' s new chairman, there is also expectations that Villa can expand its influence to more Chinese football fans, and play a role in the two countries' football development.

Xia said that even Prince William asked him if there was any specific measures in place to strengthen football culture communication between the two sides.

"Starting from last year, we have established several football academies in China, and the next step is to find a way to work with the Chinese clubs, so that their young players can be nurtured in our academy," said Xia.

"When we bought Villa, we have made a detailed planning for the club's future commercial development and social influence, and hopefully we can use this platform to help Chinese football."