Di Matteo feels need to demolish, rebuild Villa

BEIJING • New Aston Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo has warned that his side face a tough task returning to the English Premier League at the first attempt after last season's relegation.

The situation at Villa was so wretched that Di Matteo has admitted he felt the need to demolish the entire house and begin a complete reconstruction of the 142-year-old club.

Speaking to The Guardian in Beijing, where he is accompanying Villa's new Chinese owner Xia Jiantong and chief executive Keith Wyness on a three-day visit, the former Chelsea manager said he was determined to rebuild the Birmingham club from the foundation up so that they can bounce back into the Premier League within two years.

"It was a house that needed to be knocked down and (rebuilt) afresh," Di Matteo said of his first impressions after taking over Villa Park last month.

The manager conceded that escaping the Championship, which he compared to a gruelling marathon, would not be easy.

"You have to kind of sustain a level of performance in the Championship to be able to come out of it at the end of the season," he added.

Di Matteo took over the club last month after Xia bought Villa for a reported £75 million (S$133 million).

Wyness told Chinese journalists the club's leadership was set on building a "great football dynasty" under Di Matteo and wanted to make Villa one of the most popular European clubs in China.

"The lion has been asleep for the last four or five years and we want to be sure with Roberto and his team that we wake the lion," he said.

Di Matteo was more cautious. He said he hoped the club could be "competitive" in their first season in the Championship after bringing in Bournemouth defender Tommy Elphick, Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and Reading midfielder Aaron Tshibola.

"By signing three new players, we have already identified players that we believe will help us guide the team into a very challenging season," he said.

"It is going to be a huge test next season, the Championship is a very tough and competitive league."

However, Di Matteo said he was not yet losing sleep over the scale of the task.

"So far I have had very good nights' sleep," he said, adding: "I'm generally an optimistic person."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Di Matteo feels need to demolish, rebuild Villa'. Print Edition | Subscribe