£170 million clash a game cash-strapped Villa can't afford to lose
Aston Villa will head into the "life-changing" £170 million shoot-out with Fulham facing the prospect of a financial nightmare if they fail in their promotion mission.
Villa's cash worries would be wiped out with victory in the Championship play-off final at Wembley today, but defeat would put them under pressure to avoid breaking Financial Fair Play rules and potentially being hit with a transfer embargo.
With the stakes so high, it is arguably Villa's biggest game since the 1982 European Cup final.
Manager Steve Bruce is aware of the doomsday scenario. Captain John Terry would be expected to leave, while deals to sign loan players Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone and Lewis Grabban permanently would be scrapped.
The futures of Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia would be plunged into doubt and it is understood that Villa might even have to consider selling their Recon Training Complex.
Mile Jedinak, the Australia midfielder, has admitted the game is crucial to the club's future.
"We haven't spoken about it but everybody knows. Nobody is kidding themselves, people are aware of it, they know the situation. We are doing the right thing and making sure that doesn't happen," he said. "The game on Saturday is life-changing. You all know what Premier League football comes with and the reward of that.
"It is a crossroads moment. I can't speak for everybody but that motivates me. Is this game pivotal to Villa's future? Oh yes, that goes without saying."
Today's game is widely agreed to be the most valuable in world football, and years of cost-cutting would be over for Villa if they emerged as winners.
Bruce spent only £2.5m last summer, while raising £18m from sales to ease a mammoth wage bill. He admits next season's team will be "totally different" if Fulham prevail.
As one of Bruce's most senior players, Jedinak will be key at Wembley and has experience of the play-offs after winning promotion with Crystal Palace five years ago.
The 33-year-old also came through under enormous pressure for Australia, scoring two penalties in his country's play-off victory over Honduras last year which clinched a place at the World Cup.
Villa will end a two-year Premier League absence if they find a way past Slavisa Jokanovic's Fulham entertainers, who are the favourites.
Central to Villa's hopes will be home-grown talent Grealish. Bruce is backing the 22-year-old midfielder to flourish on the big stage and admitted he could even have been named in England's World Cup squad.
"I'd have thought he might have had an outside chance. They're all talking about [Fulham attacker] Ryan Sessegnon, which I can understand, but if you've watched us since Christmas then Jack's got that ability to get you off your seat and go, 'Wow'," he said.
"He can go past somebody and create something, which is quite unique in this country. I hope that on the big stage he can go and perform to the level which he's been performing at.
"I hope we can give him the platform in the years to come. He's a mad Villa fan, his family are Villa through and through, so let's hope it can be positive for everybody." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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