Randy Lerner’s end-game at Aston Villa

The Premier League Owl

The Premier League Owl

Remember when Malcolm Glazer bought Manchester United, and those green and yellow scarves started sprouting up all over Old Trafford? And remember, for all intents and purposes, the American’s ownership of the club had no discernible effect on it’s ability to challenge for trophies or commit millions of pounds to annual squad-improvement.

In other words: give football fans the opportunity to moan, and they’re likely to take it.

There’s nothing melodramatic about the Aston Villa fans’ reaction to Randy Lerner though, and his devaluation of their club is a cause worth raging against.

A fair question, given the position the club now finds itself in, would be why Lerner owns a football club at all. Purchasing sports teams is largely seen as an expression of wealth and a form of social posturing, but surely the American isn’t able to draw much credit on his accomplishments in the Midlands?

Lerner lived in England during part of his higher-education, and that’s supposedly from where his interest in football derives. This is no Johny Foreigner with no concept of the game from the supporters’ perspective, this is someone who we can assume has a very clear appreciation for what success are failure are measured by in England.

That makes this all the more bizarre; Lerner is not a Venky’s-style corporation seeking to whore a club out as a vehicle for unspecified financial benefit, he’s a fan – maybe not in the die-hard sense, but a well-wisher all the same.

Here’s a theory, and it’s open to any comments or opinions that any of you are willing to give – but it’s very much for ‘entertainment purposes’ only:

Between 2006, when Lerner bought the club, and 2013, his objectives have changed. When he took the majority shareholding and became Chairman, it was most likely with the purpose of forwarding the club’s development and aiding its progression up the Premier League. That may or may not be true, but his financial commitment in those early days tends to support it. In fact, up until 2010, when Martin O’Neil walked out of Villa Park days before the start of the new season, all seemed well in Midlands.

In the discussions which led to O’Neil’s departure, presumably the dominant theme was of the new financial direction the club was going to take and the financial restrictions which would be applied to his management. O’Neil didn’t like his new working conditions and flounced out – not unfairly, given that he’d been sold one reality on joining the club and was now being presented with one which was entirely different. Since that point, Randy Lerner has employed a succession of managers who, for want of a better description, have appeared to be little more than caretakers of a managed decline. Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish? Clubs with an attractive sales-pitch wouldn’t even be interviewing those kind of candidates.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Lerner was clearly no longer comfortable operating in such rarefied financial air, and wanted to scale back his liability – there’s nothing particularly wrong with that though; it’s his money and his risk.

I read somewhere this morning that Paul Lambert has been assured that, even if the club gets relegated, his job is secure. That’s very alarming. Not for Lambert, because he’s a good young manager who fits the model of ‘doing more with less’ – but it clearly shows that demotion was discussed as a possibility before the season started and would have been on the agenda when Lambert was offered the job. At an interview – in any industry – objectives are laid out as yardsticks of performance, and that would have been the case here. Lambert would have been made aware of the resources at his disposal, and presumably have been given assurances about what would happen if they were too thin to preserve the club’s Premier League status – i.e. he wouldn’t lose his job.

So the obvious question is, that if Lerner was aware of the possible repercussions his austerity measures could have, why he didn’t do more to safeguard the first-team’s future? If, alternatively, he’s aware of the risks but hasn’t the means or desire to mitigate them, then why does he continue to maintain his financial interest in the club?

What might be happening here, and I do stress ‘might’, is a priming for sale. Originally, Lerner spent £62.6m on buying Aston Villa (later rising after additional share acquisitions) and at whatever point he decided to limit his spending (circa 2010) it became apparent to him that he couldn’t sell the club without taking a loss on his original investment. The logic would then be that, by removing the high-earners and developing a younger squad who could potentially develop into a solid Premier League side, the club as an entity would be worth more. The young players being thrust into the first-team ahead of schedule, the marginalisation of those above a certain age; wouldn’t that fit into the theory? The creation of a sleek new Villa, full of potential, low on cost – and playing in a large stadium in a sizeable catchment area.

That may be completely wrong, but if it is, what is Lerner really doing and why is he risking so much to do it?

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11 Comments on "Randy Lerner’s end-game at Aston Villa"

  1. Altinkaya | Jan 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm |

    You seem to be saying that Lambert hasn’t had any money to spend. £23 million suggests otherwise, doesn’t it? How does that compare with, say West Brom?

  2. Apparently Lerner got the Nanny of his children pregnant and his wife has subsequently left him and filed for divorce. His Mother is not happy about this at all as she was close to her daughter in law and their children. She has told him to reign his spending in and get rid of his ‘toys’ this being the browns and our good selves.

    Agreed, I heard the same, he is making us a viable, attractive product for other investors.

  3. Not sure where it says that O’Neil was appointed by anyone other than Ellis…

    O’Neil’s working conditions post-2010 would have been vastly different to what they would have been when he arrived – so no, that’s not inaccurate.

  4. Martin O’Neil was appointed by Doug Ellis not Randy Learner so i imagine the working conditions that he originally agreed to were vastly different from the free-spending that actually developed. So to say that it was understandable that he flounced out after they had changed is also incorrect

  5. This is a guy who with all good intentions wanted Villa to be playing Champions League football within a 5 year plan, that didn’t work out, He gave MON too much control in terms of contracts and what he could spend on average British Players and basically was running this club into the ground, something that we could of coped with if we made it into the top 4, unfortunately with the rising Spurs and Man City we lost out on that and we basically went 5 years backwards instead of 5 years forwards. He then decided to really cut his losses cut the wage bill, get a manager who has been proven to get the most out of their players just like MON but with more attacking content and hope that our defence and goal keeper would stop more goals than we score.

    The problem this season is that they changed things too soon, that is evidence having a worse season than we had with McLeish. Our real problem is that we have been hit with injuries with senior players the thing is though that experience are well known injury prone players.

    I also think Lerner is quite reluctent to buy more players with the likes of Given, Hutton, Warnock, Dunne, Petrov, Makoun, Ireland and Bent on the book that is well over 20m in wages per year, we would of been better spending the money on the likes of Dempsey and i’m sure we could of grabbed Parker before Spurs as well because he wasd out of service for quite a long time and Spurs only snapped him up very late on in the Transfer window.

    What also worries me is the amount of TV revenue available next year and we could easily use some of that money in the hope of securing our future in the Premiership. How a club challenging for 4th place can all of a sudden be relegation candiates is absolutely madness, and dare I say it we would probably be in a better state of affairs if Deadly Doug was still in charge. We still spent on average 8m a summer transfer window and that was before the big money deals came into play.

    I wonder if Randy Lerner has got that Tattoo of the Aston Villa badge removed from his leg yet.

  6. Please don’t forget that any money put in to the club by Lerner is a loan and the club have to pay interest on it!

  7. Groovejet | Jan 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm |

    As much as we all (generally) liked MO’N, don’t forget about the forgotten millions (£) sat in the reserves, or if lucky, permanently on the bench. Curtis Davis, Delph to name but two. Not that I necessarily rated them, but why have em if they’re not going to feature?
    Have we also forgotten the same 12 players that featured week in week out for Martin. Personally, If in Randy’s shoes, I think we’d all worry about a manager asking to grow the squad, when unwilling to trade with what he’d got!

  8. Got to love the internet.

  9. Milner left before Young, so enough said on this article….

  10. Ah yes, you’re absolutely right…correction imminent. Gracias.

  11. Spot on, apart from the young sale (happened in summer between Houllier and McLeish, not before O’Neill left.

    This is one of many variations of this theory. Either Lerner is looking to cut his losses and sell or he has no idea what he is doing.

    He must care because he stands to lose a massive amount of money if this downward spiral continues even if he doesn’t care what happens on the pitch.

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