Another chaotic week has passed at Aston Villa, with coaches being suspended, takeover talk rife and yet another inept performance, which was only not a defeat thanks to poor finishing and a mistake by the referee as Bertrand’s handball was a penalty all day long. Then we had not one but two statements from our normally quiet owner Randy Lerner. By not denying a sale was imminent or committing himself to the club, he only fuelled the talk of a sale going through once the season has ended.
So where do we go from here? First and foremost, as Mr Lerner has quite rightly pointed out, the priority must be to get the club safe from relegation. We have already had five opportunities to do that since the Chelsea game and so far we have seriously fluffed our lines! With every passing week in which the win doesn’t come, the harder things becomes as what belief and confidence are left are eroded.
Luckily for Villa, a couple of scrappy draws will probably do it so these next two games against Swansea and Hull must result in us not losing. Despite our impressive record against top sides in the Premier League this season, I am not confident at all of getting anything from the games against Manchester City or Spurs. If we lose on Saturday and Fulham, WBA and Sunderland win, the tension for the Hull game will be unbearable for a group of players who already have proven to be brittle and Bruce will have his men well organised and a game plan ready. Like the games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Stoke, we will find the Tigers tough opponents unless Sid Cowans has managed to get a new message across in the brief time he has had in his temporary role.
Let’s be positive and assume we will crawl to safety – as I predicted in January whilst Messrs Faulkner, Lerner and Lambert insisted good progress was being made… What happens then? A few weeks ago I outlined five options for Aston Villa Football Club in an article entitled ‘Options for Aston Villa’s future’. It seems to be looking increasingly clear that Lerner at the very least is keen to sell and he most probably does have a buyer lined up. It looks very likely that the new owner(s) will come from America and we can only hope lessons are learnt from the Lerner stewardship. Option five on my list looks most likely now but there is a possibility that option three could bear some fruit.
Over the last eight years, the net investment by Randy Lerner has not been the problem. What has been the problem is never appointing a suitable board to run a big football club like Aston Villa, which has resulted in a boom-bust period. The first five years saw the boom of unsustainable investment and the last three years have involved desperate cut backs to try and address the balance.
The investment levels were right in the first four years of Lerner’s ownership but, sadly, far too much was wasted on the wrong players by a manager with too much autonomy due to an inadequate board. CEOs like Fitzgerald came and went because they could so O’Neill in particular was impossible to work with.
After O Neill’s sudden departure days before the season was due to start, Houllier arrived and he was also given big money. Had he had not taken ill, he wanted to spend big in the summer of 2011 and it is well known that Yohan Cabaye was at Bodymoor Heath ready to sign. Who knows where we would have gone if Houllier had not left?Unfortunately, with Houllier went Lerner’s ambition for the Villans to be winners.
If Villa had secured the services of Martinez then perhaps things could have been different but the bizarre switch from wanting Martinez to appointing McLeish smacked of a board with no real idea what it wanted or indeed what to do. I understand Sir Alex Ferguson was the man they turned to for advice and he recommended Big Eck; I see his next managerial recommendation has also bitten the dust!
If Lerner had appointed Graham Taylor or Ron Atkinson to the board of directors at the start, or even post-Martin O’Neill, then this would have been an easier situation to handle. They both understand Aston Villa and still have their fingers on the pulse of the modern game. At no point has Lerner appointed a director with football knowledge and that is the crux of his problems. Managerial appointments would have been easier (and superior) and more suitable players could have been targeted whilst establishing a proper football ethos.
I do sympathise that he hasn’t banked a decent cheque on a player sale for almost three years (Downing) but again that comes back to poor managers buying the wrong players and putting them on inflated contracts – all signed off by the board.
One thing that Lerner can be praised for is leaving the club potentially debt free, although that will be reflected in his asking price.
What’s done is done. If there are to be new owners they can learn a lot from Randy’s years at Villa. I understand he is keen to leave a legacy behind. Right now the best legacy he could leave would be to sell us to the best new owner(s) available with a desire to re-establish Aston Villa as a force but this time for the long term with sustained, controlled investment and a board of directors more balanced and in particular more knowledgeable about the core product – football.
We certainly deserve to have some hope and prosperity on the horizon again after a period of mediocrity and failure which has gone on more than long enough.