After reading Randy Lerner’s statement on Monday morning, it was clear that Aston Villa Football Club is finally going to be going in a new direction in terms of ownership and leadership.
Lerner put out a statement which felt more like a farewell letter rather than a simple update on the current situation. After suffering for the last four years in relegation battles, it does seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel – but what will happen once the new owner comes in? Nobody knows, although it begs a very interesting question.
What kind of progress would fans prefer under new ownership? I’ve come up with two scenarios that could happen at Villa and will be really interested to see which one would you, the reader, the fan of the club, pick for Villa. As you read, have a think about what it would be like – but remember: with each choice comes positives and negatives.
So, here we go:
Larry Ellison, an American billionaire, (who I’m sure has been googled many times in the last few weeks by Villa fans alone), or a oil rich billionaire from the Far East buys Aston Villa Football Club for £200 million.
The new owner comes in and changes the club from the bottom up. His first task is to sack Paul Lambert and install his own manager. The next step is to enter the transfer window.
He starts buying players left, right and centre. Players worth £10 million, £12 million and £20 million start arrive and are put into the squad straight away. The Premier League starts and the aim for the season is to be in a Champions League spot once the season ends.
On the pitch, we start playing great football, and winning matches. We have an off-day every now and then and we sneak a victory or two against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, but lose the majority of them because of the lack of Premier League experience from the manager and his players.
Come the end of May, we’re in fifth position but we end up claiming the fourth spot for the qualifying stages of the Champions League on the final day of the season. The fans are ecstatic, as the club was fighting relegation only a season ago but most of the success has come from an influx of money rather than from the club growing organically.
Aston Villa Football Club regularly reaches the last sixteen/quarter finals of the Champions League but does not go past that stage.
The fans enjoy the next few years as new players come in during every transfer window to strengthen the squad and we even win the F.A. Cup!
The possible downside
After four or five seasons of big spending, the owner decides to cut the spending and ensure the manager makes use of his resources, which brings back memories of the Randy Lerner era. The team struggles that season because the manager wanted to buy more players but the board inform the manager that there is enough quality in the side to compete. After a string of bad results, and after getting knocked out of the Champions League, the manager is sacked after the board make a snap judgement and hire another manager, whose appointment doesn’t exactly bring excitement to the fans.
Due to the expenditure, the club operates at a loss every year, despite having lucrative sponsorship deals.
The new model for the club isn’t sustainable, unless more and more money is thrown at the problem by the owner – a different problem, which could lead to the demise of Aston Villa in the next ten years or so.
A billionaire not too dissimilar to Randy Lerner comes in and buys the club. He is a richer than Randy, as he is worth £3.1 billion, and as he announces his intentions. He tells the fans not to expect instant success but rather progress every year.
The owner sets out to put people in the right places to make this happen, people with footballing backgrounds and experience, while keeping the old staff around so to minimise disruption.
The owner doesn’t want to just throw money at the club to ‘buy’ success – he wants to change the club from top to bottom, by instilling his new ethos and beliefs at every level of the football club.
What this means is that he wants to follow the models set out like the clubs of Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona, where the clubs invest in youth and teach them how to play a particular brand of football from youth level all the way to senior level. Money will be available for the manager to make the signings he want but obviously within reason. No £30-40 million buys will be sanctioned but if the manager feels there’s a certain player that he needs to make the squad better then money will be available for him to buy whoever he likes – as long as there could be potential resale vale, which is vital for a business promoting growth and sustainability.
The owner insists that the youth also be utilised whenever possible, as once they are groomed to play in a certain brand of football they can slot in to the senior team without too much hassle. The owner emphasises that when buying players, he wants to buy low and sell high, replicating what Borussia Dortmund has done with the likes of Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin, Kevin Grosskreutz, Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski – all either products of the youth academy or cheap.
The club signs a few players and progress is very apparent as the Villans do well, finishing eleventh in the Premier League while playing some good football at times.
In the second season, the manager signs one or two more players. Again, the players are playing very well and go on a good cup run, as well as putting in some fine performances and finishing sixth in the Premier League, thereby qualifying for a Europa League place.
In the third season, ‘bigger clubs’ come in and buy two of our outstanding players for big sums of money. The manager didn’t want to sell them but understands why the owner had accepted the offers, saying that they were too good to turn down. The money received will go back into the manager’s hand to either sign new players to replace those who have left or to promote one of the youngsters who is earning rave reviews from the press.
The fourth season is a little underwhelming, understandably, as the two best players have gone, but in the second half of the season the team picks up and go on a great run to claim fifth spot and clear progress is being made. The club is running successfully and is self-sustainable, now debt free.
The possible downside
As Villa fans, we’ve heard the term ‘long-term plan’ a few times in the last eight years under Randy Lerner. When Martin O’Neill was here, it did seem like we were progressing year on year but ultimately it all flushed away in the end. By the end of Lerner’s regime, we’ve actually regressed.
With this sort of business model in place, it does take time, which means Villa fans will have to be patient again. This won’t be like scenario A, with instant results (which are by no means guaranteed, by the way), but instead we would see gradual progression.
What this means is that even though we’ll be progressing every year there may be testing times when we become more of a ‘feeder’ club as any outstanding players in our team may be bought by other clubs each season, which is exactly what happened under Lerner and O’Neill when Barry, Milner, Young, and Downing were all picked off by ‘bigger clubs’. However, if the club is progressing every year, this gives us a bargaining advantage as we’ll be on level terms with the so-called big clubs and may overtake them if we keep producing or buying better quality players.
So, Villa fans, which scenario would you prefer? Instant success as a billionaire’s play thing, winning again and having a few brilliant years but risking getting into more debt (with Financial Fair Play hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles) or slower, gradual progress with changes throughout the club but with sustainability and growth at the heart of a new owner’s plans and no debt?
If it was up to me, I’d like to see us become a club like Borussia Dortmund then being Bayern Munich; a club more like Arsenal than Manchester City, even though that would mean losing some of our best players or failing to attract some of the world’s best players.
Please leave a reply in the comments section below to let me know which scenario you find more appealing.