Randolph Lerner has been in charge of our beloved club for seven years now and, having been through good and bad spells, it seems that opinions are highly varied on whether or not he is, and has been, a “good owner” to have.
American owners of English football clubs are generally unpopular and automatically regarded as lacking knowledge due to ‘soccer’ not being anywhere near as popular in the U.S.A as it is in our country. In some cases this stereotype is justified and in others not so much, but can you really expect more from a country that only created league football 20-years-ago?
Simply put, yes. We can and we do. It’s fortunate that Lerner’s interest in Aston Villa pre-dated that league’s inception by 10 years then.
Having seized total control in August 2006 and keeping Martin O’Neill in charge, the plan to qualify for Champions League football was set and the big spending began. Villa had a net spend of £20 million that season and despite being down to £2.4 million in the 2007/08 campaign – mainly due to a high transfer income – 08/09 saw the lavish spending spree that we now associate with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, with a net spend of £46 million.
Here is a list of transfer spending since Lerner completed the takeover:
06/07 – £41.5m spent, £19.5m received = £22m net spend
07/08 – £21.5m spent, £19m received = £2.4m net spend
08/09 – £49m spent, £3.3m received = £45.7m net spend
09/10 – £41.5m spent, £19.5m received = £22m net spend
10/11 – £33m spent, £25m received = £8m net spend
11/12 – £18m spent, £38.5m received = £20.5m net gain
12/13 – £24.5m spent, £2.8m received = £21.7m net spend
13/14 – £11m spent, £2.6m received = £8.4m net spend (so far this window)
Which brings us to a humungous final figure of £109.7 million net transfer loss, or £15.6 million loss per season. That’s before even considering how often he has injected money into the club on other occasions for running costs such as wages, bringing the academy up to its state-of-the-art status, restoring the Holte Hotel and fees for hiring and firing managers. Yet Lerner’s still criticised for “not spending enough” by ill-informed fans.
That’s not to say that Randy Lerner is an angel and impervious to blame, however: he has made his mistakes during his tenure – the most famous of all when he and chief executive Paul Faulkner decided that hiring Alex McLeish from our city rivals was a good idea.
I wanted to gauge people’s opinions on the subject so I asked on Twitter and received mostly responses similar to this one which I think sums it up quite well – “Proper rollercoaster! Open cheque book and naivety under MON [Martin O’Neill], no safeguard against GH [Gerard Houllier’s] poor health, AM [hiring of Alex McLeish]! Do believe they are now rectifying their wrongs now though… just before it was too late!”
I’ve already covered the finances of Martin O’Neill’s reign and while at times it was an exciting situation to be in, it was always a risky strategy. When it failed, there was no plan B or middle ground. We moved straight from spending ludicrous sums of money on players and wages to trying extreme cuts and throwing the youngsters in at the deep end.
Houllier’s appointment was the beginning of this new philosophy and it was unfortunate that his health brought a swift end to it, followed by panic in the hierarchy when main target Roberto Martinez opted against a move to the Villa that summer. McLeish must have been hired as a temporary solution, to ensure that our Premier League status remained… that’s the only way that his appointment will ever make sense to me.
But at least we got to the right man in the end, albeit if a few of the managers and our extreme philosophy change along the way almost cost us our Premier League status. Lerner and Faulkner have proven this summer that they are continuing to improve further with their astute handling of the Benteke transfer situation.
After shockingly slapping in a transfer request, Villa’s price on his head was £25 million and there was no budging, despite the player’s desire to get away and an £18 million plus add-ons offer tabled by Spurs. £18 million may not have seemed enough to us but, as an owner, making £11 million profit on your wantaway investment in just 12 months must be a tempting thing to cash in on.
He resisted and stayed strong though and when Benteke returned to training a new deal was agreed within 24 hours, thanks to brilliant persuasive work from Lambert coupled with some quick decisive action by Faulkner and Lerner. Contracts aren’t something that are often sorted so quickly and, according to Belgian football expert Kristof Terreur, Benteke’s agent was still working on a transfer the same morning that the Belgian brute signed his new deal.
So rather than a summer rebuilding job, we’ve had a strengthening job to deal with and Lambert has been given the funds to mould his own squad once more, as well as being able to cast away any “stars” deemed surplus to requirements. Now we, as fans, can look forward to an exciting season filled with potential, knowing that our club is heading in the right direction once more after sticking with our latest Scottish manager through what was hopefully his darkest hour.