The disappointment of perhaps not having a new owner has cast a shadow over the start of the season. Even though Lerner is not hugely popular with the fans, it seems that he is learning from his mistakes. Since Lerner arrived at Aston Villa, he has injected millions of pounds into the club, investing in youth, building brilliant facilities at Bodymoor and pumping money into the first team.
For a time, it looked like the Villans could become regulars in the top six. Since Martin O’Neill left the club, it has been an uphill struggle to reach to the same position. Is Lerner doing anything about it?
Firstly, we have to look at his track record. Knowing that the Villa boys had to get up the table quickly, Lerner tried a different approach when Gérard Houllier was in charge, spending big. For a time, this worked, with Houllier signing striker Darren Bent for a club record fee. Despite having such a good impact in his first season in B6, Bent didn’t push on in claret and blue and by the end of his Aston Villa career it seemed as if the money spent on him had effectively been wasted.
Lerner learned from that costly mistake and chose to sign experienced players cheaply but pay them relatively high wages. This time, McLeish was in charge and he brought in players like Hutton, Ireland and Given. His biggest signing was N’Zogbia, for whom he paid Wigan Athletic £9.5 million, which was not even half of the sum Houllier paid for Bent. With a disappointing season ahead for McLeish, and with the club reporting a fall in profits, it seemed that buying experience was not the way forward either. Lerner had to change something and someone came up with the idea of turning to youth. This was when he hired Paul Lambert.
Lambert’s job was to try and use the dead wood at Aston Villa as best as he could and also bring in young talent for low prices instead of spending big on experience. His most successful signing was Benteke, who was also one of Lambert’s most expensive signings at £7 million. During his time as manager, Lambert brought in young talent from all over the world, like Sanchez, Gil, Westwood and Sylla. What he didn’t do, and perhaps should have done, was to remove the unused expensive players like Given and Hutton from the squad. Instead of using them, he concrentrated on young talent but didn’t always buy the young talent the club needed, purchasing players like Bennett and Lowton who were never going to succeed in the top flight. Even though Lambert had tried to change the club’s transfer policy, his tenure was unsuccessful and he left the club in February 2015.
Now that Sherwood is in place, it seems that, with the help of Tom Fox, a plan has been formulated to get rid of the dead wood at Villa to reduce the wage bill. This seems to mean that funds are available to Sherwood to buy young, potentially world class footballers. I’m hoping that this plan will work.
Randy Lerner has been through many Aston Villa managers and he is coming up to his ninth term as owner of Villa. He has struggled. With O’Neill and Houllier, it was all about spending big to try to push the team up the table. It worked for O’Neill, to an extent, but it became too expensive to try and do it again after Houllier’s lack of success. With McLeish, the focus switched to getting experienced players, paying them well and trying not to buy any particularly expensive players. By the end of the fruitless McLeish era, Lerner was left with lots of average experienced players on huge wages. I believe Lambert was unfortunate in his time at the club. He tried his best to buy young players cheaply but failed to remove players who were already at the club and failing to justify the wages they were being paid. The players Lambert brought in just didn’t work well with his tactics and it was unfortunate, if to be expected, that he paid the price.
Lerner knew he couldn’t make the same mistakes again. Having dispensed with players who are not needed, including the likes of Given, Sylla, and Vlaar, Sherwood has to try to use the money on promising players like Gueye, who is a future star. Lerner knows what he has to do to keep Aston Villa in the Premier League. I hope Lerner has learned from the past. For Villa fans, it’s good to know that he won’t allow crazy spending on players who could flop although he is still willing to invest.
Whether or not he is still our owner next year, we shouldn’t deny that he has done lots for the club. With the right plans in places and the right people beside him, I think he can put the club back on the right track.