Can we stop the demonisation of Randy Lerner please? As foreign owners go, he seems like one of the better ones. United fans started a new team under Glazer and yellow scarves are prominent at the Stretford End, Sheikh Mansour wants to buy the league without much success, Hicks and Gillett couldn’t have been worse, selling the team to the Boston Red Sox, who promptly gave some of Liverpool to Lebron James as part of a marketing deal, Yeung oversaw a relegation, Venky’s have done nothing yet, ‘just call him Al’ Fayed wants out, the revolving door at Chelsea keeps going round, Kroenke has no control anyway and no-one actually knows who Ellis Short is.
With that dream team of ‘fit and proper persons’, why are Villa fans complaining about Lerner? He gave the Aston Villa fans what they had wanted for years: An end to the Doug Ellis era. He appointed Martin O’Neill as manager and gave him the tools to construct an exciting lineup – trading Baros for Carew and buying Ashley Young for over nine million in his first season, for example.
Some of the signings were terrible and falling out with O’Neill was linked to that and wage inflation, but in the main, Lerner cannot be accused of denying his managers what they want. Delph (£6m), Downing (£10m) and Dunne (£5m) are three examples of solid purchases as Aston Villa remained something of a formidable side, an eleventh and three top six finishes before the ninth placed effort last campaign in what was an eventful season at Villa Park.
When it was going wrong and the club found themselves in 16th, he spent big on Darren Bent as Villa quietly only lost four of their final 15 games. Lerner should be praised for his ambition. Certainly Aston Villa are not the biggest club and there will be always other outfits ready to wave the chequebook at their stars, Ashley Young joining the red side of Manchester, while Milner and Barry went blue but surely there should be an element of faith in the new manager and chairman?
Lerner inherited the Cleveland Browns – essentially the absolute worst franchise in the NFL. Even then, he has tried to turn them into a progressive outfit, without much success in their competitive AFC North division. One tragic example was the signing of LeCharles Bentley – a much coveted lineman. Lerner spent over $30 million on him, only for Bentley to blow his knee out and retire without ever playing a down in the NFL.
Thankfully, while there have been some bad signings, some of the young players that have come through must genuinely excite the Holte End. Agbonlahor and Albrighton are established first teamers, with the likes of Delfouneso, Bannan, Hogg and Ciaran Clark needing a little more seasoning. It would have been easy for Lerner to hand his manager a chunk of his reported $1.5 billion wealth to buy in players, but largely, they have put their faith in youth and with Friedel and Reo-Coker gone, some spending will be inevitable as Villa rebuild around Darren Bent and the kids. With the Wenger driven exception in North London, which other foreign owned club has made youth development as much of a priority?
There has been no mass revolt from one of the better fanbases in the country, small pockets of disgruntled Brummies annoyed that they pinched they ‘roivuls’ boss, simply because he was a Bluenose. It’s fair to say that rumours of season tickets being burnt and ripped are exaggerated. Who did Villa fans realistically want?
The fact that the stadium has retained the name without some corny sponsorship is a small sign that Lerner appreciates the tradition of English football. This is a man that spent 1983, one year after Aston Villa won the European Cup in England, gaining an appreciation of ‘sawker’ along the way. It should also be applauded that the Villains remain the only Premier League team to donate the lucrative primary shirt sponsor (to children’s hospice Acorns. Does giving up a reported 2.5 million a year sound like an owner who is out to asset strip the club?
So to sum it all up, here is a foreign chairman who spends money on players, the infrastructure of the club, knows the ins and outs of the sport and unique traditions in Britain, constructing a team who have an exciting young, largely British and Irish core and hasn’t neglected his responsibility to the community. Yet he’s being vilified because he went across town to fill their managerial vacancy.
Got a view? Who’s a better owner? Let me know on here, or by tweeting @Hashistweeting
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