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Why Cleveland's villain is Villa's hero

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Matt Slater | 07:40 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I went to Birmingham last week expecting to meet a man with the charisma of Monty Burns, the communication skills of Beavis and Butt-head, and the football know-how of the Powerpuff Girls.

"Aloof", "odd" and (my favourite) "cartoonish" were just some of the adjectives fellow scribes had used when I had asked them: "What's Randy Lerner like?"

So it would be safe to say I did not have high expectations as I arrived for the Aston Villa owner's annual sit-down with the British press.

Those expectations did not change much as he shuffled in, took his seat in front of the firing squad and put on his bravest "I'm not hating this" face, fooling absolutely nobody. And then something strange happened.

Randy LernerRandy Lerner (right) has tended to shun the media spotlight. Photo: Getty Images

Lerner started to talk about his plans for Villa, his gratitude for the work done by so many different people at the club - listing all of them by name - and the highs and lows from a dramatic season.

He is no Barack Obama but what came out was considered, heartfelt and sensible. The 48-year-old American sounded like a fan and a businessman, and he charmed the room.

Confession time. I originally intended to publish a blog about Lerner in the build-up to Villa's Carling Cup final against Manchester United.

The idea was to contrast how he is viewed by Villa supporters and fans of the Cleveland Browns, the National Football League team he inherited from his father, Al. Generally speaking, Lerner is as popular at Villa as he is unpopular in Cleveland.

It fascinated me that the same mild-mannered man could attract such contrasting reviews from followers of the two teams he owns (teams with proud traditions from post-industrial cities in the heartlands of their respective countries).

I was going to muse on the fickleness of fate, make a few observations about the differences between British and US sport, and try to say something clever about timing being everything.

I can't remember why I didn't go through with the blog but I am grateful to whatever it was that stopped me - poor time-management skills, probably - because underlying my interest in Lerner was a gut feeling his Brummie honeymoon was coming to an end.

Having spent over £240m on buying the club and funding its rise up the Premier League table, it seemed Lerner's largesse had reached its limit just as manager Martin O'Neill was thinking about his summer shopping list. A split between the two most important figures in Villa's recent renaissance appeared likely and I was wondering who would get the blame.

Perhaps Lerner was thinking the same because it was the first subject he addressed last week: forget the rumours, O'Neill is staying put. The significance of this cannot be overestimated for a number of different reasons.

First, the O'Neill question has come to symbolise something bigger than a staffing issue. The Ulsterman's ambition is of the burning variety and his public statements (and coded messages) about what Villa must do to break into the top four have become a de facto line in the sand: how much do you really want Champions League football, boss?

Second, if a football brain of O'Neill's quality, backed by four years of almost unstinting Lerner generosity, cannot do better than sixth place, who will and where is he working now? Losing the former Celtic manager would threaten Villa's progress at a time when the top-four target has never moved so quickly.

Martin O'NeillO'Neill became Villa boss in August 2006. Photo: Getty Images

Third, if O'Neill believes he cannot achieve his goals under Lerner, what will that say to the talented team he has assembled? What would James Milner think?

And finally, Lerner knows how important it is to get the key personnel decisions right in England because he has got so many of them wrong in Cleveland. This is not the place (and I'm not the journalist) to list the reasons why the Browns have struggled on Lerner's watch but a failure to find an O'Neill figure is one of them. Until perhaps now, that is.

This, however, brings me back to the point I was going to make about timing.

O'Neill was previous owner Doug Ellis's parting gift, although it is unimaginable that the incoming manager was not aware of the upcoming change in the boardroom.

But there is more to Lerner's timing (and I don't put it down to luck) than O'Neill's arrival. Villa were underperforming on the pitch but fundamentally sound off it. Ellis might have become a pantomime villain by the end of his time in charge but he ran a tight ship while the club's youth set-up was in reasonable shape, too.

Ellis, in fact, did Lerner another favour.

This is not the time to rake over the coals of old controversies but it would be fair to say most Villa fans had tired of Deadly Doug's petty squabbles, endless publicity seeking and perceived profiteering. They were ready for something different.

There is another aspect to Lerner's sweetheart status in the Midlands.

Lerner is not George Gillett, Tom Hicks, any of the Glazers or even Kraft's Irene Rosenfeld. At a time when American owners of British businesses are about as popular as Icelandic volcanoes, Lerner is a shining exception. There are no Norwich City scarves at Villa Park.

This does not mean they are without debt - don't be ridiculous, this is the Premier League we're talking about so Villa are officially £72m in the red - but that debt is to Lerner and, with an inherited fortune of $1.5bn, he does not need to call it in any time soon.

Lerner actually made it clear last week that he does not view the sums Villa "owe" him as debts at all. Since 2006, he has pumped £179m into the club in a fairly even split between loans and equity. But to him it is all just equity or "capital investment".

The net transfer spend, the money for wages, the improvements made to the fabric of Villa Park (with more to come) and the sums lavished on the club's Bodymoor Heath training ground are indications of Lerner's long-term commitment to the club and pointers to his strategy for sustainable growth.

As he put it, football (on either side of the Atlantic) is an "audience-driven" business. You put out the best possible product, in the best possible surroundings, or the customer goes elsewhere.

It is a simple rule that other club owners would do well to remember - they might also take note of the fact Villa's ticket prices are among the cheapest in the Premier League.

Lerner said many things that impressed me but none more so than when he talked about his desire for the club to stand on its own two feet. You could argue that having made good the club's £43m loss last year he would say that, but his plan to expand Villa Park's capacity to 50,000 is concrete proof of his intentions. Cosmetic work starts on the North Stand soon, with the overall project likely to last three to four years.

He also admitted Villa will eventually have to find a shirt sponsor to replace the much-praised link with Acorns, the local hospice trust whose name has adorned the club's shirts for free for two seasons. With Liverpool recently signing a four-year deal with Standard Chartered worth £80m, it is obvious just how charitable Lerner has been.

James MilnerExpect a different name on the front of Villa's shirts. Photo: Getty Images

Of course, it is Lerner's desire to see Villa balance its books that initiated the O'Neill rumours. How could a spendthrift like "MON" put up with a sugar daddy who told journalists he would never spend £30m on a striker? Or so the web logic went.

I'm not so sure O'Neill is so desperate to give up what has been achieved so far for the sake of a marquee signing and I think he is comfortable with talk of a sell-to-buy strategy. Six squad players are on the market already but Lerner promised "unfunded" transfers would still be sanctioned if O'Neill really, really wanted a player.

Among the many things Lerner is given credit for by Villa fans, one of the less well-known is his backing for an Aston Villa Supporters Trust initiative to erect a statue of William McGregor, the club director who helped start the Football League, at Villa Park last year.

McGregor, who died in 1911 after a 34-year connection with Villa, once said "football is big business" but I would argue that many of football's recent problems have been because it has not been business-like enough.

Aston Villa, however, might just have found the perfect owner for these straitened times: a rich fan who thinks like a big businessman. McGregor would have loved him.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    As a Celtic fan I can tell you M O'Neill gets itchy feet... he had the look of a man who wanted away from Celtic before he left.. hence the signings of Henri Camara and Juninho at the last minute.. his transfer dealings used to frustrate me a great deal.. and other Celtic fans.. They were always last minute..

    At Villa he should maybe stop buying full/wing backs and defenders and concentrate more on other areas.. Freshen it up a bit.. and bin Heskey..

  • Comment number 2.

    Decent blog. I don't think O'Neil will leave for a while simply because there isn't a better job out there at the moment. Even if Benitez resigns Liverpool have no money and Fergie isn't going anywhere soon and neither is Arsene Wenger or Mancini which would likely be the only jobs he woudl leave Villa for.

    On a lighter note check out this blog on World Cup theme tunes

    http://adampsb.blogspot.com/2010/05/world-cup-theme-songs.html

  • Comment number 3.

    I am slightly jealous of Villa to be honest - having Hicks and Gillett at Liverpool has been an absolute nightmare, how I wish we had someone like Lerner!

    http://the-fa-premier-league.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 4.

    Isn't MON just biding his time, waiting for the Man Utd call...ultimately, it's either him or Mourinho, surely.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good blog, Lerner is a good owner and a gentleman. For my 40th birthday I treated myself to a seat in the executive lounge and spoke to him a number of times, he really is a genuine fan and a very nice chap indeed.

    He and O'Neill are definitely a team and in this for the duration.

  • Comment number 6.

    @3 Actually you wish you had MON at Liverpool. Hicks and Gillett have actually given Benitez upwards of £180 to spend in their time at the club. What has he done with this money?

  • Comment number 7.


    An interesting article and one many fans would hope to happen at their own club. Mr Lerner is a leading light and one many other club owners and directors could look up to.

    For us mackems, we are delighted to have a similar situation with the extremely successful Ellis Short at Sunderland who has substantially improved our financial situation and for that, we are very grateful indeed.

    And just like those at Villa, when looking at the mess some clubs are in, we also feel very fortunate and priveliged to have such a 'big picture' thinker showing us the way.

    Long it may continue.

  • Comment number 8.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 9.

    I worked for Aston Villa and was told that Mr.Lerner wanted to meet me to say thanks for the "hard work" i had done for the club. I have had many business dealings with Americans and all lived up to the "Big and loud car lot salesman" but not Mr.Lerner, he was very reserved and appeared quiet shy. He spoke to me thanking me for my hard work and dedication and left my office saying "Hi" to every one that passed him knowing every one's name.

    Mr.lerner has done lots for the local community and they have taken him to their hearts, i am a Wolves season ticket holder and have moved on to pastures new. Villa fans you have someone that not only owns your club but actually loves it as well.

    I cannot praise Mr.Lerner or the club enough, you are in such safe hands and will never be sold for gain, Liverpool would cut your right arm to have someone like Mr.Lerner at the helm.

    I am looking forward to next season, at last the Midlands has a near full representation, Aston Villa, West Brom, Stoke, and the mighty Wolves
    good luck to all our clubs.

  • Comment number 10.

    It would be a suprise if Martin O'Niel left, seeing as he has made decent strides with Villa, but I feel he's taken them as far as he can. In order to get better I feel he needs to change their style of play. The counter attacking football they play can be devestating at times but it's easy for a well organised team to defend against.

    http://www.football-journo.com

  • Comment number 11.

    Very interesting and well done on a thoroughly good blog Matt. Best I've read for a while.

    I know Cleveland very well - and lots of family still live there. Lots of Scots and 'Mayo' Irish there. And when MON took his then Celtic team there for a summer friendly a few years back in the Browns stadium they got a big turnout.

    The Browns well what can you say: strongly supported in a city that is just desperate for some success, any success (Cleveland teams whether its the Browns, the Cavaliers or the Indians are forever America's Cinderella's who just always lose when they get to the final 'ball'). If you could wish success in any 'underdog' city it really would be for Cleveland. And maybe its the same for Villa in many ways.

    In recent times the Browns though have been cursed with treacherous coaches and owners (like Villa??): Art Model and his coach Bill Belichick (who later won the bowl with the Ravens and Patriots) moved the franchise to Baltimore and caused uproar. People were so passionate about the Browns that they quickly managed to attract another franchise and and still kept the Browns name. But Lerner has been associated with a team that should be doing so much better. They have had a few bad seasons now and the passion of the 'dog pound' is turing a bit sour (again some possible parallels with Villa last year).

    O'Neill: agree with #1. Loved his teams at Celtic though. Brought a lot of passion, liked his style of play and though he had a mix of good and bad buys, he was lucky to already have Henrik Larsson at Celtic Park. He is a man though in desperate need of a club to realise his owm ambitions. At Celtic he could get into the CL but with Villa he has a harder task because of the greater competition in the EPL and the need for oodles of dosh and spending. And if MON has any fault its in his finding of players at times. Don't get me wrong getting the likes of Ashley Young was a good call (like Didier Agathe at Celtic) but he can be too cautious about it amd Villa have struggled at times because of their depth of squad and the reliance on the same old faces game after game. It produces very loyal but very tired player at times.

  • Comment number 12.

    steady on Mickey

    He left Leicester to go to his dream job at Celtic
    He left Celtic to spend more time with his wife who was fighting cancer at the time.

    Itchy feet? I don't think so.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree about Lerner , he has been brilliant for Villa, however MON does frustrate me somewhat by not using the squad he has and never reallly knows when to bring a sub on .

    Against Arsenal Delefonsu warned up for 25 mins up and down the Trinity towards the Holte and MON brought on Heskey ! Same again at the cup semi at Wembley , really frustrating ! I walked out of Wembley because Nathan wasn't brought on . Tactically MON needs to change the way we play as every team will know how to defend against us next season . Last game of the season
    and Allardyce knew exactly how to frustrate us and walked away with 3 points , MON wouldn't have changed his team to play against another team tactically and he needs to buy players that can do that  . I have seen the Villa 10 times this season home and away and I think we have had a good season but if we had finished 4th I doubt whether we would have got through qualifying fir the champions league ! love u always Villa.

  • Comment number 14.

    I will get jumped on for this, but apart from his time in Scottish football Martin O Neil has to be the most over rated manager in English football. What exactly has the guy won?

  • Comment number 15.

    Lerner has been a wonderful owner for Villa. The papers concentrate on how much money he's given out for transfers, but it's nice to see an article highlighting the other things he's been involved in. You can tell he has long term plans for the club, and sees it as an integral part of the local community. You really couldn't wish for a better owner.

    One thing I think this proves is how much the media blow things out of proportion. It was almost taken for a done deal that O'Neill would be leaving this season, if you read the papers, but why? As far as I can tell it was just baseless speculation. But it was reported in so many different places that everyone just believed it must be true.

    Now everyone is surprised when MON and Lerner say there was never a problem and MON signs a new deal. Anyone who knew anything about the club, or even did some perfunctory research, would know that O'Neill has been on a yearly rolling contract since the beginning. It's just that this year the media found that out and reported it as if it was proof that O'Neill was unhappy, or was moving on.

    As for Villa's performances this season, I think finishing 6th for the third year in a row, with more points than last season, is a laudable achievement. Everybody assumes it was a disappointing season because the team had the chance to finish 4th but didn't. In reality, I think most Villa fans should be pleased, especially considering the runs in the domestic Cups.

  • Comment number 16.

    As a Villa fan I can confess great satisfaction and delight with the fact that we have Randy Lerner at the club. He does profit from comparison with the other American owners in the Premiership but as this blog has pointed out, it is not the comparisons that are his strong point, it is the smaller things such as the statue, the Holte end pub and Acorns that makes him so accepted.

    Under Deadly, Villa were always one of the best run footballing businesses in the country and it is a source of pride to Villa fans that this has continued with Randy. The mess at Portsmouth illustrates how a well run club is more important to fans than a flash in the pan signing and a flirtation with Europe and most fans are happy enough with the sell to buy plan, so long as it does not become too restrictive.

    As for O'Neill I would hope that he has bought into this 'project' as well and that the very clear progress that he has been making with Villa can continue. I am sure that he values that stability and security that Lerner brings and for that reason I would suggest the Liverpool and Utd jobs are les attractive than they might have been.

  • Comment number 17.

    Every career move O'Neill has made is entirely logical. He left his first job at Wycombe Wanderers to join Norwich City. Given that Wycombe had just got into the football league and Norwich had just come down from the premier league that seems like a move most if not all managers would make.

    As much as it pains me to say it he was perfectly entitled to walk out on us to go to Leicester. Our chairman (Robert Chase) was at best economical with the truth to O'Neill about the club's financial health. When he was barred from signing Dean Windass with money he had been promised his position was untenable to be honest.

    He then stayed for 5 years at Leicester before the dream job at Celtic. Again despite the uncompetitive nature of the SPL (that argument is for another day), it is a job most managers would leap because Celtic are an enormous club with a worldwide fanbase. Obviously he then left the job for personal reasons which is entirely understandable.

    In my opinion as a neutral (Norwich fan) Aston Villa are a better draw than Liverpool at the moment for O'Neil. They have a better balanced squad with Liverpool relying more on the brilliance of four individuals (Reina, Mascherano, Gerrard and Torres). Villa also have much more room to operate in the transfer market. Plus it is Martin O'Neil's team which he has built. Unless O'Neil moves to either Man City (purely because the finances mean in time they will be one of the big hitters), Arsenal, Chelsea or United I would regard any other move in English football as a sideways or backwards one.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sorry dire spelling of O'Neill in that last paragraph.

  • Comment number 19.

    Good blog. I was extremely worried a few weeks ago when I heard the rumblings of discontent from MON. It seemed at the time that he felt he had taken Villa as far as he could. Thankfully, when his emotion's had calmed down, I think he realised what a great job he's got, with an excellent Chairman. Doug Ellis was far too pompous, as demonstrated by his refusal to have any pictures of our European Cup winning team in the boardroom just because he wasn't Chairman at the time!! Unbelievable!
    Anyway, now that it appears MON is staying we need to work out how to break into the top 'five'. We have so nearly got the makings of a great team, great goalie, great defence, quick relatively creative midfield and ummm, errr not the best strikers! We've been crying out for a '20 goal a season' striker for blimmin' ages. Sort that out, with a few additions, and " Champion's League here we come!"

  • Comment number 20.

    Matt Slater,

    Why does Marin O'Neill always be refered to as an "Ulsterman" on this website? I never hear Roy Keane being refered to as a Munsterman or Nial Quinn as a Leinsterman. Call him Irish or Northern Irish!

  • Comment number 21.

    Morning all, thanks for reading. Some replies from me:

    Mikey (1) - As somebody else has pointed out, I think there was more to MONs departure from Celtic than 'itchy feet', although I acknowledge that may have played a part too. But I agree he needs to change transfer priorities at AV. I'd be tempted to sell Heskey, promote Delfounesco and bring in another forward to give Carew & Agbonlahor a breather.

    Adampsb (2) - Me neither although I wonder what MON's chances of getting the Man Utd job are now....he was probably closer at Celtic. Liverpool LOOKS more likely but they can't afford to sack Rafa.

    Writtenbyfansforfans (3) - I don't blame you. Hicks and Gillett are probably the least competent owners in the PL (outside Pompey) in last decade.

    Theresonlytwofranklampards (4) - Mourinho's going to Real Madrid. He'll be right at home there. And I'm just not sure about MON and Man Utd. He'll be in the mix but so will Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink, Laurent Blanc, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane etc

    Northfield Villain (5) - I've heard similar stories from other Villa fans. There is no doubt that Lerner has made a real impact at the club and genuinely seems to care. I think this is what Cleveland Browns fans find so frustrating. It's not that he hasn't spent money there, it's more that he doesn't seem that engaged or appear to understand what is required to turn the franchise around. Strange. Perhaps there is something to the theory that the Browns are his dad's team, while Villa are his.

    Dapsy (6) - I don't want to get into a debate about Rafa's record in the market or net transfer spends here (that's a whole different blog) but what I will say is that fans focus too much on the transfer fee and not enough on the wages. Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis talked about this at length in a Q&A he did with the Arsenal Supporters Trust. I think it's in this bit: http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/ivan-gazidis-ast-video-part-3 Lerner also spoke about this. The transfer fee is often much less than the contract going forwards. And if you sign a player on a three-year deal worth £60k a week (plus all the add-ons because players want "netto" deals) you've got to budget for that in years two and three. Liverpool's wage bill has been the 4th highest in PL for last few years so you could argue Rafa that until this season he has overperformed. No arguments about this season's shocker, though.

    malaymac (7) - Good point about Ellis Short and Sunderland. I think Millwall fans are pretty happy with their American owner too.

    dw07 (8) - Absolutely. But what I like about Lerner's "smaller touches" (which doesn't sound right at all) is that they all make solid business sense too. The Holte Hotel was, I'm told, an eyesore that Doug Ellis should have sorted out years before. But it took Lerner to do something about it, instantly improving Villa's hospitality/conferencing options, smartening the place up and making the fans happy. Sometimes you've got to invest to see a return later on.

    stu (9) - Lerner spent a few minutes going through the names of all the staff at Bodymoor Heath and the Villa Park back office, praising the work they've done. Yes it was probably a bit rehearsed but it came across well. I'd be amazed if Hicks & Gillett could name 10 players at Liverpool.

    mikestar01 (10) - I think you're probably right. I never bought that whole Villa are an anti-football/long-ball team nonsense suggested by Wenger et al. Who isn't compared to Arsenal? Villa play decent, direct stuff, with an emphasis on solid defending and fairly old-fashioned wing play. It's what MON did at Celtic and Leicester too. The failings with this (and what club doesn't have those) is that Villa lack options both in terms of fresh legs playing the same system and players capable of trying something completely different. Or maybe they have got those but MON doesn't trust them yet. Having seen him pass my team off the park a couple of years ago, I've got high hopes for Fabian Delph.

    Right, that's probably enough for now. I'll pop back later to do a few more.

    But before I go I want to provide a bit of balance to this Lerner love-in. As I mentioned above, Browns fans aren't so enamoured with him. Here's a very funny blog that explains where many of them are coming from. It's a response to a slightly notorious interview Lerner gave to a Times arts correspondent about his £5m donation to the National Portrait Gallery: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article3232481.ece

    Here's the response: http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/2009/01/randy-lerner-and-dante-lavelli-1923.html


  • Comment number 22.

    I went to Birmingham last week expecting to meet a man with the charisma of Monty Burns, the communication skills of Beavis and Butt-head, and the football know-how of the Powerpuff Girls.
    ... it would be safe to say I did not have high expectations as I arrived for the Aston Villa owner's annual sit-down with the British press.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Really? Did you really, honestly and truly believe all of those things?
    Couldn't you at least have gone with an open mind?

  • Comment number 23.

    Lerner always was the perfect owner. I am not sure why we needed a blog about it unless the usual football 'supporters' had been led to tabloid water again.

  • Comment number 24.

    As an Everton fan I think we'd kill for an owner of Lerner's ilk.

    That said, I prefer our manager over MON. I do like MON but feel that he does send his teams out to play a certain way which isn't always great to watch. As eddievilla (13) commented above, I doubt this style of play would get you very far in Europe, as previous English teams have found out to their detriment in the past.

    I agree with the posts that suggest MON needs another way of playing.

    Collie21, I think MON won the league cup with Leicester.

  • Comment number 25.

    @6 (dapsy). If Hicks and Gillett have only given Benitez around £180 then I'm not surprised @3 is complaining! Maybe he put that massive wealth towards his gas bill.

    Anyway, I think most of the valid points have been made. Lerner has invested heavily in both his teams, though I think the tide might be turning in both situations. The Browns look to be on the up (long-term) with Holmgren and a strong draft (Haden and Ward add strength and McCoy might turn out to be a great QB - even if he doesn't they're in a much better position to go for a franchise QB next year).

    On the other hand Villa seem to be near/at their peak. While the had great success this year in the cups and performed admirably in the league, I can't see them coming higher than 6th for a while and with a fit Everton and a decent Liverpool they might come lower. Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal are significantly better teams, Man City will spend, spend, spend and Spurs spend a lot and have a much stronger (especially deeper) squad than Villa. Liverpool should really be better next season and Everton went on a really good run post-Christmas. Fans always want to see an improvement in results and the only way I can see Villa doing that is by winning a cup (and the knock-out nature always means cups are impossible to predict a win in). Therefore I imagine Villa fans will see the spending of the clubs above them, see their results plateau or fall and start to be more critical of Lerner.

    Overall I've always thought highly of Lerner as a chairman. He invests money in such a way that the club could continue without it (e.g. he spends lots of money on developing infrastructure) and thus is running a stable club. He has also always seemed to understand the fans and he wants to be part of the club, understand its history and its icons.

  • Comment number 26.

    Randy Lerner is almost a perfect owner in these modern times when every chairman seems to want to be a celebrity. Sullivan and Gold could learn a thing or two about not being the centre of attention.

    http://engfootyabroad.com/ - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 27.

    Great Article on a man that Villa fans have always had down as a great owner. I echo one of the above posts, its always been the little things that have made him go down so well. Reading the 'generals' thread on any villa forum will give you an insight into how we do things behind closed doors that most of the bigger clubs would call a photo op for.

    The way he is transforming Villa Park is also very warming. Having the Holte end mosiac and look refurbished and the Holte Hotel saved has filled the hole that losing the Trinity Stand.

    This gets me onto 2 points that i disagree with, Doug Ellis running a tight ship is an exaggeration of the position he left us in, in debt and with a training ground having massive cut backs. He had to sell land in one of his final acts to stop us been in trouble with the bank.

    He destroyed one of the most beautiful stands in the world to put up a B&Q looking white elephant, let the holte hotel rot, and caused us to be on the brink of relegation. A true story of how he ran the club for his profit needs to be seen and not glossed over. Martin had also had a meal with Randy before he agreed to take the job at Villa. Knowing he was going.

    In comparison to Doug, randy is a messiah.

    the 2nd point is keeping Martin is essential for 4th place. I dont think it is. He's proven himself to be tactically inept this season with his reliance on 12 players, no plan b, players out position, no rotation and finally by even playing Emile Heskey.

    Martin's hit his glass ceiling, and me been sick of boring predictable football i've not renewed. If i can get the money together, i wont be spending £350 on draws with Wolves, id rather buy an ipad!


    Long live Randy Lerner, he'll be the reason Villa win something in the next ten years!

  • Comment number 28.

    @6 no wonder Liverpool had a poor season if Benitez only had £180 to spend. You couldn't even get someone from the Unibond League for that much! :o)

    Seriously, though, Lerner seems to be trying to be intelligent with his money without mortgaging Villa and MON seems to accept those rules.

    The fact that Lerner is looking to improve the stadium and facilities shows his sense as each club needs them and helps the stability.

    But, for me, it's that he appears to come across as a fan and a human being that warms me to him. The free sponsorship with Acorns was a really nice gesture from him. How many of the so-called big four would do that?

  • Comment number 29.

    Brilliant Blog. Randy Lerner has been completley different to other new foreign owners as he has given O'Neill the money without aimlessly throwng it about (such as Chelsea, Man City and to an extent Liverpool)

    Also... "There are no Norwich City scarves at Villa Park" fantastic comment!

  • Comment number 30.

    on a tangent from these foreign owners, could we not have a contrasting blog, based on the supporter's trusts that own football clubs, with Exeter being the biggest example in the UK, and Barcelona the most well known. in a time where so many clubs are genuinely fearing for their future, at least at the level they have got used to, rather than having people hope for a knight in shining armour with a large cheque book surely supporter trusts are a more viable option?
    for info: http://www.ecfcst.org.uk/

  • Comment number 31.

    14. At 10:41am on 18 May 2010, collie21 wrote:
    I will get jumped on for this, but apart from his time in Scottish football Martin O Neil has to be the most over rated manager in English football. What exactly has the guy won?


    -------------

    He won the Leauge Cup TWICE with Leicester got Wycombe Wanderers promoted, and did well at Norwich - hardly overrated.



    Lerner is a brilliant chairman IMO - Compared to Deadly, it's like comparing a bungalow to a mansion.

    Lonng may the Lerner ownership continue!

  • Comment number 32.

    # 12 That wasn't a dig at him.. Im certainly not a disgruntled Celtic fan and felt his time had come to move when he left Celtic.. my point was that he looked unsettled and dare I say a little bored for the last season to season and a half at his time at Celtic..

    Can I also add that it is quite widely known that during his time at Celtic he literally spent Sun to Thurs down south and let his coaches do the training.. he would then come up on a Friday and do the press stuff before the weekend.. I'm sure this wasnt always the case but a lot of the time it was.. I have now heard rumblings of discontent at this trend continuing at Villa in some circumstances..

  • Comment number 33.

    25 what are you on about are you hoping this happends, bcause your comments don't make sense, the reason we came above Liverpool and Everton was becuase of the way we are being run and the partnership between O'Neill and Lerner, we will continue to come 6th because of this and the continued support Lerner will give O'Neill.

    What basis was your comment founded on, because we can all use the word IF.

    By the way I know Everton are being run well, but they don't have the funds to go out and buy players, so they are probably the club that has plateau'd

  • Comment number 34.

    All fair enough, Matt, but comparing the Cleveland situation with that at Villa Park is clearly apples and oranges. (Plus: Cleveland is getting it's Browns house in order more quickly than you may think.)

    And: I don't know what went wrong at Liverpool but I discussed George Gillett's purchase of Liverpool with him and Foster in his Canadiens box on the day he did his Anfield deed, and he would certainly have impressed any sceptic on his plans. But we all reckoned without Tom Hicks.

    Villa have simply run out of gas almost every season under Martin O'Neill; his biggest challenge is to install more resilience into his small squad - that will be achieved by the content of the character of his acquisitions, not the colour of his chequebook.

    Good luck, Villa, football needs you to be successful.

  • Comment number 35.

    #32 Totally agree , i heard also that MON was rarely seen on the training ground and would explain why the players just run out and play the same way every time with no change of tactics!

  • Comment number 36.

    PS: Matt,
    I think that if you were aware of the Mike Komisarek story regarding bereavement and compassionate support from the owner, you would be less likely to take cheap shots about Gillett not knowing the names of his players. Time for some homework methinks.

  • Comment number 37.

    @33 My comment was founded on Man U, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs having better players and/or a lot more money. I also believe that Liverpool currently have a better team when they have their players are fit (Villa have had a very good run with injuries, though I suppose people could cite good training, physio etc.) and they always seem to have some money for transfers. I think Everton and Villa probably have similar strength squads with very able managers. There's no way you can argue that Everton plateau'd this year because they had injuries to key players for large chunks of the season. I also don't know what Birmingham's spending is going to be like with their new(ish) owners and their strong position this year.

    You'll also find that I didn't use the word IF (I don't know why you put it in caps) except for in relation to the Cleveland Browns and in a light hearted comment about Benitez's funds, so I don't understand your complaint/you didn't even read what I said. Plus the whole point of a blog is opinion.

    If you read what I said then you'll notice that I believe that Lerner is a very good owner and that the club is well run. I don't believe that the clubs that will come ahead of Villa in the league will all be better run (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool all have significant issues whether that be club debt or just receiving money from a mega-rich owner). Having loads of money, even if unstable, gives short-term benefits so I'll be surprised if Villa come sixth next year. I want Villa to do well cos they are in many ways a model club, with a good structure and solid base. I just don't think they have enough variety in their current game plan and they don't have enough money to get a plan B (unless they sell players such as Milner). They also don't have a prolific goalscorer in the class of Rooney, Drogba, Torres, Tevez, van Persie (if he's fit) or even Defoe. But if they come 6th next year (or better) then I'll be delighted that someone has proved success can be achieved with shrewd management and a solid club structure.

  • Comment number 38.

    #14

    Think you are wrong. In England he had teams that punched way above their weight because he is one of those 'inspirational' coaches that seem to make players want to play for him: no small thing in the modern era where ethey are paid lots of dosh. In Scotland although it was Celtic its not always easy to manage a big club: look at the mess Mowbray left Celtic in this season. And you have to do the business every week: getting a point out of games is not enough.

    I think also he must have taken some of his managerial cues from Clough: he never attended the day to day training. His style of play drew some criticism at Celtic and though I liked it it wasn't everyone's cup of tea. And you can see the same approach at Villa: a strong centre midfield and pacy wingers. And glad he didn't get the England job, for the very obvious reason that I think he would have been good at it!

  • Comment number 39.

    Firstly excellent blog Matt! Glad you didn't right it a few months ago! ;-)

    I think one thing we can all agree on is that Aston Villa have been fortunate to find themselves in the hands of an astute business man who values his investment in more than pure monetary terms. Lets not kid ourselves though, Randy has stated that football is an audience driven business and he is essentailly keeping his audience happy. Not that i'm complaining! The infrastructure he is building is impressive, not least Bodymoor which i had the luck of going around. If this isn't in the top 5 training bases in Europe i'd be very surprised! It also makes it easy to see why our youth system is thriving at the moment.

    In terms of O'Neill i find it laughable that some people are questioning his achievements. Wycombe promoted. Leicester 2 league cups, European football and consecutive Premiership seasons. Has anybody else achieved this or did Leicester spend a good few years in the 3rd tier and are only now just dragging themselves back to something approaching their O'Neill years? With regards to Celtic, TOny Mowbray didn't find it that easy did he even though he walked the Championship with Albion. His achievements in Scotland should be applauded, particularly his European results. UEFA Cup Final anyone?

    @#27 I agree that O'Neills tactics can be somewhat frustrating but year on year the quality of football has improved. The overall standard of player is well beyond the dross O'Leary put out.....Berson, Djemba-Djemba, Baros etc. In the nicest posiible way i hope you end up regretting your decision not to renew!

    Matt, the Cleveland Frowns piece is very funny. Bitter former colony anyone?! Some of the comments are laughable. My personal favourite being "THERE'S THE REFRESHINGLY BRUTAL BRITISH HONESTY. ARE WE SURE THIS GUY WAS BORN IN THE U.S.?" Yes he was born in the US but fortunately he was educated in Britain and learned how to look after his money unlike these crazy American banks!

    UTV!


  • Comment number 40.

    Well! No-one has made reference yet to Lerner's Villa tattoo... I believe he has had the club's crest in colour on his calf/ankle since he was an undergraduate here in his early twenties.

    He's not only a good chairman, he's a fan of the club in the true sense.

  • Comment number 41.

    I totally agree about O'Neil being the most overrated manager in the history of football. I actually like the guy even as a Rangers fan, but as has been pointed out he has only one way of playing football. Play on the counter with pacy wingers and whip in balls to two big front men. When not doing that play for set pieces. It's one style with no plan B.

    He's spent a fortune at Villa let's be fair here and yet has taken them no further up the table having spent much more than previous managers did if you really want to look at the FACTS.

    It amazes me why Liverpool or Man Utd want him tbh. In my opinion he will go to one of these clubs spend a fortune and be a failure. It's pretty obvious also that he will not do any better at Villa than he is doing right now. Yet he wont get bad press, as all the people who he has worked at the BBC love him and never say a bad word against his style of football or complete lack of tactics. How long has he been at Villa now compared to Redknapp at Spurs? A man who is a much better manager in all respects than O'Neil.

  • Comment number 42.

    #33 - Everton had the 3rd best points total since December when they got their injured players bag and they were, IMHO, the better team in the end of season draw at Villa Park. But I agree that the limited resources mean that maintaining the squad is difficult enough, let alone expanding it. Personally I hope Everton, Spurs and Villa can all break into the top-4 over the next few years (although probably not at the same time).

    #37. I agree with a lot of what you have written. But surely if Villa sell Milner, they lose the best part of their Plan A !!!

  • Comment number 43.

    nice to see there are americans who actually care about the club they bought instead of seeing it as an asset to be cashed on
    still 72mill is a big debt, (comparing ajax budget is 65mill),why not settle that debt avoiding paying interest if your in it for the long run
    is there a PL club that is debt free?

  • Comment number 44.

    #43 the debt is to Randy Lerner. He has no reson to call the debt in so effectively it is written off anyway it just has to show on the clubs accounts. As Matt puts in the article he sees it as equity.

  • Comment number 45.

    @42 I totally agree that Villa shouldn't sell Milner. He seems to be on a big upwards curve to me and is still learning the central midfield role, whilst already being one of the best around! I only meant a more general point that the only way I can see Villa developing a new style is by rebuilding rather than by addition (due to a lack of funds). Then again they might strike it lucky and find an Anelka (he cost Arsenal £500,000 originally - I think!).

    How do other people think Villa should progress? If I was in charge I think I'd go for a creative central midfield player to try to develop another approach. With the great pace Villa have a creative passer might be able to break down tired teams in the last 30mins of a game. Thoughts?

  • Comment number 46.

    Nice blog not least for the 'I own up I got it wrong' tone - but - "The significance of this cannot be underestimated for a number of different reasons."

    Its extremely easy to underestimate. I presume you meant overestimate, then it actually makes sense.

  • Comment number 47.

    I think Randy Lerner has been a breath of fresh air that has blown through Villa Park, hopefully clearing away the mustiness of the past.

    But for the life of me I hope he never sees the need to spend money on a TENT....(as your article suggests...Marquee signing)

    Marque is the correct use of the word as RL will surely know and perhaps you will now use in the future

  • Comment number 48.

    Thanks for taking notice of a great Chairman who likes to remain 'under the radar', in this age of self promotion/publicity its become almost a virtue.
    As previously mentioned it is the small things he's done that warrant praise.

    O'Neill has also done extremely well in his time, taking a woeful team of relation certainties to Europe 3 years running and regularly taking the big 4 scalps in the process. Unfortunately the relative success we have enjoyed over the last few years has turned a few fans heads, thinking they know how to run a football team they have taken to booing the players and unfairly criticizing O'Neill. Over the years I've seen many clubs indulge managers with large transfer funds only to find themselves midtable or worse (even Ferguson at the beginning of his reign spent massively with little gain). It was refreshing to hear Lerner say that it wasn't just the fee of the player but his wages and his impact on the rest of the team in regards to earnings and its effects. Maybe when they introduce the human condition into the A.I. of Football Manager some 'Fans' will realize its not all that easy after all.

    UTV

  • Comment number 49.

    Villa... A team people seem to like regardless (City, Wolves and Brom fans aside) for the neutral they remain a team that you don't mind to see doing well... thier are two good reason for this, firstly that league cup final against united in 95(?) and secondly, they are the eternal also-rans... and in a well natured fashion, they manage to achieve a level of just-shorted-ness in a humble fashion... i belive this makes them the just-under-but-over-most-dog of the premier league. Lerner has done nothing that amazing as an owner, he done what all successful people do when they enter a new business they dont neccesarily understand... he got a good manager whom he can trust, and he trusts him to do his job... With out the weight of genuine expectation O'niel is free to play football the way he belives and also have the freedom to build a team in his image (not litterealy, they'd all look silly in glasses). this lack of expectation also serves Lerner very well as owner... if Villa had the same expectations as Manu you would here alot more criticism for him... whether it would be just or not is another matter entirely, but i think it owuld be thier... it is the cross to bear for all those who wish to own a footy team in the prem... so in summary, villa we all like em, and lerner by keeping his mouth shut and his wallet available does well to carry on that image...

    http://aldershotwoes.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 50.

    Randy Lerner reminds of Daniel Vettori - an advertisement for cloning.

    PS: That's a compliment.

    Is there a PFA or sports writers award for 'owner of the year'?

  • Comment number 51.

    oldtimernow (47) - You sure about that? Now that you bring it up I'm not but I found the two following links that make me think my first instinct was right: http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Phrases-and-Sayings/Word-Origins/Question709116.html and http://www.thefreedictionary.com/marquee It's an Americanism so I reckon RL will be more comfortable with its use than either of us two.

    On the other hand, fauxgeordie (46) - You've got me bang to rights. Too many negatives confused me. One out of two ain't bad.

  • Comment number 52.

    @Liverpool fans, just imagine if Moyes had been given all that money Benitez has wasted...

    I admire the loyalty of Liverpool fans to the man but it simply isn't right he complains endlessly about not having money, delivers endless ultimatums yet does not prove himself a capable manager on the football field.

    Just imagine if Sir Hodgon had the lieks of Babel, Benayoun etc. in their team - players of exceptional football brains and technique. Man United did so well with a midfield of Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick. I would argue that a midfield of Gerrard, Mascherano and Aquilani is a better one if you can find a manager who has some sense. How can you players such as Liverpool does and not perform excellent year on year consistently?

    This is the second time mind you that during Benitez's tenure that he has failed to make the top-4!

  • Comment number 53.

    @41 "How long has he been at Villa now compared to Redknapp at Spurs? A man who is a much better manager in all respects than O'Neil"

    Erm, are you talking about the same Redknapp?

    How many of MON's former teams have been on the brink of bankruptsy when he left them?

    That's right, none. Don't get me wrong, Redknapp can pick a player and is a great man manager, but if you think his control of the financial aspects of the job is better than MON then you are deluded. Portsmouth are where they are now because Harry spent too much money. West ham were relegated a few years back because Harry spent too much money. MON builds success gradually over many years and reaps the rewards. Harry spends big, enjoys the fleeting success, and then gets out before the house of cards he built comes crashing down around him.

    Personally, I think this summer will be interesting. While City, Arsenal, Chelsea & Liverpool are scratching around trying to make up their home grown contingent by buying English players, Villa will have no such concerns (and in defence of old 'arry, neither will Spurs).

  • Comment number 54.

    Randy loves the Villa. I love the Villa. Therefore I must love Randy a bit. However my adoration is for MON. I have the very highest regard for this guy of integrity, a bit of shyness, and a heart on his sleeve.

    Loved the blog by the way. I won't say what I think about those comments re: Redknapp being better at managing than MON. I think he may get his comeuppance sometime soon Spurs fans, whereas we have a pretty straightforward man leading the Villa.

    Can't wait for next season and a big thank you to Randy for his support.

  • Comment number 55.

    Some posters have commented on how Rafa Benitez has been 'Given' money by Gillette and Hicks over the last few years and that he has squandered it. I find that is an interesting take on the situation. One of the major purchases that they made was Torres when they first bought the club and his purchase price went straight into the money they borrowed. The following year, the investment was very nearly balanced with several players leaving for Robbie Keane to come in, although That was not Rafa's choice. I think that he acted like a bit of a spoiled kid with Keane, but the point is that the outgoing deals almost balanced the incoming deal. Last year, the difference was negligible with Liverpool's two main signing - Johnson and Aquilani more or less payed for by the exit of Alonso. This means that last season, Rafa had no extra money to spend. Meanwhile Villa, Tottenham and Man City have all invested heavily, and the result is shown in the market.
    The debacle at anfield is petty and ridiculous and if the Villa fans are so blind to see a good thing when they have it, then they deserve for Lerner to go. There are plenty of clubs that would dearly love an administration that properly manages them (see Portsmouth, Man Utd, Liverpool, Hull etc).

  • Comment number 56.

    Good points apart from the bits about the merits of O Neill. His game plan is hoof it out ,hoof it wide and wang it in to a clodhopping donkey and the rest looks after itself. I know many Villa fans and a lot dont rate him as highly as his media sychophants do. Lerner would do well to get in a top quality boss there, as giving O Neill the cash he seems to crave will see it spent unwisely on predominantly more Britsh dross. Villa as a Club are very big and it shd be them not Tottenham making the top 4.

  • Comment number 57.

    #55

    But don't the transfer figures show that in the time of both Houllier and Benitez, Liverpool have spent more than any other English club in the transfer market? Liverpool have invested heavily and for not a great return bar the CL in Rafa's first year. Agree with you about the Keane purchase, it highlighted his extravagance.

  • Comment number 58.

    Evening all, a few more replies:

    Rob04 (11) - Good summary of Browns situation but I would add that there is a Lerner angle to the move to Baltimore. Randy's dad Al is believed to have helped Modell make the move. Very controversial. One by-product of this was the amazing deal the Lerners got on a new stadium in Cleveland when they were given a new NFL team in 1999. I think this is one of the reasons why Browns fans are so hard on Randy. They feel the Lerners owe them a successful team twice over. I also think US sports fans are less happy for their teams to bump along as many fans are here. That's mainly because the entire US sports system is geared towards dismantling dynasties and creating competition. Quite simply, an owner can't use the glass ceiling excuse forever - that's what the draft system and salary cap is supposed to smash to pieces.

    collie21 (14) - Is MON overrated? I'm not so sure he is but it's certainly become a talking point in recent weeks. Did you see this? http://timesonline.typepad.com/thegame/2010/03/is-martin-oneill-all-he-is-cracked-up-to-be.html I agree with a few of Gabriele Marcotti's points but overall I think he goes too far. I see MON as a good, possibly very good, manager who puts out well-organised and consistent teams, communicates well with fans and media, and gets more decisions right in the transfer market than he gets wrong. I also think he achievements at Celtic and Leicester are far too frequently underestimated. That said, he's not perfect. He is tactically inflexible, trusts some players too much and others not enough, and has failed to develop a deep enough squad during his four years at VP. But tell me which managers are perfect? The ones whose names are often thrown up in these debates tend to be the ones who have enjoyed financial advantages and/or a big club's calling card.

    Brian (15) - I definitely think AV have made progress this year. It may be another 6th place but the points-gap to 4th place has shrunk again, the points total is higher and you have those two visits to Wembley. OK, the rate of progress has slowed from years one and two of MON/Lerner but that's the nature of these things. And that's without factoring in the sudden elevation of Man City.

    aries22 (22) - Do you really and honestly need to ask that question? No, of course I didn't really believe those things. And yes, I accepted the invitation to go to Birmingham with the intention of making my own mind up about Lerner. I wouldn't have gone otherwise. Because while I was joking with my opening paragraph, Lerner's advance billing was lukewarm if not downright hostile. That is always going to slighly colour your views of somebody until you get the chance to form your own. And this negative view wasn't helped by the slightly spikey over-protectiveness of the AV press team. RL flat out refuses to do broadcast interviews (his prerogative) but my advice to his press handlers would be to let him speak for himself more often because he is very good at it.

    boils (23) - Has he "always" been the perfect owner? Cleveland Browns fans don't think so. And are saying I should only write blogs about bad owners? I'm not sure what you're getting at.

    stevenjos (27) - I think that's what I meant by raking over the coals of old controversies! Fair comment, though, Deadly Doug had clearly run out of friends by 2006 and his neglect of Bodymoor Heath, Holte Hotel and VP in general is well-known. But I stand by my comment that the club's finances were in reasonable shape, relatively speaking, when Lerner took over. Frankly, I don't think Lerner would have bought a basket case.

    rmossy (30) - Good idea. Come on the Grecians! In the meantime, here's one I made earlier: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/mattslater/2009/10/footballs_trusts_must_keep_the.html

    kwiniaskagolfer (34 & 36) - I'm sorry but Hicks & Gillett came as a package deal and to suggest Gillett didn't know what he was getting into with Hicks just isn't good enough. That's what due diligence is for. It's not like Liverpool fans could choose which one they wanted.

    I also think your second comment is a bit rich. You're right, I didn't look up the Komisarek bereavement story. But then this isn't a blog about George Gillett's ownership of the Montreal Canadiens. If it was, I may have mentioned it. But I might not, as Gillett's interest in ice hockey isn't really the issue at Liverpool. Readers frequently complain when BBC journalists don't engage in the debates below their blogs but who can blame us when we get remarks like "time for some homework methinks". I'm sorry but you either accept the more conversational tone of a blog and take part on that basis, or you don't.

    jacodemonn (40) - I purposefully didn't mention the tattoo because I'm not sure I believe it. He just doesn't seem the type. And getting an Aston Villa tattoo is hardly the kind of thing 21-year-old heirs to American fortunes get when they go to Cambridge for a year. Or am I completely wrong? Has anybody seen it?

    Demoremda_AJAX (43) - Intercompany loans are very tricky things to get a handle on at the best of times, and even more tricky when they're mixed up with straight cash injections, as Lerner has done at AV. And this is why the whole debt debate in the PL gets very complicated. That said, Lerner sees things quite simply. It's all his money (no third parties involved, ie banks) so he doesn't care if it's called a loan, an investment or just a gift. I think his accountants care, though.

    redbluearmy92 (49) - I think there's probably a lot of truth to what you say....although I still think RL has done a much better than average job at AV so far. Let's see how things progress over next couple of years.

    Right, that's it from me. Thanks for reading.

  • Comment number 59.

    Good blog, good analysis, well written. Lerner sounds like a great owner of a football club. I don't think O'Neill has many more years in him as a manager, he's too uptight! He often seems short of ideas, as a few people have mentioned here. He might be more successful working with a good tactician, like Allardyce. Wrong man for Man Utd.

  • Comment number 60.

    he did right by us as far as im concerned. he did what we asked: SellTheBrowns.com

    Hope things go well for Villa.

  • Comment number 61.

    3. At 08:38am on 18 May 2010, writtenbyfansforfans wrote:
    I am slightly jealous of Villa to be honest - having Hicks and Gillett at Liverpool has been an absolute nightmare, how I wish we had someone like Lerner!


    --------------------------------------------------------------

    Being a Villa season ticket holder and living next door to Liverpool supporter (who never goes to a match) it has been very satisfying on every level this season. Apart from the narrow home defeat to the reds in December, Villa have shown the way to play and how clubs should be run. Generally fans are treated well and even have to trips to Wembley to show for another successful campaign. I've said before on other blogs that although not being whiter than white I'm guessing Villa players don't have drug dealing fathers, underwear picture messages to freely send or throw punches in clubs. Long live King Randy and Prince Martin !

    PS: We definately need some fresh legs upfront (Bent / Defoe / Cole etc) Thank you :o)

  • Comment number 62.

    I sometimes wonder if people overrate Martin O'Neill. As a West Bromwich Albion fan, I have the utmost respect for Aston Villa Football Club, but Martin O'Neill is not any kind of Superman. One of Jose Mourinho's qualities as Chelsea coach was not only being able to spend lots of Roman Abramovich's money on good (and hugely over-valued players), but getting those good (and hugely over-valued) players to actually play together and win cups and titles (he performed the same trick at FC Porto but with a lot less money).

    But it's not every coach who can do this, and Martin O'Neill hasn't been able to get his hands on the sort of cash and players that were available to Jose Mourinho. Maybe gone are the days when a coach could buy two or three star players and meld them into a team of less well-known players, as O'Neill's old boss Brian Clough did with Trevor Francis, Peter Shilton and Tony Woodcock and eight other players to win two European Cups thirty years ago. Mind you, a lot of those eight other players seem to have won League titles before with Clough's old club Derby County.

    But I digress. I just don't see why Martin O'Neill should be expected to get Villa up any higher than they've achieved this season just because he's spent lots of money. I just don't think he's anything special. Next stop Manchester United? I don't think so. Manchester United will be looking at someone of the calibre of Jose Mourinho (once he learns to stop sneering at other coaches' achievements) and Carlo Ancelotti, if he can be prised away from Chelsea.

  • Comment number 63.

    Makes me laugh to hear about Villa being a well run club.
    5th highest NET spend over the last 5 seasons - almost £90m.
    Debt spiralling to £84m from effectively nothing at takeover. Lerner's loans are REPAYABLE between 2016 and 2019.
    A further £95m of loans converted to equity.
    Huge operating losses - £13m in 2008 and £43m in 2009. This is just not sustainable.
    Villa's current financial model is extremely likely to breach the new Uefa rules on financial fair play due in in 2012.
    These are not the hallmarks of a financially self-sufficient club.
    Does 3 consecutive 6th place finishes on a NET spend of £90m make MON a good manager?

  • Comment number 64.

    Matt, fair enough on your opening paragraphs, but couldn't help feeling they were slightly crass (sorry!) and not what we're used to from you! Lerner's a calculated (as opposed to calculating) and sympathetic owner of the club he's a fan of.

  • Comment number 65.

    Lerner and MON.

    On the upside: they've steadied the Villa ship. Made them into a top 8 team.

    On the downside: where next? Hard to see them breaking into the Top 4 unless the squad has five or six quality additions. MON needs to learn to rotate his squad.

    The future: MON will not rotate. The squad will not get those extra quality additions. Fans will get fed-up finishing 6th and losing to teams like Wigan. A big bust up is on the horizon.


  • Comment number 66.

    Midland20

    i think you'll find Villa are a top 6 side

  • Comment number 67.

    3 top 6 finishes in a row proves this

  • Comment number 68.

    In martin we trust! I believe!

    If only we had a bigger squad at least Martin won't spend more than he needs to on players and lets face it other clubs including Villa have achieved more in the past with smaller squads. Next season will be very interesting indeed.

  • Comment number 69.

    Matt,
    You make a fair point about the Hicks / Gillett governance being a partnership in "crime", wasn't trying to suggest otherwise except to make the point that one partner entered with the deal in good faith.

    But I think you have to equally take responsibility for any personal inferences in your content (have you done a sneaky one and edited it out?!?), which you seem reluctant to do. Cheap shot, unnecessarily so, is what I thought. And apparently you agree, however "rich" my opinion.

    PS: Beeb journos can participate in the "conversational" tone of my blog, but it seems thay prefer not to!

  • Comment number 70.

    The article referred by Matt somehow reflects my views as well. I acknowledge the motivational skills of MON but on a tactical side, he has disappointed a lot.Me and many other villa fans would have been tired of same game plan and same set of players weeks after weeks and it also took away a lot from those poor 11 players running their socks off in each match.

    I am not much impressed by his signings as well. Shorey, reo coker, heskey , collins,sidwell,harewood etc are some of the examples showcasing MON inability to come out of his shell of signing british players only. I think he should gain confidence from his three non british signings. Carlos cuellar is a gem of a player and villa must hold onto him. Carew may look lazy and ineffective at times but he has class and more importantly he chips in with goals when needed. Petrov may not have been a world class signing but in terms of maintaining the shape of midfield and doing donkey work , he has proved very effective and much superior to reo cocker.

    I dont want MON to leave cos this may destabilise some good work put in by both Lerner and MON himself but he must realise what his team is lacking and its not rocket science. Firstly, they lack a plan B, they would just go on and on with counter attacking football relying heavily on wingers without creating something from midfield or conjuring some good passes. Secondly, which is somehow related to first point is the absence of a creative midfield player who would linkup with strikers and midfield and enable a Plan B. Thirdly, a 20 goal striker to support and lay off burden from Carew and Gabby.Fourth, he must utilise his full squad and use subs more often as i dont want villa to loose players like Gary cahill, stephen davis and craig gardener leaving to get more 1st team football

    Get robbie keane and search for a creative midfield player!!!!!!!

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