If the recent speculation over Martin O’Neill’s future at Aston Villa has taught us anything then it’s that chairman Randy Lerner’s desire for his side to earn a top four spot burns as brightly as ever.
The likeable American was forced to come out fighting this week amid rumours that his manager will be forced to work under a sell-before-you-buy policy this summer. With Manchester City likely to spend heavily and Tottenham almost certain to invest, there were rumours abound that O’Neill was ready to walk away from the job with the former-Celtic boss questioning Lerner’s ambition and vision for the club. Lerner has since patched things up after stating that funds will in fact be available for the Gaffer to begin plotting his attack on the Champions League places next season whilst there are also plans afoot to further redevelop Villa Park.
So who exactly is this man? Well Randolph D. Lerner was born to wealthy businessman Al Lerner in Brooklyn, New York in 1962. He made his fortune as a director of American bank MBNA before embarking on his first foray into the sports business upon inheriting his late father’s shares in American Football team Cleveland Browns. Randy’s true passion lay in soccer (stemming from his time at Cambridge University) and in August 2006 he made a successful bid to purchase Doug Ellis’ controlling stake in Aston Villa for £62m.
The arrival of Lerner was another component of the Yankee invasion of English football with the Glaziers taking control of Manchester United the year before and Hicks and Gillett buying into Liverpool just after. Arsenal have also enjoyed American investment through Stan Kroenke as have Sunderland through Ellis Short.
Randy is also a keen philanthropist and has supported the National Portrait Gallery since 2002 by handing them over £5m of his own money. And in 2008 it was announced that Aston Villa would wear the name of local children’s hospice, Acorns, as their shirt sponsor – an arrangment which continues to this day.
I suppose it’s just as well that he likes giving as Villa have failed to post a profit in any of the four years that he has been in charge. Losses of £43.7m for the 2008/09 campaign point to the increasing importance of attaining greater success on the field if Lerner is to turn the club into a real force in the English game. Ordinarily reluctant to speak to the press, he is expected to outline more concrete proposals for how he plans to achieve this next week and all the evidence points toward Martin O’Neill being central to his vision.
His motives are unquestionable. Doug Ellis, watching his pennies before selling up had scaled down plans for rebuilding the club’s training ground. After Lerner consulted O’Neill, they were revised. The historic Holte pub just behind the ground had lain derelict for years but he decided that it was an integral part of Villa’s history and spent £4m restoring it. He will never make a profit but it was a gesture to the fans.
He puts his low profile down the fact that he is not interested in winning a popularity contest but that fans will eventually be won over by bringing success on the pitch. Sixth place may be a disappointment to some but with the club in his safe hands, there can be no reason why European football won’t be being hosted at Villa Park again sometime soon.
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