A few thoughts on Lambert, Lerner and Aston Villa

We're nearly a quarter into the new football season and Aston Villa FC are, once again, unfortunately, performing miserably. Naturally, this is the time when angry and disaffected Villa fans pour out their anger and misery on blogs and message boards.

Obviously, no football fan wants their team to do badly; no Villa fan wants us to be languishing where we are in the table. If I were still at school in Sutton Coldfield, I'm sure I would get utterly sick of the stick I would be getting right now from my WBA supporting friends and classmates; reminders of who has been Champions of Europe would be countered by gloating questions like “who is currently above who in the Premier League table?”. It's (hopefully) a short term state of affairs, but football fans often seem to have short term memories in this respect.

We are very quick to be a gloomy bunch and, nine games into the season, I've already read some (in my opinion) ludicrous comments that Lambert should be sacked. Bad results aside, we should not be so quick to panic. We should not be so hasty to call for Lambert to be sacked.

For a start, you should seriously ask yourself who would come that would work within Villa's current financial structure? Who would the majority of Villa fans be happy with and able to get behind, even (especially) when results do not go our way?

I have seen some suggest that we should appoint Harry Redknapp, as if he could do better on our current budget? I'm unconvinced. These comments also ignore the fact that we have frequently abused him as a “tax dodger” when he came to Villa Park. Let's also not forget that coin throwing incident, which I think would make it incredibly unlikely that he would want to come.

Would we really want him; he who would surely be criticised instantly as a journeyman, anyway? Personally, I'd rather keep faith with what we've got.

Talk of Villa’s current financial structure leads me on to talk about our owner. Randy Lerner started his reign at the club well, spending money and talking the talk of success. He was popular. I was delighted to have Martin O'Neill aboard, and I was proudly predicting to anyone who would listen that Villa would be regulars in the Champions League within a few seasons.

I did not listen to the prediction of my Liverpool-supporting University house mate about his view that Martin O'Neill would only ever achieve limited success with his style of management. I was convinced he was wrong. Most fans, at the time, were happy with our new owner, and thought Villa could forget "Deadly Doug," and begin a new era of success, and I was one of those fans. Lerner invested a very large amount of money in the club, and for a time all seemed well.

Alas the good times didn't last, and Lerner’s popularity has fallen. I want to leave aside, if possible the old blame argument regarding the whole O'Neill saga. The issue has been discussed to death, and views have become solidly entrenched.

Some fans have become so very vocal in their cries of "Lerner out!" They want Lerner to sell up his interest in Villa. He has been criticized for his lack of investment. Lerner is far from perfect. He is, ultimately, involved with Aston Villa to make more money. We, as fans, must accept this. Would any owner have such a different approach to running Villa?

I want to know, realistically, who would, or could, Lerner sell our club to that we Villa fans would be happy with. This, in my opinion is a very important question that needs to be very considered, should Lerner decide to end his investment.

Who has?

  • A genuine interest in football generally, and Aston Villa specifically?
  • Enough money to buy a football club and invest the necessary money to succeed?
  • The philanthropy to invest in a football club, without the interest to make a profit?

Let’s not be naive enough to think that there are too many people in the world who are rich enough to both buy a football club and run it purely from the perspective of a fan, and even fewer of those with a passionate interest in Aston Villa.

On the whole, those people with millions or billions in their bank accounts/investment portfolios are not that generous with their money. How did they get their fortune in the first place? It's rare they did it by being a cuddly teddy bear who gave their money away. As one novelist (I've forgotten who) once wrote "The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a forgotten crime."

I've read some fans write that Lerner should sell Villa to a rich oil baron from the Middle East. There aren’t many oil rich sheiks, (a la Manchester City’s owner) left, and I for one am not sure I would want one owning my club. Where would that money come from? It comes, largely, from the control of large quantities of a precious limited national resource, not to mention questionable records on democracy.

Roman Abramovich is another example of a rich man who treats a football club as his personal play thing. There are deep questions about the history of who that man came by his formidable wealth. There are Russians living in poverty, wondering what happened to the money from their natural resources, bought in questionable business transactions immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some football fans may not care about this, so long as his cash pays for big transfers and extravagant wages. Do we really want Aston Villa to be run the same way Chelsea has been run for these past years? I would argue this is part of a process that is destroying the integrity of the game of football; a symptom of how, as Damian frequently says, that "football is broken", and that reckless management will not fix our club, or football in general.

For what it's worth, I suspect that if we are still this close to the relegation zone then Randy will invest more money in January. Not necessarily a marquee signing, but I imagine there would be some more spending in line with summer: pragmatic, with the future in mind as well as immediate survival. Maybe I’m being naïve now, but isn’t it possible that because he sold his interest in the Cleveland Browns he will now be in a position to invest more heavily in Villa again?

Only time will tell us

I believe (hope) that results will pick up as our team clicks together, and we have a stronger season end than our beginning, akin to Everton in previous seasons. I don't think it is time to panic, yet.

Randy isn’t perfect by any means, neither is Paul Faulkner, (I think that if anybody at Villa needs to be replaced then it should be Faulkner.) but even if Lerner decided it was in his interests to sell up, would our next owner be any better? Better the devil you know in my opinion.