Lerner Buys Villa In Birmingham

NFL’s Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner has followed Malcolm Glazer into Premiership soccer by paying £62 million for Aston Villa, the Birmingham-based team whose name has become a byword for underachievement.

It’s unfair for cynics to suggest the man who inherited the MBNA credit card business and sold it to Bank of America for stock thinks buying a Villa in Birmingham is a property investment.

During time in England – studying medieval history at Cambridge’s Clare College – Lerner is said to have developed something of a passion for English football, and Villa looks to be a shrewd buy.

If the value of certain club assets – i.e. the players – is deducted from the sale price, Lerner has probably paid about £40 million for the club and as much as £12 million of that is assumed debt.

The financial reality will hit home further down the line when he realises that, since his university days of the early ‘80s, success in the U.K.’s Premier League has become even more closely linked with the amount a club can afford to shell out to pay the best players.

He said he believes it’s a situation that can’t continue and – as in American football – the amounts clubs can spend will have to be capped, The Sunday Times quoted him saying.

In the meantime, the paper said he’s resigned to having to find a further £60 million for players in 2006 and 2007.

Although new manager Martin O’Neill, widely regarded as one of the best of the British homegown managers and who many thought was an ideal candidate for the England job, took over before Lerner’s deal went through, there’s no doubt the U.S. billionaire was fully behind his appointment – as were the other three or four consortia that were interested in the club.

Even when Villa has performed badly on the pitch, the fans have remained loyal and home match gates regularly attract about 35,000 fans. The club has a history of European football and, outside of “the big four” that Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have become, it looks to be one of the teams with the most potential.

– John Gammon