Five key attributes a potential new owner must bring to Aston Villa if they want to taste success...
Having announced his intention to sell the club in May, Randy Lerner has thus far struggled to find a buyer for Aston Villa, slashing his asking price from £200 million to £150m.
Originally purchasing the club from long-time owner Doug Ellis in September 2006, Lerner’s arrival was greeted with a great deal of excitement by fans but, after initial success, the decline which set in following the 2010 departure of Martin O’Neill has left him looking for an exit.
Taking into account the failings of his ownership, here are five things which a dream backer should offer the club.
While there are obviously numerous rich but awful owners across football, it goes without saying that a consistent flow of cash at your disposal is the quickest and easiest way to success.
Lerner has invested upwards of £300m in Villa since his £62m takeover in 2006, but his fortune has been hit in recent years by the recession and his 2011 divorce, noticeably tightening the purse strings after the 2009/10 season failed to produce Champions League football.
Despite his $1 billion sale of the Cleveland Browns in October 2012, the loss of £52m in the 2012-13 financial year – £17 million more than the previous – has left him unwilling to provide the necessary resources to compete for a top-half finish, with manager Paul Lambert forced to make do with low-cost additions in the transfer market.
Lerner was more than willing to splash the cash during his early days at the club, allowing O’Neill’s net spend on transfers to total over £80m in his four seasons in charge, and the next owner must be similarly prepared to spend in order to meet the expectations of fans.
Lerner certainly had ambition when he first arrived but that all dissipated following O’Neill’s departure, with the club now merely content to survive in the Premier League after three consecutive relegation-threatened seasons.
Villa remain a so-called 'big club', with fans who harbour lofty expectations, and consistently settling for survival simply isn’t going to keep them happy. Only four years ago they were coming off a third successive sixth-place finish, with a Champions Leagues spot the aim, and those are the goals a new owner should have for the future.
As much as Lerner may try to deny it, his enthusiasm for the club has clearly weaned over the past few seasons, with the New York-based businessman rarely venturing to games these days.
While always somewhat of a reclusive figure, his passion was evident during the years when the team was challenging for Europe, but the malaise which has set in since O’Neill’s departure seems to have left him both distant and disinterested.
Some would say an indifferent owner is just as bad as an interfering one, and Villa need the next man who comes in to demonstrate a genuine excitement for the club if they are to banish the negative atmosphere which currently surrounds Villa Park.
One of Lerner’s main issues was that he arrived at Villa as a relative football novice, believing his money and newfound love for the game would be enough to guide the club to success.
It seemed to work for a time too, but the fact that O’Neill was allowed to grossly overspend on both the wage bill and signings such as Marlon Harewood, Nicky Shorey and Nigel Reo-Coker, with no one to tell when to stop, eventually led to the financial mess which the club currently finds itself in.
The issue was that Lerner simply didn’t know any better and neither did the non-football brains he appointed to help him run things; chief financial officer Robin Russell, non-executive director General Charles Krulak and the recently departed chief executive Paul Faulkner.
No more so was this apparent then with the hiring of Alex McLeish in June 2011 from bitter rivals Birmingham City, the appointment breeding a huge amount of ill-will and animosity towards the club hierarchy.
Whoever the new owner is must therefore have either a solid working knowledge of the game or have the nous to hire people around him who do.
It’s unlikely that Villa’s new owner is going to have the same kind of wealth as Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour or Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, meaning an instant turnaround in fortunes isn’t just going to happen overnight.
Lambert's current squad poses a massive rebuilding project and it’s going to take some time and prolonged investment for the side to even think about reaching the same heights of a few seasons back.
There are far too many instances of new owners pumping money into clubs and panicking when results don’t immediately go their way, prompting them to make hasty and unwise decisions. Stability is the key word and if whoever takes over can provide that, along with the necessary funds and a clear vision for the future, then that should stand Villa in good stead.