You mention the word football to an American citizen and they think Arizona Cardinals or Washington Redskins. What happens if you say the word football to Randy Lerner, Aston Villa’s American owner? I hope he thinks supporters, passion, results and pride.
In this age of constant rumours, along with actual business, surrounding takeovers in most Premiership clubs, it is the Americans who have stamped their mark at the two biggest clubs in England. Manchester United has the Glazers and Liverpool have Gillett and Hicks.
I believe that in the main the two north-west clubs have had fortune go against them with American ownership, but Mr. Lerner is keeping up a solid American reputation with a job of minimum fuss and attention at Birmingham’s top club.
As someone who is looking from the outside, Lerner seems to be a person who deeply cares about Aston Villa’s supporters. The image he has created is someone who seems shy of the press, and this is evident with his lack of coverage, and someone who is 100% behind the manager Martin O’Neill. The latter point is one that inevitably causes all the friction that has come especially at Liverpool- the manager/owner relationship.
What Lerner has done well is to embrace how we expose football in every angle and keep a low-profile at the matches he attends. He is not trying to de-value the main ethics of English football, e.g. ticket prices and stadiums. Villa Park certainly seems to sell-out most home matches, so ticket pricing is standard and it happens to be one of the Premiership’s intimate stadiums- something the owner should be proud of.
I think that these issues are sometimes taken for granted by fans outside England, but it must be remembered that the organization of a club can only be steady if it is in capable hands. Lerner, being the owner, has Aston Villa inside a crystal ball but he certainly is not letting that ball drop.
I’m sure he has passion for football because the marketing opportunity of owning a football club can only last for so long. Now that he is established he must have become accustomed to on-the-pitch activities, including Villa’s Carling Cup run which has seen them make a domestic cup final at Wembley for the first time since May 2000.
A background insight in to Lerner’s life so far shows that he always had a liking for business. He became director of his father’s MBNA credit card company in 1993, before selling the stake in 2005 for $2.5bn. It was in August 2006 that the American bought Aston Villa for £66.2m.
Once again, I feel that he is doing more for Villa than the Glazers are for Manchester United or the Gillett/Hicks combination at Liverpool. This is because the takeover has brought investment, and not debt, to the club. In the three and a half years spent so far in the Midlands I believe that he is respecting the club’s legacy.
He is appreciating that simplicity is the main thing, but yet it is the hardest for foreign owners to understand. By recongising that all parts of a football club are scrutinised by fans, he has done well to keep it all in order and get the backing of the club’s supporters.
I admire the man mainly because of his dignity. In football everything a player, manager or owner does is analysed but Lerner’s actions are commendable. He keeps himself out of the public spotlight, conducts himself well and has not fallen out with the important people at Aston Villa.
Americans may always think of football as a game in which you have to throw the ball, but Randy Lerner is one who is probably more fascinated by Aston Villa’s counter-attacking success. He is an American owner who has properly met the traditions of English football.