Clubs can learn from Randy Lerner’s success
The current debacle at Anfield and the growing discontent at Old Trafford serves as a reminder to all that wealthy owners arriving on a golden chariot and promising the world does not automatically entail the perfect union with a football club.
Liverpool FC is already wilting under the ownership of Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks. In truth, the rot set in long before the 2009-10 campaign kicked off: power struggles between the owners and the manager, headhunting for a new face to replace the defiant Benitez and crippling loans which now loom over the club.
Just up the M62, the Glazers - the Red Devils’ American chiefs - seem content to take out loan after loan to cover rising interest costs. It presents a real challenge for the footballing domination of Manchester United.
The deep rivalry between the two most successful clubs in English history breeds a natural competition and dislike between the pair. However they are now tied together by a unique bond: the desire to remove their respective owners from the helms of their clubs.
‘Thanks, but no Yanks’ and ‘Love United, hate Glazer’
Two examples of the banners recently displayed at two of the greatest theatres in British football. The dislike is there for all to see.
However, away from Anfield and Old Trafford, one club is running in consummate bliss under the stewardship of an owner hailing from the US. The understated Randy Lerner has enjoyed a peaceful baptism to British football.
At Aston Villa, the American has spent wisely and allowed manager Martin O’Neill to build a team capable of venturing into Europe. Lerner has avoided getting involved with team matters and thus far enjoys a good relationship with the supporters.
He purchased Villa for £62.6million from the primeval Doug Ellis in 2006. Since then, the club has prospered thanks to careful planning both on and off the pitch.
Ellis was renowned for running a tight ship. Some fans would suggest ‘spending’ was a non-existent word in the vocabulary of the former owner. Lerner has displayed a willingness to invest in playing staff, facilities and has even delved deep into his pocket to enrich the local culture.
When you scrutinise Lerner’s actions it is difficult to find any faults.
He has invested in upgrading the facilities at the club, and in addition he has plans to carry out work on Villa Park - a prospect which excites O’Neill.
Lerner has also engaged with the local fans. Perhaps not to the extent of Mike Ashley at Newcastle - you won’t see Lerner in the stands, but in the same breath he is still welcome at the ground.
A touching tale which came to light in 2007 was the American’s generosity in redeveloping one of the traditional Holte pubs. It was a gesture to the fans for their continued support of his reign. He splashed over £4 million on restoring the pub to its former glory.
When Tom Hicks Jr ventured into a Merseyside pub to socialise amongst the Reds fans, in a matter of minutes he was chased out of the establishment. One would expect Michael Owen to have received a warmer welcome.
O’Neill has been backed by the millions of his employer, however at no stage have the club been reckless with their money. The philosophy at Villa Park is to patiently reinforce the squad with fresh young British talent.
Ashley Young and James Milner cost the club a combined sum £20m and the pair have been a huge success and look set to play vital roles in the progression of the national side in coming years.
Contrast the contribution of the pair to the efforts of Ryan Babel or Nani who cost significantly more. It is inspiring to see O’Neill has faith in young British talent opposed to flamboyant and overrated prodigies from the continent.
Additionally, the acquisition of Richard Dunne and James Collins looks like an exceptional piece of business. The club boasts the meanest defence in the league having conceded a mere 18 goals in 21 games. Even the departure of the talismanic Gareth Barry failed to rock the boat.
Last May, Lerner revealed that he hopes Martin O’Neill can emulate Sir Alex Ferguson in British football. Many would afford a snigger at the apparent naivety of such a comment.
It would seem however, that this American knows what he is talking about.
And who would bet against O’Neill soon delivering trophies? The northern Irish manager possesses a young squad which, with the right nurturing, can develop into a top four side.
The gap between the Villains and the supposed ‘big four’ is narrower than ever.
They have already beaten some of the top placed teams from 2009: an emphatic 3-1 victory at Anfield followed by a tenacious 1-0 success at Old Trafford, not to mention a 2-1 home win against Chelsea.
As the Liverpool fans chant “Our club’s in the wrong hands” and while United fans are being expelled from the Theatre of Dreams for voicing their discontent with the Glazers, the Villa fans sing “USA, USA” in testament to their owner.
Lerner has proven that not all Americans who arrive in England to purchase clubs are simply seeking to make a tidy profit from their investment. Lerner is at Villa for the long haul.
Glory days reminiscent of Ron Saunders’ reign may not be too far off.