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Saturday, 08 March 2014

Aston Villa: Is Randy Lerner making the right choices?

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The fans have been quick to have a go at chairman Randy Lerner and manager Paul Lambert – myself included - this season.

It’s been a very frustrating time down at Villa Park with the team struggling against relegation for the third consecutive season, with no change in those fortunes looking likely any time soon.

But with losses of £52 million this financial year – and £162 million over the last four years – can the fans really expect anything else?

The team began to be stripped of its best players during the end of Martin O’Neill’s reign and following his resignation it just got worse. Gareth Barry was the first high profile player to leave for big-spending Manchester City and then the exodus just continued. Milner followed Barry, Ashley Young went to Manchester Untied and Stewart Downing to Liverpool. All apart from Downing justified their moves with silverware and a Premier League winners’ medal.

Randy lernerMany others have come and gone in that time but we all know how spooked Lerner was when O’Neill jumped ship and left behind a squad hemorrhaging money due the huge wages he used to entice players to club.

Lerner went for a different philosophy and hired Gerard Houllier to change the tactics and to bring through some of the promising youth players. Having said that Darren Bent was still signed for something in the region of £24 million, a club record, and Stephen Ireland arrived with ridiculously high wages.

The club needed to start removing some of highest earners, but even when Alex McLeish replaced Houllier after his heart attack, he brought in Alan Hutton on something like £40,000-a-week, and Charles N’Zogbia and Shay Given were also signed on similar wages.

The only player Lambert has really given a pay rise to is Christian Benteke but that was absolutely vital in order to keep him at the club and he's been value for money, despite his occasional off games.

Despite Lambert’s best efforts, Bent, who didn’t really do anything wrong, is still only out on loan at Fulham, as is Ireland, at Stoke. Given, who again did nothing wrong, has begrudging returned from a loan spell at Middlesborough, Hutton spent some time in Spain to no avail and Warnock has failed to make an impact at several clubs on loan.

The fact remains they have not gone anywhere - no-one wants them because their wages simply do not reflect their talent. And until they go Villa are going to have to continue searching the lower leagues and abroad in the hope of coming across a bargain.

Lambert’s policy has worked with the likes of Christian Benteke, Ashley Westwood and Leandro Bacuna, and there’s still hope it will work for the injured Jores Okore. Maybe Matthew Lowton will also one-day return to form.

Of course there are those that haven’t been such success stories, like Yacouba Sylla, Aleksander Tonev, Jordan Bowery and Joe Bennett, but at least if they don’t work out the club won't be facing a huge deficit.

The Premier League is clearly splitting into three sections – the top six fighting for the Champions League, those that could maybe challenge for the Europa League position, and then the bottom 11 clubs scrapping against relegation. Sadly Villa currently remain rooted in the last section. 

Owner Randy Lerner has waived £90.1 million of loans to reduce the club’s debt load, which were converted to equity in December 2013. Turnover was actually up by £3.3 million to £83.7 million for the year ending May 31, amazingly driven by higher average league attendances and a semi-final place in the League Cup last year. I say amazingly because just 30,000 fans watched Villa beat Norwich at Villa Park on Sunday, which is very low for a club of Villa’s size. 

After buying the club from Doug Ellis in 2006, Lerner has continued to bank-roll Villa’s losses. He’s also spent money doing up Villa’s hotels, training ground and sections of the stadium. The problem facing Villa fans and Randy Lerner is where does the club go from here? And would Lambert and the club do any better if they had a bit more financial clout behind them?

I think most fans would just settle for seeing a bit of progress for the time-being and the club showing a few signs it was ready to move up the table. With huge losses and several players still earning huge wages for doing nothing, those days may still be quite a way away.

But in a few year’s time, who knows?

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: What do you make of the current situation at Villa Park? Are you happy with Lerner and Lambert in charge or would you like the club to go in a different direction? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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