A Cautionary Tale: Randy Lerner Selling Aston Villa May Suck

aston villa takeover 2014 randy lerner

Is Randy Lerner selling Aston Villa a case of being careful what you wish for?


Much was made by Doug Ellis  about the passing-on of Aston Villa into safe hands when he finally sold up in 2006. Mr Randy Lerner was a nice man, who would spend his money on Villa and he even had a Villa tattoo. The Villa faithful were happy and Deadly was smugly thinking he was the savior of the club, despite the groundswell of supporters wanting him out.

Randy Lerner had the distinction of owning both an English Premier League team and also an NFL  team in the Cleveland Browns. In 2012 though, he  took the step of selling his troubled Cleveland Brown NFL franchise; a team starved of success and desperately in need of a shot in the arm. Lerner had owned the club for 10 years, taking over from his father Al, after he had passed away in 2002.

Whether Lerner’s expensive divorce had prompted the sale or if he’d considered running the Browns a thankless task, the Brown’s fans didn’t care. Having already labelled their own stadium the ‘Factory of Sadness’, they wanted Lerner out.

Cautionary tale

There’s a cautionary tale for Aston Villa in what happened to the Cleveland Browns after Lerner sold them to their new owner Jimmy Haslam. What had been seen as a new dawn for the long-suffering Brown’s fans has seen even more chaos at the club and further suffering for the faithful Dawg Pound (think Holte Enders).

The club has seen a turnaround of head coaches to match the merry-go-round of managers at Fulham. A general manager and CEO have been sacked and owner Haslam has been under investigation by the FBI. Haslam’s company Pilot Flying J actually had its offices raided by the FBI, for illegally withholding millions of dollars in fuel rebates due to trucking customers. So far seven employees have been done for fraud with the company reported to have reached a settlement to the value of $85 million with over 5000 customers. Of course, when you’re a billionaire you normally have a legal team in place that makes sure you escape the rap yourself.

However, the knives are out for Haslam now and he’s been shown up as a bad example of billionaire sports owners that has strong parallels with the increasing influx of sugar daddy owners in the Premier League. A damning report in NBC Sports’ Rotoworld.com described Haslam in less than flattering terms:

‘He’s everything that’s wrong with the modern owner. Haslam is an arrogant, rash, amoral man who believes the law doesn’t apply to him. Someone who will cut as many corners as necessary to ensure he gets as many dollars as possible. Someone who — allegedly, of course — spent years ripping off the exact kind of people who make up the bedrock NFL fandom, a bedrock that is gradually being priced out of attending games.”

The familiar tune of corporate greed pricing out the supporter is already a well-worn theme in football this side of the Atlantic. Most Villa fans though will see any potential new Villa ownership in the simplistic terms of increased transfer funds for whoever is Villa manager next season. But who knows what lurks around the corner? Look what happened at Cardiff City and Hull City in terms of their owners trying to make the club fall into their overall corporate strategy at the expense of the club’s tradition. Stadium naming rights could be on the agenda, something that Lerner has resisted (up to now), there could be drastic ticket price increases and if the new owners have a brand already, they may try to integrate Aston Villa into it (remember the Red Bull rumours?). New owners bring new plans and they’ll always have an eye on getting the most out of their investment.

Of course, if Lerner sells, he’ll say something about selling it to someone who’ll have the club’s interests at heart. This though is unrealistic in practice, as it’s not as if they’ll be a queue of potential suitors for the club, as not everyone has the cash to stump up to buy a football club. Beggars can’t be choosers. Also, Lerner’s judgement in football matters so far, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

I’m playing devil’s advocate with the ‘be careful for what you wish for’ sentiment of this article and it’s hard to subscribe to the notion of ‘better the devil you know’ in this case.  Quite simply put, there has to be more ambition shown by the club, whoever is in charge.




  1. good article & it reminds meo the saying that you don’t always know the value of something untill you lose it . YesRandy has made mistakes , but who does not !But all we can hope now is that whoever buys the club also values it

  2. I second the praise for the article and comments. Lerner has had a raw deal from a large section of the fans who expected him to throw good money after bad. Short of buying the Premier League title like Man City, I am not sure what these fans want. The club has to be sustainable and Rand committed considerable personal funds in an attempt to turn us into a force, commercially and on the pitch, but it didn’t work. We just don’t have the fan base of Man U or Liverpool to sustain title chases without running at a loss. The wage bill O’Neil left behind compared to the player calibre, was a farce.
    Lerner has conducted himself well and with dignity, but clearly made some very poor personnel decisions. After all – even Man U believed Alex Ferguson knew something about suitable managers.
    Of Paul Faulkner – I am not an insider at VP so can’t comment on the mans calibre. But it does seem strange so much has been entrusted to one man worth no background in the game.
    I am as frustrated as any Villa fan with the last few seasons. Hearing that my 8 year Nephew couldn’t sleep he was so upset at the result midweek nearly broke my heart, as he is a Villa fan because of encouragement mainly from me and his Grandpa.
    But people need to be realists. the days of a fair playing field were over when Sky started paying silly money for PL and Champions League. Seasons like Everton’s or Southampton’s this year are the most we can hope for and they will be few and far between.
    We can all dream of a sugar daddy turning up at VP, but the same fans who derided Man City for selling out will I’m sure be the first to make themselves heard if it happens.

  3. Randy lerners only fault lay in not having director of football
    With sound football knowledge who could advise him.
    That was his downfall. He may be honourable ,but their
    are too many sharks here. Etc hence the fall from grace etc

    • It’s a good point, that’s often raised. Above and beyond whoever is the manager in charge, there is a lack of football direction or overall footballing ethos at the club.

  4. very wise words from all concerned. Out of the frying pan into the fire. Cleveland is obviously bad, as are Cardiff and possibly FUlham (though Newcastle really are worse run of the current premiership crew) – but do we have to look that far away? Birmingham now have an owner doing 6 years in prison and only survived in div 2 with a goal in the last minute of injury time in the last match

    Most owners are egotists who know little of football. Basic problem is we don’t have any say. The only group that ever made a difference is Spirit of Shankly at Liverpool., If only we could copy them.

    Trevor Fisher.

  5. Cautionary tale or not. If Lerner stays and provides the same level of funding with the same inept manager, the club will end up relegated.

  6. l. Your comparison to the situation with the Cleveland Browns may be a bit out of context. I am a new Villa supporter who happens to live an hour south of Cleveland, so I have a clear insight on the plight of the Browns. In a word, they are cursed.
    I am not a superstitious person but there is no other good explanation for what had befallen that franchise over the past 15 years. Poor personnel decisions, bad drafting, and poor head coaching can only account for so much. Injuries have played a role, but even that can only explain so much. There is some cosmic force working against that franchise, there is no other explanation. The original franchise, which had been in Cleveland almost from the very beginning of American football was moved by their longtime owner in a dispute over a city funded, brand new stadium. The league awarded am expansion franchise to the city in 1999. They have reached the postseason once since then. They have had 20 starting quarterbacks in 15 years. The Patriots, another NFL franchise known for stability, had used 5.
    So while there may be some parallels in this cautionary tale, Haslem was the perfect owner for this star-crossed franchise. I hope our Villa doesn’t go to a villain like Haslem, but I’m not that worried…a move like that could only happen to the Browns.

    • Thanks for that Rob. I think it’s the same cosmic force that has cursed Villa’s home record at Villa Park in recent years!

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