Owner promised much but failed
13 May ~ The statement released by chairman Randy Lerner yesterday marks the end of a strange era for Aston Villa fans – one that promised good things but ultimately disappointed. Feeling the need to clarify the uncertainty surrounding the club, Lerner, the self-proclaimed custodian of Villa, said that they were up for sale. The news will be greeted warmly by Villa supporters. After their team defeated Blackburn Rovers in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final in 2010 chants of "one Randy Lerner" echoed around Villa Park.
However, his recent lack of interest has been painfully obvious. From noted absences at Villa Park on matchdays to frugal transfer windows, it seems fair to assume the decision had been on Lerner's mind for a while.
Villa fans have questioned the owner's ambition over the last couple of seasons. The hiring of ex-Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish in 2011 was for many fans the final straw, as well as proof that Lerner did not possess a footballing mind. Facing the threat of relegation in January 2013, funds were made available, but only to sign a Spurs reserve on loan (Simon Dawkins) and a midfielder from the French second division (Yacouba Sylla).
The gamble paid off and Villa stayed up, leaving the more positive-minded fans looked forward to progress next season. Predictably, though, this didn't happen. Villa finished the 2013-14 season with the same points total achieved by McLeish two seasons before (38).
Despite the mysterious cancellation of Villa's end-of-season awards ceremony on the same day as the statement, there is sure to be a sense of positivity as Lerner awaits "fresh, invigorated leadership". What that entails for Paul Lambert, who has not escaped the criticism of Villa fans weary of his long-ball style and tactics, is unclear, and many believe he will be leaving with Lerner.
There was much talk of Lambert's "project", which was supposed to see the rebuilding of the squad as a young and hungry attacking team (while conveniently lowering an inflated wage bill). Again, this didn't work out, and players such as Fabian Delph and Gabriel Agbonlahor whose contracts expire next year will undoubtedly be wondering what the future has in store for them.
It's hard to know quite why Lerner lost the enthusiasm that saw him get a tattoo of the Villa crest on his ankle. It may be that the failure to push the team into the Champions League played on his mind, or running the club simply became too expensive. What we do know, while Lerner retreats away to the life of a "Shunammite", is that his farewell is overdue in the eyes of Villa fans. Lewis Rymond