Ambiguity has soured Randy Lerner’s relationship with Aston Villa’s fans 0

Because of his nationality, it’s easy to bracket Randy Lerner as just another foreign club owner trying to make a quick buck from English football, but although he is likely to make a profit on his forthcoming sale of Aston Villa, his original intentions when buying the club were probably purer than that.

He’s a fan of the game and, supposedly, and Villa supporter.  Of course, that seems rather incongruous with the way in which he’s run the team and overseen a very deliberate period of devaluation, but maybe Lerner was guilty of early naivety at Villa Park and maybe he spent the latter part of his tenure trying to right the overspending wrongs of his first couple of seasons.

Nevertheless, between 2006 and 2014 Villa’s aims and objectives have shifted from the pitch to the balance sheet and that has sapped away at the enthusiasm of the supporters.  Beyond the retraction of financial ambition, the succession of dour managerial appointments following Martin O’Neil’s resignation has led the club into an era of successful failure and year-on-year attempts to survive in the Premier League with bare minimum transfer spends and perilously thin playing squads.

The direction Lerner has taken the club is probably supported by a sound business argument, but his main failing has been a lack of transparency over the past seven-and-a-bit years.  In fact, from the outside, it has appeared as if he has tried to devalue the club and lessen the wage bill without anybody noticing and all the while his ultimate objectives have been unclear.  How long has he wanted to sell the club for?  Have the actions of the past three years been a preparation for today’s announcement?  Who knows - and it’s that ambiguity which has driven a wedge between the boardroom and the stands at Villa Park.

Smart fans generally tolerate decisions which are made on the basis of protecting the long-term future of their club, but when no obvious end-game exists even the most loyal supporter will have their doubts.

Selling a football club can take time and there are no guarantees that a new owner will be installed before the new season begins, but Lerner’s willingness to remove himself from the picture does at least hint at a future beyond the current season-to-season drudgery - and the fans have needed that, as the ever-growing patches of empty seats at Villa Park attests to.

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