For every Roman Abramovich, there’s a Venky’s. For every Sheikh Mansour, a Sacha Gaydamak.
Aston Villa fans would do well to remember this as they rejoice the fact that Randy Lerner has finally sold the club to Chinese businessman Dr. Tony Xia.
Not all that long ago fans were celebrating the end of the long reign of Doug Ellis. Villa were a sleeping giant and only a rich benefactor could awaken them. Lerner was that rich benefactor and a decade later he is the man whom the Villa faithful are so glad to be rid of.
Back then, I called for caution amongst my closest friends. These were the days before Sheikh Mansour, but were also the days before Gillette and Hicks, Carson Yeung and Massimo Cellino.
At that time fans assumed that every incoming owner with a quid or two to spare would be coming in with Abramovich-like intentions. The reality was that he was looking for a long-term cash cow, similar to what his fellow Americans, the Glazer family, had paid handsomely for at Manchester United.
The Glazers got it spot on. Lerner got it wrong.
After a few years of allowing Martin O’Neill to fritter money away on (mostly) overly expensive domestic players, Lerner tightened the purse strings. The situation wasn’t helped by the economic crisis and a kickback from the other members of the Lerner family empire.
Since then, Villa have been on a slow, but steady, decline, culminating this season in their demotion from the Premier League.
Relegation was confirmed at the beginning of April, but everyone knew as early as October that this would be the season when they would finally fall through the trap door.
It is because of this that fans will be so hopeful. Villa have been a shambles on the field and off it in the last five years, with bad marketing and hiring decisions almost equalling the amount of bad performances. But caution is needed. The saying goes: ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t’, and in these situations it is all too often true.
Leeds fans were delighted when Ken Bates took full control of the club in 2007, after they had gone into administration. By 2011, though, fans were tired of a lack of investment and wanted Bates out.
In 2014, Massimo Cellino sailed into Elland Road on a wave of optimism. After two seasons under the erratic Italian, some supporters long for the administration days.
Yes, there are success stories, but far fewer than there are failures, or situations where a club’s decline has just continued under new ownership. Villa fans won’t accept that. They won’t tolerate a prolonged ‘steadying of the ship’ either.
It looks as though Steve Hollis, the chairman brought in back in January will now move on, with Tony Xia taking on that role. Is that what Villa need? Another absentee owner?
Lerner made a number of mistakes; putting his trust in former chief executive Tom Fox would be one – I would argue putting his trust in Martin O’Neill was another – but trying to oversee the club from across the Atlantic was the first nail in Villa’s coffin.
The nails were being steadily hammered in from there on out. The moment Lerner announced the club was for sale back in 2014, Villa were on a slow train to the Championship.
His asking price of £200million was a huge stumbling block. Despite a few false dawns, and a few more false reports that this billionaire and then that billionaire was looking to buy, Villa remained unsold. Until now.
Villa supporters are down and will see anything that isn’t negative as good news. It’s not good news. Not yet. It’s just news.
They would do well to remember the euphoria felt when Lerner first arrived in B6 ten years ago.
Pragmatism isn’t easy for football fans. Passion, emotion and blind loyalty always take over. But this is one of those times where the response, and the expectation, of Villa fans needs to be measured.
Robb Graham, Pundit Arena