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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Learning about Lerner

By Julian Shea

Prospective new Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner
Lerner has already held talks with new Villa manager Martin O'Neill
"He respects tradition, he's not a showboater, he's a fan and player-friendly and has a lot of money - I don't know what more you could ask for in an owner."

Don't you wish your club was owned by someone like that?

Well, if you are an Aston Villa fan, your wish has come true, according to American sports journalist Tony Grossi.

The fairy godfather in question is Randy Lerner, who owns American football team the Cleveland Browns and has now added Aston Villa to his sporting portfolio.

Grossi covers the Browns for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper and has observed Lerner at close quarters.

He is impressed by what he has seen and believes Villa fans should have every reason to feel happy about the impending transaction.

"He likes tradition - fans should feel good about him," said Grossi.

"Lerner grew up in Cleveland and knows the team's history and wants to get them to the point where they're winning again, so people can pass on their memories.

"I'm sure that is what appeals to him about Aston Villa."

RANDY LERNER PROFILE
Age: 44
Estimated personal wealth: $1.3bn
Studied Law at Cambridge in 1983
Lived in England in 1990s
Dislikes sitting in executive box seats
Lerner inherited much of his wealth from his father Alfred, who set up the MBNA credit card company.

When the Cleveland Browns franchise moved to Baltimore in 1995, Lerner Sr paid a then-National Football League record $530m to bring the team back home.

Lerner Jr assumed ownership in 2002 when his father died and since then has devoted his efforts and money to trying to restore the glory days to the team he loves.

And his style of management will be very different to that of predecessor Ellis when it comes to Villa.

"When the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys were big winners, no-one knew who the owners were. That's the way Lerner likes it at his team," revealed Grossi.

"He is a laid-back person, who hires people to do the managing and lets them get on with it.

Any time I asked him about branching out into other sporting endeavours, he always said his total passion and energy were with the Browns

Tony Grossi

"He is media-shy, which is one reason why I don't understand him getting involved in English football - he doesn't appear in front of the camera much, rarely speaks and is happy to be in the background."

Indeed, Grossi says he was surprised to hear about such a low-key individual choosing to enter such a high-profile arena as the Premiership.

"Any time I asked him about branching out into other sporting endeavours, he always said his total passion and energy were with the Browns."

Any talk of American investment in English football inevitably draws comparisons with the Glazer family's controversial purchase of Manchester United - and the resultant debts.

But Grossi says he cannot see any such problems at Villa.

"All the profits are split between clubs in the NFL and Cleveland ticket prices are a little below market value," he said.

"He often gets a hard time from other owners because they want to raise prices but he is very fan conscious and doesn't want to upset them."

Greg Brady of Detroit sports radio station WDFN says he can see similarities between the Browns and Villa.

"The Browns have had some close calls but never made it to the Super Bowl. Villa are a bit like that," he said.

Joel, Avram and Bryan Glazer
The Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United upset many fans

"They often have a nice run in a cup but you don't think of them being in the elite group of teams.

"Maybe Lerner will give them a chance to play with the big boys."

Brady said Villa's level of expectation is likely to ensure Lerner avoids finding himself in such a high-pressure situation as the Glazers at Old Trafford.

"Manchester United can always go out and spend if they have to but Villa aren't like that," he stated.

"Every year you look at them and think 'maybe a Uefa spot', so what is there for them to lose?

"It might be too late to have a huge impact this season but if he is prepared to open his wallet, they could be ready to fight with the Arsenals of the world for important players."

Since arriving at Cleveland, Lerner has not waved a magic wand to solve their on-the-field problems - they have not managed to win more than half of their games in any of the last three seasons.

But Brady says that given time, Lerner could bring an end to Villa's years of stagnation.

"I'm sure he knows what happened with Glazer, so he can't just go in and start raising ticket prices," said Brady.

"But if you're a Villa fan, why not give it a roll of the dice?

"How they win is based more on manager Martin O'Neill, but he needs players and it looks like Randy Lerner may get the pocket book out. It looks like the pieces could be in place."



SEE ALSO
End of an era
05 Sep 06 |  Aston Villa
O'Neill poised to extend contract
14 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa
Lerner agrees takeover of Villa
14 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa
Consortia ponder joint Villa bid
02 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa
Lerner ready to renew Villa bid
01 Aug 06 |  Aston Villa
Lerner 'out of race to buy Villa'
26 Jul 06 |  Aston Villa
Neville group makes bid for Villa
26 Jul 06 |  Aston Villa
Eriksson's agent 'in Villa talks'
27 Jul 06 |  Aston Villa
Ellis ponders Villa takeover bids
26 Jul 06 |  Aston Villa
Villa takeover almost ready to go
24 Dec 05 |  Aston Villa


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