Aston Villa's 10 Defining Moments of the Randy Lerner Era

Adam Bundy@adambundy11Contributor IMay 21, 2014

Aston Villa's 10 Defining Moments of the Randy Lerner Era

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    After eight tumultuous seasons as the club's owner and chairman, Randy Lerner is set to move on from Aston Villa, preparing to sell the Birmingham club before the Premier League's next season. 

    Filled with ups and downs, Lerner's ultimate legacy at Villa Park is difficult to predict. The American's financial investment into the club helped them contend for European football and domestic trophies, but the team's current three-year spell at the bottom of the table has left fans clamoring for a change. 

    Although the coming years and the success of the team under their new owners will undoubtedly shape the final perception of Lerner's reign, his imprint on Villa can be partially gleaned by reflecting on the most significant events that occurred during his spell in charge.

    Here are Aston Villa's 10 most defining moments under Randy Lerner.  

Backing Martin O'Neill as Manager

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    Appointed as manager by previous owner Doug Ellis just weeks beforehand, Martin O'Neill must have felt a bit nervous when he suddenly had a new boss in the form of Lerner, an American businessman without much experience with English football.

    To his credit, Lerner trusted his inherited manager and reaped the rewards early on. O'Neill's first season in charge at Villa Park was somewhat inconsistent, but the experienced Irishman greatly improved Villa and helped Lerner settle into the club.

    Although their partnership would end on much rockier terms, Lerner's willingness to support a manager he had no part in installing paid great dividends for Villa over the next several seasons.  

The Arrivals of Carew, Petrov and Young

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    Lerner and O'Neill's first season at Villa Park also saw the arrivals of John Carew, Stiliyan Petrov and Ashley Young. All three players would play crucial roles during the Lerner era and their signings served as an early indication that Lerner intended to do what was necessary to make Villa successful.

    Carew would finish as Villa's leading goalscorer for three seasons running. Petrov became the club's captain, was an iconic presence in midfield and is now regarded as a Villa legend. Young was Villa's most dynamic threat during his five seasons at the club and made a name for himself with his speed and trickery.

    Most importantly, the trio stands as a symbol of Lerner's ambition during the early part of his time as owner, ambition that would eventually fade way.

Playing at Wembley Twice in 2010

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    Villa came tantalizingly close to attaining silverware on two occasions during the 2009-10 season, twice playing at Wembley in the League Cup Final and FA Cup Semi-Final, respectively.

    The League Cup Final, in particular, seemed a golden opportunity for Villa to secure their first trophy since 1996. Villa led early thanks to a James Milner penalty, but Phil Dowd controversially allowed Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic to stay on the pitch rather than award the Serbian a red card and the Red Devils came back to win 2-1.

    A second chance at Wembley gifted itself in the FA Cup against Chelsea, but Villa were soundly outplayed by their opponents and were unable to capture either trophy, a dismaying fact that may have informed Lerner's future decisions to reduce his spending.

A Trio of 6th Place Finishes

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    While technically three moments, Villa's successive finishes in sixth place under O'Neill has been the undoubted highlight of Lerner's reign. The team regularly contended for the Champions League deep into the season and showed improvement in many areas over these three campaigns.

    O'Neill's tactics were not the prettiest, but Villa possessed a formidable defence and fielded a midfield full of English internationals. Villa didn't have the deepest roster or biggest names, but they were a dangerous opponent for any adversary they faced during these seasons.

    Nonetheless, O'Neill was never able to fully break through by guiding Villa to the Champions League, eventually leading Lerner to rethink the amount of financial investment he was willing to make and to the exodus of many of Villa's star players.

Chaos to Start the 2010-2011 Season

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    The first major turning point of Lerner's spell as chairman came during the summer of 2010. Lerner and O'Neill's relationship deteriorated over the transfer budget that Lerner had offered O'Neill for the next season.

    Star midfielder James Milner was set to be sold to Manchester City for a hefty sum, but Lerner was reluctant to offer his manager part of the proceeds to reinforce the squad. O'Neill responded by suddenly resigning as manager just days before the season's start and Milner followed him out the door soon after.

    The Irishman did not feel that Lerner had provided him with adequate funds to meet the owner's goals, leaving Villa in a precarious position that they have never fully recovered from. 

Signing Darren Bent

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    With the momentum that the club had built under O'Neill fading, Lerner and new manager Gerard Houllier sought to reassert Villa's intentions to contend with the league's best when they signed striker Darren Bent for a club record fee in January of 2011. 

    Having thrived at Sunderland, Bent arrived at a pressure-filled Villa Park and had a relatively successful beginning to his Villa career. The English striker scored several important goals during the 2010-11 season and seemed to be guiding Villa in the right direction.

    Unfortunately for Lerner, Bent's arrival was not enough to catapult Villa back to the top of the table. Houllier would not return for a second season as manager and Bent has since become an afterthought, waiting to be sold by the club that paid £18 million for him.

The Sales of Downing and Young

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    Just months after signing Darren Bent, Lerner seemingly reversed his enthusiasm to spend the money necessary to improve when England internationals Stewart Downing and Ashley Young were sold during the summer transfer window. 

    With the team already weakened by the prior sales of Gareth Barry and James Milner, the departure of Villa's two star wingers officially signaled the end of Villa's threat to the top of the table.

    While all four players fetched a substantial fee, none were successfully replaced and the exodus of the majority of Villa's talent over the course of two seasons left a hole in the squad that has not been filled to this day.

The Alex McLeish Saga

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    The hiring of ALex McLeish as Villa manager was always doomed to fail. Although McLeish had won the League Cup with rivals Birmingham City in 2011, he had also helped the Blues to relegation under a system of tactically bland football that same year. 

    The Villa faithful were never going to accept McLeish and Villa's 2011-12 season was arguably the club's least successful of the Lerner era. Villa's signings were limited to flops in Charles N'Zogbia and Alan Hutton, while the team was equal parts unexciting and ineffective on the pitch. 

    Lerner was criticized for his decision to hire McLeish from day one and the American never fully regained the trust of the fans after his blunder. McLeish was gone within the year and Villa were once again searching for a new manager.

Support Stan

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    The sudden news that club captain Stiliyan Petrov had been diagnosed with leukemia stunned the entire football world in March of 2012. Teams such as Chelsea and Real Madrid were among the many offering public displays of support for the Bulgarian midfielder.

    The Villa supporters banded together to organize a number of tributes and fundraisers for Petrov, including partaking in a minute's long applause for the Bulgarian during the 19th minute of every match that continued through the next year. 

    Amid the turmoil of a frustrating season, the terrible news of Petrov's illness served as a unifying force for the Villa community and a reminder of the harsher realities of life. Fortunately, Petrov's leukemia is currently in remission and the Villa hero has been able to return to a more normal life.

Paul Lambert's Youth Movement

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    Having impressed by guiding Norwich City to successive promotions, Paul Lambert took the reins as Villa manager in the summer of 2012. Lambert quickly moved to adapt to Lerner's hesitancy to spend by shifting Villa's philosophy to focus on cultivating youth.

    In his two seasons in charge, Lambert has almost exclusively signed less heralded, younger players who arrive for small fees and have untapped potential. This forward-thinking policy has received praise from some pundits and fans, but the team's struggles to perform consistently has left Lambert with plenty of critics.

    For every Christian Benteke there has been an Aleksandar Tonev, leaving Villa fans skeptical of whether or not Villa will ever be successful again under Lerner's ownership and Lambert's management.