Why a Takeover Deal Is Vital for Aston Villa

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Why a Takeover Deal Is Vital for Aston Villa
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Nearly two months have passed since the Aston Villa chairman, Randy Lerner, released an official statement indicating his intention to sell the Midlands club.

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Many Villa fans optimistically thought that rumours in the months leading up to the statement were indications that advanced negotiations had taken place with an unknown billionaire. However, this hope has not come to fruition as Villa look no closer to finding an owner to take the reins from Lerner.

A number of names have been linked with a purchase during the last eight weeks, but any connection appears to disappear as quickly as a goalscoring opportunity when the ball is at the feet of Gabby Agbonlahor.

Names linked to an acquisition have included billionaire cruise ship tycoon Micky Arison, per Harriet Dennys at the Daily Telegraph, and most recently American billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer who own a stake in the American Idol TV series, as reported by the Daily Mirror's Alan Nixon and Neil Moxley.

So why is a takeover vital for the club?

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Firstly, there is a serious threat of relegation. The truth is that Villa have a poor squad. The team has battled relegation for the past three seasons and look likely to be at the wrong end of the table come the end of the 2014/15 season unless something drastic is done.

Of the current players to don the claret and blue shirt, arguably only Brad Guzan, Ron Vlaar, Jores Okore Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Andi Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke are of the required quality.

Even then, doubts could be raised about Okore, who is a very promising player but missed all of last season with injury, and Agbonlahor, who has made little progress in the past few years and appears to avoid heavy criticism as he is a Villa fan.

Other players like Antonio Luna, Leandro Bacuna and Yacouba Sylla are useful squad players, but should be starting on the bench, not holding down regular first-team places.

The only real stimulus that will create the required change at Villa Park is a new owner. An owner who not only has the money to invest heavily in the squad, but also patience to see the purchase as a long-term project, not a short-term, money-making scheme.

With Neil Moxley at the Daily Mirror reporting that Villa have just £10 million for transfers and wages this summer, the Villans could be one of the lowest spending clubs in the division.

Once wages and signing-on fees for Joe Cole and Phillippe Senderos are taken into account, in addition to reported new deals for Delph, Vlaar and Agbonlahor, per Mat Kendrick at The Birmingham Mail, the coffers are likely to be running closer to empty.

As per the Mirror article, it is believed that these lack of funds have scuppered deals for players including Joleon Lescott, Lewis Holtby and Javier Hernandez—three players that, without question, would have improved the Villa starting XI. With relegation a possibility for the fourth consecutive season, a takeover looks likely to be the only thing to save Villa.

The club is also surrounded by uncertainty and instability. In any industry, the news of a change in management, a takeover or redundancies can have a detrimental effect on staff and ultimately negatively impact performance, motivation and loyalty.

This is the type of melting pot that everyone associated with the club is dealing with at the moment—from management and players, through to the groundsmen and tea ladies, through to the loyal supporters.

This uncertainty looms over Villa Park like a large, dark cloud, engulfing any sign of hope or ambition. Until the future of the club is resolved, this cloud is likely to remain. A takeover is therefore required to enable everyone associated with the club to understand the vision of the new owner so they can get on with working towards it.

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We sometimes forget that players and managers are human. The truth though is that the current predicament will be affecting them as much as the supporters.

It makes sense that the likes of Vlaar and Delph would want to know where the club is heading before signing new contracts. Similarly, new players are unlikely to want to join a club with an uncertain future in which promises can easily be broken by a new regime.

You can also feel for Paul Lambert. Whether he is the right choice or not is irrelevant for now. He is the manager and has been attempting to build a squad knowing that his neck is on the line—a new owner could buy the club and sack him straight away, a la the Venkys and Sam Allardyce. He is operating within an uncertain environment with limited resources. Would another manager have done better if in his shoes?

On top of this, the Midlands outfit have also recently added Roy Keane as assistant manager, per an official statement on the club's website. This too could arguably add uncertainty and instability to an already fragile club. Keane is known as a volatile character and a person that doesn't back away from confrontation.

With suggestions that Keane could actually have his sights set on Lambert's job, is introducing a character such as this into the current environment the best move? His appointment could be a masterstroke, but only time will tell.

With the players returning to pre-season training on 7 July, this dark cloud looks likely to remain over the club for the foreseeable future. Football finance expert Peter Knowles was quoted by the BBC as saying that once a buyer is found, the process is unlikely to be quick:

A sale won't happen overnight. Once a genuine buyer comes forward, you are looking at a period of at least three months to complete a sale. It will sell, but you are talking about somebody who would want it as a plaything rather than somebody looking to make serious money from it.

 The realisation that a takeover is unlikely to happen anytime soon is not what the Villa fans want to hear. In reality, a deal is unlikely to take place over the summer, meaning that it could drag into the early part of next season. In response to the news that Lerner would be selling, the Aston Villa Supporters' Trust, in an official statement, urged the club to complete the sale quickly: 

We would ask the sale is completed as quickly as possible in order that the new owner can put his team in place, and make the required changes to ensure Aston Villa become a competitive force on the field again.

These wishes look to have been ignored and a change of ownership mid-season is probably the likely outcome. Even if the deal drags its heels for a few months longer though, surely having an owner committed to the cause should be key.

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Lerner has done a lot for the club, from investing heavily during the early years through to tapping into a proud community spirit with the pioneering Acorns charity shirt sponsorship. However, it was clear that he'd fallen out of love with the club, perhaps started by Martin O'Neill's sudden resignation prior to the start of the 2010/11 season.

The appointment of former Birmingham manager Alex McLeish as Villa boss in June 2011 was ill-advised and resulted in Lerner being heavily criticised by the Holte End faithful. The transfer funds were reduced, the wage budget slashed and the American billionaire spent less time at Villa Park. In his own words, Lerner admitted in his statement that "I owe it to Villa to move on, and look for fresh, invigorated leadership, if in my heart I feel I can no longer do the job." 

A takeover deal is therefore vital to bring back some passion throughout the club. A chairman is needed who wants to attend games and watch his club perform on the pitch, not one who'd prefer to spend time in their mansion in another country. This should also help address the current disillusionment and negative feeling around Villa Park.

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For all of the criticism that they've received, the likes of Cardiff's Vincent Tan and QPR's Tony Fernandes at least turn up for games and support their clubs with passion—even if the dress sense of football jersey over a smart shirt can be questioned.

Change won't happen overnight, but change won't happen at all if a new owner isn't found. The club is in a rut. Management is in a rut. The players are in a rut. A takeover is vital to awaken the sleeping giant and return the club to the lofty heights that their history and Villa fans deserve.

 

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