The past several years have not been kind to Aston Villa or its supporters. An apparently drained Randy Lerner has been interested in selling the club for some time only to find no willing buyers at his desired price of £100m pounds (already reduced from £200m earlier in the year). Villa are a club with considerable history, large supporter base, and decent infrastructure, so where are the suitors? Is there no one willing to take a chance on this West Midlands Black Friday deal? Why is no one buying Aston Villa?
Randy Lerner has owned Villa for almost a decade, securing full ownership late in 2006 and quickly making substantial investments across the club including players for the first and youth teams, academy improvements, and supporter facilities. To avoid going into a detailed history I will summarize: things got much more exciting for the Villans…and then they got much more exciting going in the wrong direction. As key players were sold and Lerner dialed back investment the supporters have seen the club go from Champions League hopefuls to relegation muck brawlers.
There are a few reasons AVFC might be having trouble attracting a new owner:
Lerner garnered much support for emphasizing the revitalization of the club’s youth system as an engine for the long term growth of the club. While several academy players have taken key roles over the past two years, one suspects this would not be the case with larger transfer budgets available to Paul Lambert. Unfairly or not, Lerner’s vision has largely gone unrealized and any new owner would have to invest substantial amounts of time and capital to restart the engine.
The attractiveness of the academy is further reduced by the adoption of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan. The plan abolishes the “90 minute rule” for youth development which limited clubs to signing players within their geographic region (“catchment area”), effectively ending the significant control that Villa held on talent from the West Midlands. Losing the catchment area brings the club into direct competition with the academies of the elite (Arsenal, Chelsea, United, etc.) and more renowed (Southampton).
STABILITY REQUIRED = £££
Villa’s place in the top flight has been genuinely under threat for the past several years; while the club has managed to survive on the cheap so far history suggests that underinvestment is a poor long term strategy. The club currently falls 13th in the league based on estimates of player market value.
An incoming owner would likely desire mid-table safety for the next several years, a target that would likely require an immediate net investment of £20 – 30m, followed by regular, smaller investment each year as the remaining squad from the Lerner years is rotated out.
NO European Adventures
The most pressing concern is the almost non-existent chance that Aston Villa have of accessing the Champions League and all its bounty. Manchester City’s arrival was a significant disruption to Lerner’s plan because while a foundering Liverpool kept Villa’s European dream alive Manchester City’s ascent quickly closed that window.
What was a duel for fourth became a three club brawl where Villa found itself holding the proverbial knife at a gun fight. The gap has only grown wider as the incumbent clubs have collectively invested hundreds of millions in players and infrastructure to secure the four valuable berths. Financial Fair Play has also reduced the effectiveness of the ‘Chelsea’ model as any new owner would be restricted in transfer spending or significantly deep-pocketed to simply pay luxury tax fines of FFP.
With little chance of European glory there are few ways to grow the brand and even fewer large revenue opportunities to tap into. It is little wonder that few were willing to entertain Lerner’s price.