Lerner needs help to steer Villa

FanZoner Peter Cameron feels Aston Villa need greater leadership at the top to steer them clear of their troubled waters.

Last Updated: 19/02/13 at 11:52 Post Comment

Lerner: Reportedly turned down a chance to seek Taylor's advice

Lerner: Reportedly turned down a chance to seek Taylor's advice

When I was young I had a dream, to see the greatest football team. And now I'm here the dream is real, with Randy Lerner and Martin O'Neill.

It seems like a lifetime ago that those words rang true, but it wasn't so long ago the club was constantly finishing in the top six of the league - albeit without ever really threatening the then 'big four'.

We had two trips to Wembley in one year and life was good. Well at least I thought it was.

At the time I couldn't see the long-term damage that was being done to the club for a relatively low short-term gain. We threw cash at it, £124.9million over four years to be precise, and hit only a glass ceiling of sixth place.

To my calculations we recouped £39.65million in the same period, giving us a net spend (don't you love that term) of +£85.25million during the Martin O'Neill years.

It was a gamble to get Champions League football that didn't pay off and ultimately has left us looking just as likely to get relegated as we looked the year of the takeover.

That Spurs and Everton have both managed to temporarily break the monopoly at the top of the table while spending less on transfers, and with a wage structure that wouldn't make a Russian oligarch blush, is testament to the poor way the club was being run during this time.

O'Neill was given Carte Blanche over signings and wages and he did what most managers would do - he splurged. And he splurged hard. With the 20/20 vision that comes with hindsight, what he was doing was never going to be sustainable. For those four years the business model of Aston Villa was more akin to a teenage boy playing football manager, clicking on the plus signs until both transfer fee and wages had been accepted for any player that tickles the fancy.

This was Lerner's biggest mistake and one that we're still paying for now. As much as I dislike O'Neill, that he was so irresponsible with the money is to an extent irrelevant. He should never have been given that level of control over finances in the first place. Lerner isn't a football man, he doesn't know the ins and outs of the game and his master plan of spending £100million to reach Europe's top competition didn't work.

We ended up with two right-backs getting paid a king's ransom each to pick splinters out of their backsides, two central midfielders signed for circa £14million kicking their heels, alongside a player who at the time was one of the most sought-after English youngsters. I could go on, but that about sums up the extent to which money was just written off on players that weren't used, weren't good enough or some combination of both.

There were of course good signings as well, but the number of poor signings for big fees, on big wages, is something criminally overlooked in the media until fairly recently. That it was allowed to continue for so long highlights Lerner's lack of understanding of football and the fact that he decided to surround himself with advisers like Paul Faulkner to usher in an era of the blind leading the blind. Another mistake.

So faced with a reported wages-to-revenue bill in excess of 80 per cent and with not even a fifth-placed finish to show for this lavishness, it was time to tighten the belt. O'Neill bolted at the first sign of austerity and the running of the club has been confused and inconsistent ever since. Gerard Houllier was appointed, apparently with a focus on developing youth, scouting in Europe, cutting the wage bill and playing a short passing-based game.

It started badly but after the arrival of Darren Bent it looked like we were getting somewhere. But due to Houllier's ongoing health issues he stepped down in the summer. Then Lerner appeared to decide that short passing, developing youth and a European scouting network was not what he wanted and went for you know who. The appointment of Alex McLeish was supposedly made by Paul Faulkner, a chief executive who doesn't know football, when what was needed was the advice of someone who knows the nature of the game and ideally the club.

Any development that happened the previous year was scrapped due to the polar opposite nature of the outgoing and incoming managers. Added to that the fact he had two relegations from three Premier League seasons on his CV and had come from Small Heath - it was only ever going to end one way. Had anyone on our board been a footballing man, they would have seen this coming a mile off. Another mistake. Once which set us back massively in terms of any immediate stability or progression following O'Neill's exit. The fans and the club were at loggerheads and a lot of trust and good will was eroded during those 10 months.

Having narrowly avoided relegation, McLeish was sacked and Paul Lambert was brought in, apparently to again slash the wage bill and completely overhaul the squad based solely on youth.

We now find ourselves in the position where too much has been done too soon and relegation is a very real prospect. The fact that, despite the league position Villa were in during January, there was no real investment in the squad suggests that money is now more important to the people at the top than success - which for us now is simply survival.

I'm not sure what will happen next. A lot will depend on luck. A succession of managers have made a succession of mistakes but the one constant is that these were mistakes ushered in by the work of Randy Lerner and Paul Faulkner. Rumour has it the advice of Graham Taylor was rejected by Lerner in favour of bringing in his own man. Taylor could have been a valuable asset as Lerner found his feet in both football and the Premier League - but one it seems he chose to decline. Another mistake.

Whether or not we get out of the mess, we genuinely need to look at bringing in an advisor who knows the game well to support Lerner in his decision-making process, as the club has no leadership from the top and no direction at the moment.

This needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Otherwise what was once a dream will end in a nightmare.

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