Finally, Villa owners to be proud of

By Graham Hill

FOOTBALL’S billionaire owners are often hailed from the stands as saviours of clubs.

Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and Leicester’s Srivaddhanaprabha family all brought success and silverware with them.

It has not been quite the same at Villa Park over the past decade and a bit though.

And not even the fact that there are two billionaires in the boardroom – with cash to spend – seems to have taken away the obvious cynicism caused by the activities of the previous two owners.

I remember when Randy Lerner bought Villa from Doug Ellis for £64million. The American was greeted as the man to turn things around at Villa Park.

Deadly Doug had run the club with an ambition governed by a determination not to overspend, just as a number of rival clubs had at the time and paid for it with relegation.

When Ellis stepped down and the wealthy Lerner came in, Villa fans sang his name from the Holte End.

Not only did he take over but he ushered in the Martin O’Neill era. It seemed like a dream ticket. Ellis had made way and previous manager David O’Leary – who had not endeared himself to Villa fans – had gone too.

It looked as if the good times were back. Only one problem. Lerner bought Villa because he thought the Champions League was within reach – and that is where he would have made his money back.

But with Villa coming close – with three successive top six finishes under O’Neill – but not making the top four, Lerner’s interest waned.

And by the time the start of the 2010-11 season came around, O’Neill fell out with Lerner over transfer funds and made his exit on the eve of the campaign.

After that, Lerner stumbled on and finally sold the club just as Villa were related to the Championship.

Enter Tony Xia, a doctor no less. Xia was bringing Chinese money to the club and again, cash was spent while keeping fans up to date on Twitter.

But the appointment of Roberto di Matteo as manager proved to be a bad choice – Xia had all but given the job to Nigel Pearson before a change of heart.

Steve Bruce came in and, in Xia’s second season, it was becoming clear that the owner had gambled a lot on Villa winning promotion. When they did not, the extent of the club’s financial standing was laid bare.

Villa almost went under in 2018 – a fact that has since been underlined by chief executive Christian Purslow.

And that is where Edens and Sawiris came in. They saved the club by pumping money in to keep the club afloat. But their impact was lessened slightly by the fact that they had little time to give Bruce money to spend before last season – plus they were working under FFP restrictions.

Now the chequebook has been opened up properly, but still the owners are maintaining a relatively low profile.

When they were interviewed after the Championship Play-off Final, they gave a tantalising glimpse of what was to come. Unlike Lerner and Xia, they appear to be the real deal. They do not have their own song just yet but perhaps it is better that way.

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