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Randy Lerner and What Happens Next


GaztonVilla
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We didn’t sign any new players on transfer deadline day. Villa fans sat hopefully in front of Sky Sports News waiting for Jim White to shout in his annoying Scottish accent about BIG NEWS FROM ASTON VILLA. The big news of the day from Villa Park was that Kevin MacDonald had talked things through with his girlfriend and, unlike David Unsworth, had decided he quite liked the idea of first team duty at Bodymoor Heath.

The mood on VillaTalk swung violently throughout the day. Like cats on a hot tin roof, fans nervously eyed Harry Redknapp and hoped he woudn’t “football manage” the transfer of Ashley Young. Eventually, Big Ben chimed six times and the window was closed. Ashley Young didn’t leave, neither did Sidwell or Heskey or Davies or Beye. To the apparent shock of many, nobody new arrived.

I can’t imagine why anybody thought a new arrival of any type was likely. Five days before the season started, Martin O’Neill shook the football world by resigning “with immediate effect”. By reading his letter to Paul Faulkner and exiting the club in a puff of smoke, Villa’s prospects of major activity in the transfer market evaporated until January.

The situation which has emerged from the rubble of the ‘quake caused by O’Neill’s departure is far from ideal. Rumours were rife about the reasons for the manager’s swift exit. The official line that manager and owner no longer shared a common vision for the future is the best explanation we’re going to get in the absence of “O’Neill: The Autobiography”. However, in the run up to 6pm today, the knives were being unsheathed and sharpened. Randy Lerner was now being described more frequently as the new Doug Ellis.

Let me state the following for the record: I have great admiration and respect for Randy Lerner. I believe him to be the near-perfect custodian of our club. That does not mean I will blindly follow him and refuse to see his faults. However, in this instance, I stand firmly behind the Chairman. These are my reasons.

Martin O’Neill resigned in the week running up to our first league game of the season. O’Neill, after 4 years of near-total, almost dictatorial, control of footballing matters had left and a massive vacuum remained. By their nature, vacuums suck up all that surrounds them. They are hugely volatile and destructive. I believe that Lerner’s biggest mistake since his arrival was to allow for that to happen. He got very lucky with O’Neill, either inheriting or appointing (opinions vary) a manager who was riding on the crest of a huge wave of goodwill following the departure of David O’Leary. I also believe that he has accepted that failing, and probably accepted it earlier in the summer.

His biggest Villa test now staring him in the face, Lerner is now the owner of a football club preparing for its most competitive season in many years. The options facing him are to either make an immediate managerial appointment or to attempt take a breath and attack the situation in a considered way. It happened fast, and Kevin MacDonald was asked to take the reins while the club began the search for a replacement.

Fans chanted their support for Lerner at the West Ham game later that week. It wasn’t a small section of the Holte End; the chant echoed around Villa Park.

What happened since then is anybody’s guess. I believe that Lerner, at this point, also accepted his own limitations in terms of football expertise and resorted back to what he knows best: business.

What does any well run business do when a Senior Executive leaves his post? I can tell you that they don’t make a few phone calls and make a decision rashly. Let’s remember that O’Neill’s departure was not expected. Back in May, Lerner faced the press and said that he and O’Neill were working well together.

What a well run business will do is examine the market place and make an informed choice. They will meet with several candidates, and when the process is finished, a “right” choice will be made. It is my belief that Lerner has engaged the services of an executive search consultant to assist in finding a new manager. This is hardly a ground-breaking practice, but it does not involve Lerner, Faulkner or Krulak running through the LMA website and searching for the mobile numbers of several managers. The consultant does the initial running. Let’s call him the headhunter.

The headhunter acts as the middle man. He is presented with a profile of the “ideal candidate”. In this case, the club’s statement describing the ideal candidate as having experience of managing in the Premier League and with an understanding of how to get the best from our squad is probably the same profile given to the headhunter.

The headhunter then goes away, compiles a list of potential candidates who match that profile and begin the process of making first contact. The beauty of this method is that the headhunter makes the initial approach in a sensitive and discrete way, and without the knowledge of Aston Villa. Let’s imagine that the headhunter has David Moyes on his list of candidates who match the profile. Aston Villa cannot call David Moyes and discuss the vacancy with him; that’s a flagrant disregard for the laws of the game. However, the headhunter can contact Moyes or his agent, arrange a meeting to get an initial impression of Moyes’ interest in the role and, if he expresses an interest, put him on the list of interested candidates.

The headhunter will have been asked to come back with a shortlist; maybe 3, maybe 5, maybe 10 names. As an experienced recruiter, the consultant will be able to gauge which are the strongest candidates in terms of level of interest, previous achievements and future potential. The consultant then presents the shortlist to Aston Villa. At this stage, Villa identify their number one choice and, if necessary, approach their club for permission to discuss the vacancy directly with the candidate. Most clubs know, when they receive a call like this from another club, that their manager has shown an interest in the vacancy and that their only remaining course of action is to get the best possible compensation package available to them. Martin Jol’s flirtation with Fulham is a good example of this process. In this instance, Ajax stood firm and kept a hold of their manager. Most clubs aren’t as successful.

The above is never a swift process. It can take many weeks, and I imagine this is exactly the reason why we have not appointed a manager before now. I believe that anybody who has imagined Randy Lerner on his mobile to Sven Eriksson, Martin Jol, Mark Hughes et al has the wrong image of how Lerner is conducting this process.

I also think that anybody who expected the Chairman to sanction the spending of any money since O’Neill’s departure is equally misguided. Any prospective candidate preparing for a meeting with Randy Lerner this week would see an owner interfering in team affairs, signing players on the advice of a man tasked with keeping things “ticking over” while a permanent manager is recruited. Any prospective manager worth his salt would see that and immediately be suspicious of the man running the football club.

Say what you like about Randy Lerner, but he is no fool. I believe he’s had his fingers burnt by Martin O’Neill. He believed he had a good, if not excellent, relationship with the man he entrusted the running of his football club to. He isn’t going to jump from the frying pan into the fire and allow himself to be similarly exposed again.

Randy Lerner is Chairman of a football club he has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on in the last 4 years. He will most definitely not place that investment in any kind of jeopardy by making the sort of decision which will damage or devalue the club and I firmly back that approach.

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I don't know what to think at the moment. You certainly seem to know how things are done in the game Gazton. I think that all will be told with the appointment. If it is K Mac, it reminds me off the appointment of G Taylor MkII by Ellis i.e. be content with just a mid-table finish. We are bigger than that. If it is a top class appointment, I have no doubt that he will be able to get the best out of what we have got because like you say, we do have a decent 17-20 players to choose from. Only time will tell.

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I also think that anybody who expected the Chairman to sanction the spending of any money since O’Neill’s departure is equally misguided. Any prospective candidate preparing for a meeting with Randy Lerner this week would see an owner interfering in team affairs, signing players on the advice of a man tasked with keeping things “ticking over” while a permanent manager is recruited. Any prospective manager worth his salt would see that and immediately be suspicious of the man running the football club.

If the above is true I would love to know who ten days after Martin O'Neill left the club, and with no manager in place, decided to sell James Milner and buy Stephen Ireland.

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What I should say is that if, at the end of the process, Kevin MacDonald gets the job I will have my reservations about him as a Premier League manager.

I will not, however, have reservations about the way in which the appointment was handled. I am very confident that accusations of "stringing out" the appointment simply to avoid spending money before today are very wide of the mark. The services headhunter wouldn't even have been engaged if that was the case. By the way, I'm pretty sure that's why Keith Harris was at the match on Sunday. I don't think he's the headhunter, he made the introduction.

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I also think that anybody who expected the Chairman to sanction the spending of any money since O’Neill’s departure is equally misguided. Any prospective candidate preparing for a meeting with Randy Lerner this week would see an owner interfering in team affairs, signing players on the advice of a man tasked with keeping things “ticking over” while a permanent manager is recruited. Any prospective manager worth his salt would see that and immediately be suspicious of the man running the football club.

If the above is true I would love to know who ten days after Martin O'Neill left the club, and with no manager in place, decided to sell James Milner and buy Stephen Ireland.

That deal was already well down the road towards completion, with the full backing of O'Neill. In fact, a "memorandum of understanding" had been signed by both parties.

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I also think that anybody who expected the Chairman to sanction the spending of any money since O’Neill’s departure is equally misguided. Any prospective candidate preparing for a meeting with Randy Lerner this week would see an owner interfering in team affairs, signing players on the advice of a man tasked with keeping things “ticking over” while a permanent manager is recruited. Any prospective manager worth his salt would see that and immediately be suspicious of the man running the football club.

If the above is true I would love to know who ten days after Martin O'Neill left the club, and with no manager in place, decided to sell James Milner and buy Stephen Ireland.

That deal was already well down the road towards completion, with the full backing of O'Neill. In fact, a "memorandum of understanding" had been signed by both parties.

I'd suggest with no manager in place that deal should have been stopped. In fact I can't think of a better reason not to proceed with a transfer.

You can't have it both ways suggesting Randy is right not to get involved in buying players whilst saying oh but its OK he had no choice but to sell our best player 10 days after the manager left.

Randy is not blameless in everything that has happened over the summer. In fact he is very much the opposite.

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You can't have it both ways suggesting Randy is right not to get involved in buying players whilst saying oh but its OK he had no choice but to sell our best player 10 days after the manager left.

Milner wanted to leave and there was a signed contract, signed before MON resigned, to say we'd sell him for £x in exchange for Stephen Ireland. In the absence of a clause allowing for nullifcation of that contract, there was no way of stopping the deal short of breaking Milner's leg.

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Excellent analysis Gazton. We wait now with bated breath. Do you think funds will be made available in January or are we going with what we've got and going for a restructure of the team next summer? Have we got enough to tread water for a season or even make proress on the pitch?

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