Uncertainty looms as Villa are put up for sale
Randy Lerner didn't prolong the suspense any longer than necessary. Just after 10 a.m. BST on Monday and less than 24 hours after the end of the 2013-14 Premier League season, he confirmed one of the worst secrets in English football: Aston Villa are for sale.
The full statement from the club can be read here. From Lerner, it was honest, heartfelt and sincere; an acceptance and admission that he can no longer take Villa forward. That is fair enough. As has been said before, if Lerner no longer has the means, drive or will to restore Villa to top six contenders, he should hand over to someone who does.
The announcement did not go quite as far as many supporters would have wanted, though. It was hoped that Lerner would reveal a new buyer, thus quickly addressing the future of Paul Lambert as manager and moving on to strengthening the playing squad. For all concerned, progress would be welcomed. If Lerner is just beginning to inform parties that he's ready to talk, then this could be a lengthy process, stretching into next season and beyond.
Let's hope there are already wheels in motion, for Villa need to move onward and upward, swiftly. A situation of limbo cannot be endured. There are contract issues to resolve -- Marc Albrighton's is about to expire, Fabian Delph, said to be a target for Newcastle, has a year remaining -- and other areas of the squad need improvement. If decisions such as these stall, the team will suffer. How long will Lambert stay in charge, and will he have the jurisdiction to make such decisions in the meantime?
If ever there is a club in need of fresh impetus, it is Villa. The team delivered a timely reminder of that on Sunday with a limp end to a season which degenerated into a series of desperately poor performances. The 3-0 defeat at Tottenham epitomised the weary state of the football club.
Beaten long before the half time interval, Villa's players plodded around White Hart Lane with little sense of purpose; their manager looked on, expression blank and disconnected. He looked beaten, too, and has done for weeks. Only Villa's away support, upbeat and full of fun despite the team's surrender on the field, enjoyed their day; that has not wavered over 38 games. The backing for a very ordinary team has been extraordinary.
Villa have closed the season in abject form. Beaten 3-0 by Spurs and 4-0 by Manchester City in the past few days, recent weeks have also seen heavy defeats by Stoke, Manchester United and Swansea, with four goals conceded on each occasion.
Embarrassingly easy to score against and toothless in front of goal -- that would accurately sum up Villa's season. Lambert has overseen a remarkable 20 league defeats in 2013-14; more than half of Villa's matches have been lost. While the manager has worked within the parameters of a somewhat stifling transfer and wage budget, it's nigh on impossible to defend a record like this.
In the last month he has looked and sounded resigned; citing avoiding relegation as an achievement. That's not what Lambert would have said six months ago and it's certainly not what any Villa fan wants to hear. There is something very wrong indeed if that becomes the acceptable bar Villa must reach. Regardless of when the sale takes place and who the new owner is (or are), it's debatable whether the manager has the energy to revitalise himself and take the team forward.
In this respect, it comes down to more than money. Yes, Villa need to be in a position once again where they can afford the salaries of players of proven quality, but it also needs a coherent long-term strategy in place and the people at the club to deliver that. The right buyer is critical.