NFL billionaire Lerner linked with Villa takeover
Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner - who is reportedly preparing a takeover of Premiership club Aston Villa - is 'exploring' business interests in England, according to the NFL team.
It is understood the American billionaire will enter the bidding for the West Midlands club when Villa chairman Doug Ellis returns from holiday this week.
A spokesman for the Cleveland Browns revealed: 'We have no comment on this specific matter, but can say that Randy has always maintained interests outside of the Browns and is currently exploring ones in England where he has been involved since 1993.'
Ellis put Villa on the market in October last year, but despite interest from a number of parties, is yet to receive a firm offer.
A consortium controlled by businessman Michael Neville is also understood to be ready to bid when Ellis returns from Spain tomorrow.
Ellis is now thought to want around £57million for the club, having originally asked for £64million before the sale of land.
The 44-year-old Lerner has an estimated 1.2 billion-dollar fortune and is chairman of credit card giants MBNA, while business magazine Forbes ranks the Browns as the seventh-most valuable franchise in the NFL at 892 million US dollars.
Ellis, 82, has been at the helm at Villa for almost 24 years since returning to the club for a second spell in 1982, but he is ready to relinquish control.
A statement to the Stock Exchange last week confirmed there had been approaches from abroad and the United Kingdom to buy Villa, who have slipped into the doldrums and are badly in need of a massive cash injection.
Both parties are fans of Martin O'Neill, although Lerner is also believed to be an admirer of former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann as the battle to succeed David O'Leary as Villa manager hots up.
Villa have remained tight-lipped since then on the future and their London-based City PR company, Buchanans, would also make no comment on Lerner's ambitions.
An unnamed Saudi Arabia-based consortium is also understood to be considering the possibility of attempting to buy into Villa.
Villa Shareholders' Association chairman Jonathan Fear said: 'We can't obviously hang our hats on anyone interested in buying Villa until they come in and it is seen what they have to offer.
'But the fact there now appears to be interest in buying Aston Villa is excellent and it seems obvious the reign of Doug Ellis could be coming to an end.'
Lerner began his career as an investment analyst, the son of MBNA founder Al Lerner. In 1991, he started an independent investment firm with Progress capital called Securities Advisors Inc (SAI) which he owned and managed until 2001.
In 1993 Lerner became a director of MBNA and became chairman nine years later. It was also following the death of his father that he became owner of the Cleveland Browns.
O'Neill remains the fans' favourite to take over from O'Leary, who parted company with Villa last week after three years in charge.
Ideally Villa would like to appoint a new manager in time for their three-match pre-season tour of Germany and Holland early next month.