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Real escape with hope of progress

What the papers say
By ESPN Staff

Lerner pulls out of race to buy Aston Villa

Life-long fan Michael Neville's hopes of his consortium taking control of Aston Villa have been boosted by the apparent withdrawal from the bidding of American billionaire Randy Lerner.

Lerner is believed to have pulled out of the battle to buy out major shareholder and Villa chairman Doug Ellis after holding lengthy talks with the 82-year-old this evening.

It is unclear what was the reason for Lerner deciding to end his interest more than a fortnight after initially meeting Ellis who put the club up for sale nine months ago.

But Lerner, the owner of NFL side Cleveland Browns, was sufficiently unimpressed with certain facets of the discussions to decide against pursuing his interest any further.

Lerner, who has a personal fortune of US dollars 1.4 billion, clearly had the funds at his disposal which could have given a massive financial boost to Villa.

But Neville has formally tabled a £64million bid which, if accepted, would end Ellis's 31-year reign as chairman spanning two spells although he will still have a part to play at Villa.

Neville said: 'Doug has taken a lot of criticism. The guy has given a great foundation to Villa and I think that foundation has to be built on and it is time for a new order to come in.

'But you wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Doug has so much experience in business and football. Why not take that experience and use it to the advantage of Aston Villa? Maybe a life presidency or some kind of ambassador's role.'

Sven-Goran Eriksson's agent Athole Still was also spotted leaving Villa Park as the midlands club confirmed to the Stock Exchange they had received a 'number of indicative offers' from potential buyers.

It is only six months ago Eriksson was embroiled in the 'fake sheikh' controversy linking him with a move to Villa after the end of his spell as England coach.

Still may be part of a consortium interested in buying into Villa although he left the ground without making any comment.