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Real escape with hope of progress

What the papers say
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By ESPN Staff

Cleveland Browns owner takes over Aston Villa

LONDON -- English Premier League team Aston Villa agreed to a $118.8 million takeover Monday by a group led by Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner.

Lerner's group, Reform Acquisitions Ltd., offered $10.37 per Aston Villa share, the principals involved in the deal announced to the London Stock Exchange. That represents a premium of about 47 percent over the closing price on Sept. 16, 2005, the last day before the beginning of the offer period.

"It is my belief and the basis for my bid to acquire Aston Villa Football Club that it can compete at the highest level within the Premiership and in Europe," Lerner said.

Lerner, former chairman of credit card company MBNA, would be the second U.S. National Football League owner to buy a Premier League club.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer purchased Manchester United in 2005, sparking protests by fans worried Glazer would be more devoted to making money than to winning.

The board of Aston Villa recommended the transaction to shareholders, and said owners of 56.85 percent of shares had already committed to the deal.

Villa chairman Doug Ellis, who has owned the club since 1982 and has a 39 percent stake, put the club up for sale a year ago.

"It has been my sincere pleasure to have been involved with Aston Villa these many years, both as chairman and as a substantial shareholder," Ellis said. "The club has been an enormous and immensely enjoyable part of my life."