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By ESPN Staff

Lerner sets his sights for the 'long haul' with Villa

Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner insists he will continue to bankroll Martin O'Neill's transfer dealings as he set his sights on being involved with the midlands club for 'the long haul'.

Lerner today revealed he has bought O'Neill captures such as Stiliyan Petrov (£8 million) and Ashley Young (£9.65 million) out of his own pocket.

He intends to pursue the same policy for the foreseeable future although he is eventually hoping the commercial plan he has for Villa will provide some assistance in that department.

But Lerner is adamant he will not rename Villa Park and denied speculation he was contemplating opening a casino.

Lerner, the owner of NFL side Cleveland Browns, faced the English media for the first time today since taking charge of Villa six month ago in an initial £63million buy-out.

He said: 'The money I have spent on players at Aston Villa has come from my personal pocket. Yes, that is correct and I have no intention, and no market set, for when I would stop spending.

'I don't have a number in my mind, nothing like that at all.

'What I do have is a commercial plan that is supported by new executives, who are intending to do their level best to go some way to funding player costs.

'That is the eventual goal. When we execute that plan, it will be a lot easier.

'Will I be around Aston Villa in 10 years' time? I hope so, absolutely.

'I don't have accommodation in the midlands yet but I have looked at a few things.'

Villa this week agreed a new sportswear deal with Nike to run from the start of the 2007-08 season but, while renaming stands may be an option, Lerner made it clear the Villa Park name will remain.

He said: 'What about naming rights? Does that include an offer for one of the stands? Or does that mean Villa Park becoming the Dorito Bowl? For example, if Nike wanted the North Stand, is that naming rights?

'But we are not changing the name Villa Park - and we are also not opening a super casino. We are not in the casino business. In fact, I have never been inside a casino!'

Lerner revealed he has been keen for several years to buy into a Premiership club but insists Villa were the only outfit he approached.

He said: 'I had been interested in, and eager to be involved with, the Premier League over - I would say - the past five years.

'The basis for that interest is probably simply a combination of having some background in England. Secondly, I am a very, very big fan of English football. I thought it was the right time for me, in terms of just where I am in my career.

'Then there is just the chance element to this. A set of circumstances converged and it seemed to make sense. I wouldn't say it was a burning need - it wasn't a long, protracted acquisition.

'It [Aston Villa] was available and I thought it was the right time. I wanted to do it and felt we had done our research. I felt I knew what I was getting myself into and I called up Mr [Doug] Ellis. It was that simple.

'I did not consider the possibility of approaching other football clubs.

'What happened to me was I sat with some guys, some friends in London who are in the business of thinking about football clubs, and it was always about Aston Villa.

'Other clubs were mentioned in the conversation but it was always about Aston Villa, because Villa was the right opportunity. I initiated everything.'