Lerner deals top four blow to boss O'Neill by slashing Villa transfer kitty
27 May 2009 12:52
Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner insists he will not go down the route of Manchester United and Liverpool and plunge the West Midlands club into debt in order to fund another summer spending spree for Martin O'Neill.
Speaking to the media for the first time in 18 months, Lerner revealed that O'Neill's transfer kitty will be reduced from the £40million he splashed in the closed season last year.
The news will come as a blow to Villa fans hopeful that American billionaire Lerner would continue to fund the pursuit of Champions League football after having had their appetites whetted by the club's stay in the top four this season.
But while admitting breaking into the Champions league places remains the aim, Lerner called on all connected with the club to be patient and admitted that future transfer activity would have to be funded by money generated by the club itself – with plans afoot to expand Villa Park capcity to 50,000 - rather than handouts.
Asked whether O'Neill's transfer kitty would match that of previous seasons, Lerner replied: 'Probably not. I would expect to invest less this summer than last summer. When we set out to build up the club we probably expected year four to mean more modest spending than in year three.
'With respect to the squad, that is what the manager does. With respect to the finances, it is about building the business and trying to generate more of the funding that strengthens the squad from internal operations which means we are increasingly conscious of not adding debt.'
Unlike the Glazers at United and George Gillett and Tom Hicks at Liverpool, Lerner did not saddle Aston Villa with the costs of his own takeover. And the Villa owner admitted the levels of debt both United and Liverpool's owners must service would be enough to give him sleepless nights.
'Could I imagine doing that? No,' he said. 'It is hard enough to sleep at night Not performing well, losing a game or losing a competition is very disappointing, no question. But that is on one level of disappointment.
'Risking the health of a club is, to me, a whole different level. That is a whole other level of downside. It may not be as glamorous on a given day, week or season, but you do know that you have left an organisation better and it will survive. You start getting into debt as the vehicle of achieving your goals and you are getting into a different game. It is not football, that game.'
With Villa needing to replace retried defender Martin Laursen and the future of captian Gareth Barry far from certain, it seems O'Neill will need to be at his creative best in the transfer market if he is to bolster his squad to the extent they can make a sustained challenge for the Champions League next season.
But despite a call for patience, Lerner is still of the belief that Villa will eventually gatecrash the top four.
He said: 'That is part of the magic of being in sports. I think it is difficult. If you go back 10 years, 20 years or 50 years, there are not the same four teams up there.
'If you are patient and you build the business and you keep yourself focused on the fundamentals, dull as they are, strange things can happen. And when they happen they won't seem strange. You do look at it and go "how?". If you give up on the magical potential of being in sports then you probably shouldn't be in it. If all it is a ruthless calculation in the end then I am not sure you are getting it right.'
Lerner also expressed confidence that Barry would sign a new contract with Villa despite his desire to play for a side in the Champions League, before revealing he would be prepared to let his contract - which has 12 months remaining - run down and lose him on free rather than cash in this summer.
Lerner added: 'Am I optimistic? Yes, I am. We have discussed a new contract with him. Am I happy for him to wind down? I think that's his decision but if it means he's staying another year, then absolutely I'm happy. Even though Villa would lose £10-£12 million? Yes, absolutely. You are talking about a player who is an integral part of your potential success.
'I would give Gareth Barry the highest ranking you could give. He's the best. He's a gentleman, he's a great player. He's a pleasure to be around. He's a leader and a captain. I am prepared to do what is necessary to make sense for this club.'