Sunday, April 20, 2014

Aston Villa - Up for Sale?

Rumours have been doing the rounds for a few months now, regarding whether or not Aston Villa are up for sale. Today, Randy Lerner issued a direct statement. A statement he could have used to deny these rumours and reaffirm his commitment to the club. However, he didn't do this.

What can we read into this statement then?

To me, it seems clear confirmation that the club is up for sale. Randy Lerner may not have invested as heavily in the club (as the fans would have liked) over the past 4 years but, he is still a very shrewd businessman. Would he really issue a statement like this, so obviously making it clear that he is open to a sale of the club, without having a buyer in place? By doing this, he is very unlikely to be able to demand the sort of money that is being talked about in a potential sale. He is owed nearly £200m by the club and bought us for £63m. He will undoubtedly want to recoup as much of his investment as possible. By making it so obvious that he wants to sell the club he is putting himself in a poor position as a seller. Therefore, not only does this statement indicate to me that he wants to sell, it tells me that there is a buyer in place.

What about the timing of the statement?

This latest statement has been released at around 4pm on Easter Sunday. Why? Surely it could have waited. Perhaps, after numerous newspapers running with the story, someone has hit the nail on the head, or at least, an article has come a little too close to home. It is unlikely that this statement was planned. Are the club being reactive or proactive? Although it is speculation, we may see further stories breaking in the coming days and in anticipation of this Aston Villa may feel that they need to stay ahead of the game instead of allowing the media to fuel further rumours.

Why doesn't he just admit we're for sale?

After the statements that have been issued this week and the circus surrounding the club at the moment, this could have far more damaging effects. Paul Faulkner wanted Villa fans to pull together, to be positive and support the club. Randy himself, praised Lambert for his commitment to the club. To admit that he wanted to sell the club now, although it may be welcomed by fans, would demonstrate a lack of commitment. In addition to this, Paul Lambert's men, despite yesterdays priceless point, are still teetering on the brink of relegation and may yet still drop down a division. It may be an exciting time for fans, but the players and management, may see it sightly differently. Talk of a potential sale could be very unsettling for our current squad, a squad that probably have enough weighing on their minds already. Randy Lerner needs to continue with his message of solidarity and commitment, the players need to show these same attributes for the remaining 4 games.

It may still transpire that this statement is being completely misunderstood and that Randy has no intention of selling the club. It may be that the club is for sale but they have had minimal interest to date, or at least they are in early discussions with interested parties but next year will see vastly improved revenue streams for Premier League clubs, with the new television deal. Aston Villa remains a famous club, recognised around the world. They have fallen behind many clubs in recent years but they should still be a fantastic proposition for potential buyers, far more so than the majority of clubs in the country.

One name that has been mentioned, in regards to a potential buyer, is Larry Ellison. With a personal wealth of $49bn he is one of the world's richest men, eclipsing the likes of Roman Abramovich ($9bn). Many fans may not know too much about Mr Ellison and his interest (or lack of) remains as speculation but I have heard from one American (a Manchester United fan) who had the following words to say about him:

“One thing for certain, Larry Ellison is a “hands on” type of guy, he has a boatload of money (no pun intended), and if he invests he will be very active and results oriented. He spent tons of money on his sailboats and winning was his ONLY object, not making money. He has enough. But he would expect to turn Villa into a winner. This could be a good thing for Villans. I almost wish he would buy out the Glazers.”

He continued:

“Ellison is extremely high profile in this country (in the computer industry, only Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs have higher status), and he hates to lose. He has been the money behind the America’s Cup sailboat racing (Oracle) for years and spent tons of money to develop complete new sciences for sailboat racing. He was a very strong “element” in the American boat’s unbelievable comeback after being heavily penalized, then winning 8 straight races to win the cup. If his heart is in a project, he will move mountains to get what he wants. In the last cup he was even frequently on the boat, but I can’t see him playing goalie. He has a big ego, but that may be a strong point. I only wish he wanted to buy my team. He would certainly hold everyone responsible to make things better. The only thing is I haven’t heard anything over here yet, but it could happen.”

Let us know what you think.

Don’t get your hopes up too much, Villa fans. Has this whet your appetite?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oh, Hello Randy...where have you been?

For a club usually so tight-lipped and cloak and dagger, Aston Villa have really been in the news over the last few days. 

Firstly, we had the statement from CEO Paul Faulkner requesting that the fans 'pull together' and 'channel our energies into creating a positive atmosphere'. Followed by yesterday's dramatic news that the Assistant Manager (Ian Culverhouse) and Head of Football Operations (Gary Karsa) had been suspended, pending an internal investigation. Simultaneously, it was announced that Gordon Cowans and Shay Given were 'temporarily promoted' to Paul Lambert's coaching team along with Scott Marshall being given additional responsibilities. Now, marginally more surprising than Shay Given's transition from 'bomb-squad' to motivator, the highly criticised Chairman, Randy Lerner, has added to the drama. Lerner via Doogan

Interestingly, the Villa Chairman has chosen to be heard via an article on the official website (see link above) and through Brian Doogan (the Head of Media at Villa Park). Quite why he has chosen this way to communicate is unclear, but it does slightly detract from the fact he has decided to speak to the fans for the first time in far too long. It will also, almost certainly, leave himself open to further criticism from some quarters. Having said that, he has broken his silence. A silence that goes back a long way. A silence that has convinced many, Villa fans and media types alike, that his heart just isn't in it anymore and neither is his money. Perhaps understandably so. 

It will be very easy for Villa fans to remain cynical, as the article itself is very woolly. It begins by acknowledging that he 'could not ask for more' from Cowans and Given, a strange statement that could be interpreted in different ways. They are both paid employees of the club, why would they hesitate to answer Paul Lambert's call? Given himself would have good reason, having been frozen out of the first team and shipped out on loan but Cowans? If, unsubstantiated, rumours are to be believed, one of Culverhouse's indiscretions was a confrontation with the Villa legend. A confrontation that, once again, rumours suggest led to Lambert siding with his Development Coach. Gordon Cowans was previously a First Team coach during Alex McLeish's ill-fated spell in charge perhaps that role left him feeling as though he preferred to work in the background, away from the limelight. The truth is, we can only speculate. 

The article continues to quote Randy Lerner as he gives his backing to Paul Lambert. Again, this can be interpreted in different ways. Lerner explains that he has seen the manager approach the situation with 'total loyalty and commitment' having experienced 'unexpected issues that could have easily set the club back'. He would have a hard time convincing many fans that Lambert's actions haven't already set the club back, in fact, he is ultimately responsible for the decision to employ Culverhouse and Karsa in the first place. He must bear some of the blame for the fiasco surrounding their suspension. However, without full details of the misdemeanours committed by his coaches we do not know the extent to which he may feel betrayed by them. Some may feel that he is a coward for allowing his Lieutenants to be suspended without falling on his own sword, but, once more, we do not know exactly what the suspended employees have done. 

A final point on this statement, is perhaps what it doesn't say. It applauds Lambert for many things, despite the utterings of many a journalist, there is no serious backing for the manager. This was also noticeably absent in Paul Faulkner's statement on Monday. Either Lerner and Faulkner are aware that votes of confidence are more often referred to as 'dreaded' as opposed to 'reassuring' or more likely, they are aware that this is not what the fans want to hear. Lambert's job should still be under serious scrutiny, questions still need to be answered and Lambert should face a very probing process of evaluation, to identify exactly why the progression at Aston Villa has ground to a halt. 

Villa fans: What do you think about this statement? 

Leave your views below or let us know via Twitter @weeklygroan

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Culverhouse and Karsa suspended...

Very interesting news emanating from the corridors of power at Villa Park this afternoon. The news that Ian Culverhouse (Assistant Manager) and Gary Karsa (Head of Football Operations) have been suspended from their roles at the football club.

The club haven't elaborated much on this topic and knowing the club as we do, it remains to be seen whether we will find out exactly what has happened. Pete Colley, on Sky Sports, has reported that this is a result of a number of incidents over a period of time. In the last few days, we have been hearing talk of players and coaches 'falling out', so it appears we shouldn't be too surprised by this news. Culverhouse is seen as the main man behind training with Paul Lambert, having held the same role during Lambert's time at Norwich City, so is clearly an important cog in the machine. It also took a lot to eventually obtain Karsa from the Canaries as the Villa Head of Football Operations, suggesting Lambert also regarded him very highly.

Interestingly, seemingly as a sweetener, a club statement initially confirmed that Gordon Cowans aka 'Sid' and Shay Given had been 'temporarily promoted' to Paul Lambert's coaching team. It was only at the end of this statement that the suspensions of the aforementioned coaching staff was announced. Everybody associated with Villa, fans especially, knows what Sid is about. He is a Villa legend and his appointment will undoubtedly please many of the clubs faithful fans. He knows the club inside out, which begs the question should he have been in this position before now? The clubs fans will certainly look forward to seeing him on the bench on Saturday, hopefully giving them and the players a boost (and, in terms of the players, a well deserved kick up the backside).

Further to this, it is being reported that Lambert was involved in the process that has seen his trusty henchman suspended. Another fascinating twist. Many may have assumed this was a precursor to the Glaswegian losing his own job and whilst that may still be the case, it may also appear to be a cynical attempt at keeping the fans onside, who knows? For the time being though, we should be grateful that some action has been taken.

In regards to Shay Given's promotion, it is surprising to say the least. Infamously, part of Lambert's 'bomb-squad', Given's future at Villa has looked bleak. He has been sent out on loan and reportedly made to train with the youngsters, whilst continuing to pick up a hefty wage packet. Throughout his career, however, Shay Given has been a popular member of any dressing room. He has a great deal of experience and has been spoken about in very positive terms by the manager (although this could be seen as an attempt to promote his availability for transfer). Perhaps Given will also be able to have a positive effect on some of the players, passing on his experience and perhaps building further bridges between players and management.

Whatever the reasons behind today's announcements and however sceptical Villa fans will inevitably be. One thing they should all agree on is that, in the short term, this should create a galvanising effect on football matters around Villa Park. It doesn't, by any stretch of the imagination, solve the major issues surrounding the club but it is, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What next for Aston Villa?

Only a few short weeks ago, Aston Villa were riding on the crest of a wave. They had beaten Norwich at home in a dominant performance and appeared to have put their home hoodoo to bed, with a win against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. The latter, a win which had enhanced their already impressive record against the top teams in the Premier League.

As you look back though, things have gone a little pear-shaped. Four straight defeats, against teams they should be looking to beat, if they expect to break into the top half of the league. The very least a club like Villa should be looking to achieve. It's isn't even the defeats themselves, it is the manner of these defeats which has made the, so far, supportive fans of the club, stand up and make their voices heard. For weeks, if not months, there have been dissenting voices on social media but until more recently there had also been a large segment of supporters for the under-fire manager.

Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace appears to have been the last straw for many fans with the final whistle at Selhurst Park being greeted by booing and chants of 'We want Lambert Out', as well as, 'You don't know what you're doing'. This, and the reaction of the fans on social media, had prompted calls for a statement from the hierarchy at Villa Park. Today the calls were answered with a statement from Paul Faulkner appearing on the official website. Many people have pointed out the similarity between this statement and a statement made shortly before the end of the season Alex McLeish was relieved of his duties. It is hard to argue to the difference. 2014 Statement.

This has sparked widespread criticism of Paul Faulkner and the club. Do they deserve it? The upper echelons of the Villa Park leadership have a lot to answer for, but for this alone there should be no issue. Regardless of what people want to happen to Paul Lambert, the board of Aston Villa Football Club and their owner, major dissent amongst the fans will not help matters. The club will know their supporters are angry and frustrated about the state of their beloved Villa. They must know it will not be allowed to continue. The fans have been taken for fools before and have demonstrated the strength of fan power. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, questions will need to be answered, changes will be in order and, most likely, heads will need to roll. The fans have to support their club in one of their most trying times. If they want Randy Lerner to leave the club, the chances of a new owner will be greatly improved if the club remains in the top flight. Dropping down a division would be catastrophic. Whilst it is possible to create scenarios where time out of the top tier could be beneficial, these are hypothetical. For any club to progress and improve the Premier League offers the best hope, potential owners know this, as do players and coaches.

As painful as it is, the fans need to show their full support for the club. Show their love for all things Aston Villa for 450 more minutes of football or at least until survival is ensured (if it is ensured). A time will come for them to make their voices heard, that time is not now. Those players, however useless, heartless and pathetic they are, are the only ones who can save the club now.

As soon as everything is decided in this Premier League season, it is only fair that Randy Lerner, Paul Faulkner and Paul Lambert are held to account for the state of a once proud English superpower. A summer of upheaval is required with many questions needing to be answered, otherwise, this may only be the start of the problems for the pride of Birmingham.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I remember watching football when I was younger and being told it was a mans game. It was a contact sport. It's not anymore though, is it?

Luis Suarez has been called clever. It's been said he 'won' a penalty and I've heard that he punished Guzan for rushing out recklessly. Rubbish to all three. He could have stayed on his feet, he could have perhaps scored anyway but he chose not to.

Do I blame the referee? No. Do I blame Suarez? To an extent. Do I blame the interpretation of the rules of football and the precedent that has been set by leading figures in the game? Yes.