The Nick Townsend column: Why Loony Toons would love to have Randy man at helm

Villa owner is quick Lerner and realises that if he stays in the background he is unlikely to be run out of town

During coverage of Aston Villa's exposure of Tottenham's frailties on Monday night, there was a glimpse of a nondescript, relaxed figure in the directors' box. Villa followers apart, how many viewers could immediately name that man? Few, you suspect. Randy Lerner is a name that could have been invented for headline writers to lampoon, but they have never had the opportunity. The coverage the Villa owner receives ranges from negligible to unqualified approbation. In fantasy football, every club would have one.

In reality, every team crave one. The American may possess all manner of foibles we have yet to discover, but for the moment he represents a species thought to be nearing extinction: a football club owner with a positive approval rating.

Admittedly, there is an element of ABD here; Anyone But Deadly. And it is true that Doug Ellis didn't always get it right and certainly had his critics at Villa Park. But he did what few other chairmen may have done, that is meticulously to vet his successor's background, integ-rity and good intent (as fortune would have it, he also secured the appointment of one of Britain's finest managers, too, before standing down).

As Newcastle followers survey the damage inflicted on their own club, they would no doubt cast an envious eye at Villa, a club of roughly similar stature in the English game, and ponder the question: why not us?

While Villa quietly flourish, Newcastle flounder. Mike Ashley, the sportswear retailer who bought the club and acquired their debts in 2006, now cannot wait to return to the reclusion from which he emerged. In another city, at another time, he might have invested considerably less than the quarter of a billion he has spent thus far and realised his ambitions. But he bought Newcastle. He claims he did so because he loved football. If so, it will long remain a mystery as to why he embraced a club who have a long history of resembling a demanding, but rarely satisfied, marital partner. The only rational act has been his decision to seek a separation.

Though Villa's faithful long chastised Ellis, belief was always their stave. They possessed a faith that one day, from over the M38 flyover, a reassuring light would shine. From England's second city, they hoped.

In fact, Lerner comes from the American city that never sleeps. But that fact has become incidental. At the time of writing, Villa are fourth. They could finish among the leading six. So, too, could Newcastle, under astute stewardship, on and off the field. They were never likely to do so under Ashley. Even less likely to do so under Ashley and Kevin Keegan. This was a manager of convenience, brought back, one suspects, so that Ashley could ingratiate himself with supporters. But Keegan at the evening of his career was never going to be the man we witnessed at St James' Park in the early to mid-Nineties. As he readily conceded,he had not been a close followerof the game for three years.

And football has changed. It would not have been what the club's fans wanted to hear, but Ashley was correct in his 1,647-word statement last weekend when he claimed that one man alone could not manage a football club, and that it required a structure and people to "scout the world looking for world-class players and stars of the future".

His mistake was in how he sought to achieve all this. An extra tier of management, the "director of football", sounds progressive, but generally it does not fit well into English football culture. Managers don't like it. Fans are suspicious of it. Even clubs such as Tottenham, who employ a foreign coach who understands that culture, have encountered problems.

Just as at St James' Park, where Dennis Wise is depicted as the bête noire, significantly it is the position of Spurs' sporting director, Damien Comolli, which is under focus following the club's indifferent start. The trium-virate of chairman/owner, chief executive and manager, as exemplified by the Manchester United and Arsenal models, has been successful down the ages. Why change it?

What Ashley discovered, belatedly, is that too much about Newcastle is concerned with an excessive clamour for swift success and excessive emotional investment in the club. A woman interviewed on Match of the Day suggested her life had been ruined by recent events at St James' Park. The TV pundit Mark Lawrenson's gentle reproach that she was somewhat overstating things, resulted, by Monday, with opprobrium being heaped upon him. Over-expectancy inevitably leads to panic moves, a heavy turnover of managers – seven in the 11 years since Keegan was last at St James' Park – and purchasesof too many modest players.

So why would any buyer look at Newcastle now? HBOS found a saviour in Lloyds TSB. No-boss Newcastle are not so fortunate. It is a buyers' market. There is a fond belief that sugar sheikhs are queuing up to ride in from the desert to get their hands on the Premier League brand. Even if that were true, Liverpool would be the more treasured prize. Newcastle's plight is not helped by the stance of their more vocal followers. Individually they may, indeed, be among the game's most passionate fans. As a mob, they hardly contribute to the best marketing package. Neither does Ashley's response to them that he was "now a dad who can't take his kids to a football game". Almost certainly he overstates his concerns, but it is scarcely the most attractive selling point.

In the end, Ashley's so-called surrender may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for Newcastle's followers, who should have taken a lesson from the Old West of Randy Lerner's homeland. You don't find too many volunteers to become the new sheriff when the previous incumbent has just been run out of town.

FA fail to play their cards right over Terry and Guthrie

At times you despair. You would have thought the Football Association would have got to grips with their disciplinary process by now and created a coherent system, under which punishments would, by and large, fit the crime. But two incidents, and the governing body's response to them, which resulted in Chelsea's John Terry being available to face Man-chester United today and Newcastle's Danny Guthrie available again in three games' time, will have left many perplexed.

Let it be stressed straight away that John Terry's cynical rugby tackle on Manchester City striker Jo was not dangerous. However, it was so unsporting, so alien to the spirit of the game, that to most impartial eyes it merited a straight red. Which is why the referee, Mark Halsey, deemed it not a professional foul (there were covering players) but serious foul play. Most of us would concur with that, whatever the legal niceties that Chelsea presented to an FA disciplinary commission. But apparently, we would be wrong, and so would Halsey, who has become the latest victim of that absurd system under which good referees are somehow made to "pay for their crimes", and was yesterday officiating Chester against Shrewsbury. Meanwhile, Terry, the Chelsea and England captain, got off scot free.

And so, in a sense, has Guthrie. Admittedly, his awful lunge on Hull City's Craig Fagan was probably borne out of frustration last Saturday, and he clearly did not intend the result to be a broken leg. Still, if you kick out with such lack of thought, you merit a draconian sanction. But no. The FA say they do not have the power to extend automatic suspensions, only to issue an additional charge (as happened to Ben Thatcher following his assault on Pedro Mendes in 2006). So why not do the same on this occasion?

We can be reassured, though, that the FA "are reviewing disciplinary procedures... and a sliding scale for red-card offences is one option under consideration." In your own time. In the meantime, football law, and its implementation, looks like an ass.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015