Cleveland Browns owner joins the race to buy Villa

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The Cleveland Browns owner, Randy Lerner, who is reportedly preparing a takeover of Aston Villa, is "exploring" business interests in England, according to his NFL team.

It is understood that the American billionaire will enter the bidding for the West Midlands club when the Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, returns from holiday today.

A spokesman for the Cleveland Browns said: "We have no comment, but can say that Randy has always maintained interests outside of the Browns and is currently exploring ones in England where he has been involved since 1993."

Ellis put Villa on the market in October last year, but despite interest from a number of parties, he is yet to receive a firm offer. A consortium controlled by the businessman Michael Neville is also understood to be ready to bid. Ellis is now thought to want around £57m for the club.

Lerner, 44, has an estimated $1.2bn fortune and is chairman of the credit card company MBNA, while the business magazine Forbes ranks the Browns as the seventh-most valuable franchise in the NFL at $892m.

Ellis, 82, has been at the helm at Villa since returning to the club for a second spell in 1982. A statement to the Stock Exchange last week confirmed there had been approaches to buy Villa, who are badly in need of a cash injection.

Both suitors are fans of Martin O'Neill, although Lerner is also believed to be an admirer of the former Germany coach Jürgen Klinsmann as Villa go in search of someone to replace David O'Leary.

The club have remained tight-lipped on the issue and their London-based City public relations company, Buchanans, would make no comment on the ambitions of Lerner. An unnamed Saudi Arabia-based consortium is also understood to be considering the possibility of attempting to buy into Villa.

Lerner, the son of MBNA founder Al Lerner, became a director of MBNA in 1993 and chairman nine years later. It was also following the death of his father that he became owner of the Cleveland Browns.

Villa would like to appoint a manager in time for their tour of Germany and the Netherlands next month.