The battle to take over at Villa Park developed into a two-way contest last night, with the intriguing prospect that Sven Goran Eriksson could yet end up as the next Aston Villa manager.
After lifelong Villa fan Michael Neville yesterday started the bidding for the club, with a £64m offer, the race took several twists and turns last night as, firstly, Eriksson's agent Athole Still was revealed as the man leading another consortium trying to buy Villa.
Still's involvement was then followed by the dramatic late withdrawal from the bidding of US billionaire Randy Lerner, who had been expected to match Neville's £64m offer.
Still was filmed leaving Villa Park yesterday after talks with club officials and his involvement will lead to speculation Eriksson could be brought in as manager.
Eriksson infamously revealed his interest in becoming manager with comments in January to an undercover reporter posing as an Arab sheikh.
Still and Neville's hopes of taking control were boosted last night by the withdrawal of Lerner. He is believed to have pulled out after holding lengthy talks with the 82-year-old chairman Doug Ellis.
The reasons for Lerner deciding to end his interest are unclear, but the man who owns NFL franchise the Cleveland Browns, was sufficiently unimpressed with certain facets of the talks to pull out of the deal.
Villa confirmed they had received "a number of offers" to buy the club. In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, the Villa board said it "will be appraising these" and "will update shareholders and fans when appropriate".
Neville is the first to make public his interest after originally being part of a consortium, including Irish property developers the Comer Brothers, which expressed an interest in buying Villa before last Christmas. Neville said: "Doug Ellis and the board face the choice of, 'Do they want the club to fall into the hands of foreign ownership?' or 'Do they want to get the level of continuity that Ellis might seek by bringing in a local consortium?'
"It is certainly a consortium led by someone from the locality who understands the club, the fans and the problems. I have watched Villa through the good times and the bad. I believe this time we have the financial muscle to move the club forward."
Ellis said nine months ago that he was willing to sell and end his 31-year reign as chairman spanning two spells, from 1968-75 and 1982 to the present day.
It is understood that Ellis has been told by Neville that he would still have a role to play at Villa a stance Neville has always adopted since first expressing an interest in buying the club. Neville has plenty of respect for Ellis's business acumen, his vast experience and the ability to run a sound financial ship.
Neville said: "Doug is a guy who I admire but he is 82 and has been unwell. It is time for a new order. The guy has given a great foundation to Villa and that has to be built on. Doug has so much experience in business and football. Why not take that experience and use it to the advantage of Villa? Maybe a life presidency or some kind of ambassador's role."
Of his own plans, Neville said: "It is not my objective to become chairman. Ideally, I would like a place on the board. The fans and the club will be delighted with the management team we have put together, the manager is the most important player in all this. I have met with him several times and the name will excite fans."
Asked if it was likely to be Martin O'Neill taking over from David O'Leary, Neville said: "Everyone knows the fantastic success Martin has enjoyed. He is top of the tree. Any club would love to have Martin on board."
Villa's share price rose by more than 10 per cent yesterday following the news that Neville had made a bid. Shares in Aston Villa plc were trading at 510p at 4.45pm, up from 460p when the markets opened.
Villa sparks: Two in the running
Solihull businessman and lifelong fan. The 51-year-old self-made millionaire, a former electrician, made an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the club last year with the property developers Luke and Brian Comer. He holds non-executive directorships with a number of companies.
Sven Goran Eriksson's agent is the more unlikely contender. Keeps a low profile for an agent but was duped along with Eriksson by the "fake sheikh" sting. He has admitted that Eriksson has had offers to return to club management could Villa be one of them?Reuse content