Lerner appeals to virtue of beautiful game's spiritual heritage

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The Independent Online

Randy Lerner, the American multi-millionaire who owns Aston Villa, has urged potential US buyers to view Premiership clubs as a chance to buy into the English game's sporting and "spiritual" heritage rather than to make a fast buck.

Lerner, braving the blizzards to face the media for the first time since taking control of Villa for £62.2m last summer, had been pressed about the takeover of Liverpool by George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks. He knew them to be "serious people" but added that buying a club had to be more than "just a business deal".

"In today's world, I don't know why you would buy a team and think it's going to be a great financial move," said the 44-year-old credit-card tycoon, who also owns the American football club the Cleveland Browns.

"Clubs play on a weekend, families come and it's unique to the daily life of people in this country. It's something special that creates long walks between parents and kids. Friends get together from school to go to the football. It creates memories and has a very spiritual component. You're involving yourself in a compact with the communities."

Lerner, who never used the word "franchise" (although he did call Liverpool's neighbours "Edgerton"), sees the Anfield club as having distinctive traditions. "In terms of its geography, history, silverware and what the Kop sings, [Gillett and Hicks] have acquired a unique package. We have different silverware and expectations."

Explaining his motivation for buying Villa, Lerner said: "It was the right time for me with where I am in my career. It wasn't a long, protracted idea or deeply complex set of financial gymnastics. It was available so I called up Mr [Doug] Ellis."

He takes his stewardship of Villa's past and present seriously, having put up the money for three permanent signings in January and the cash to make the derelict Holte Hotel on the stadium site "beautiful again". Nor was there any possibility of Villa Park becoming "the Doritos Bowl".

The Villa chairman also spoke of his good fortune in inheriting Martin O'Neill, though he is aware that England or Manchester United could eventually test his loyalty. "I don't think you can ever get in anyone's way," Lerner said. "We talked this morning and Martin said, 'Any questions?' I said, 'Just one. I noticed England got beat last night'. But Martin basically told me: 'I'm in for the long haul here. We've got a job to do and we're going to do it'. The way to keep him is be respectful, support him and let him do his thing.

"Anyway, I don't know if I could do anything [to stop him leaving] short of jumping on him and holding him down. All I can do is create a compelling opportunity for him. He has come to Aston Villa to win the League and the European Cup. He did it as a player, with a great club and great manager [Brian Clough] that sits up there somewhere in his head."

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