Lerner takeover of Villa 'still has some legs'

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The Independent Football

Aston Villa are hoping to revive negotiations with the American billionaire Randy Lerner regarding a possible takeover of the Midlands club. Sources in the United States are indicating there could "still be some legs" in terms of Lerner being interested in buying Villa.

Lerner met Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, on Wednesday and it is understood that he was upset at the response he received during talks about a potential £64m deal. The 44-year-old, the owner of the NFL side Cleveland Browns, returned to the US and Ellis has since come under fire in a statement issued by the Aston Villa Shareholders' Association and the supporters' group, Villa Fans Combined.

It is understood that Ellis is looking for a sticking point in terms of assurances regarding future funding at Villa following any initial buyout. But it appears the deal with Lerner is not as dead in the water as initially thought. Villa's banker, Rothschild,is also believed to support the idea that negotiations with Lerner and Ellis are still a viable option. Such a move may quell the anger shown by the AVSA and VFC after it appeared the Lerner bid had crashed following his meeting with the 82-year-old Ellis.

If Lerner re-enters the race to buy the club, he will compete with several other parties including the consortium fronted by the lifelong Villa fan and Aston-born businessman, Michael Neville, who has made a formal £64m offer. An unnamed consortium from Dubai, which was first linked with Villa a fortnight ago, is also understood to be interested in a buyout.

Sven Goran Eriksson's agent, Athole Still, is also believed to be part of a consortium - possibly from Sweden - in contention, which has led to speculation that the former England coach could be the successor to David O'Leary as manager at Villa Park.

Neville has been determined to be in a position to buy Villa ever since Ellis put the club up for sale nine months ago, preparing to call an end to his 31-year reign. He also cast doubt on whether the last had been seen of Lerner as he prepares himself to meet Ellis.

"These things are never over until they are over," Neville said. "I am looking forward to talking to Mr Ellis in the next day or two. If Mr Lerner has withdrawn his bid, then I am not sure whether it helps or hinders us. Our bid is either competitive and attractive in its own right or it's not."

No one doubts Neville's commitment in wanting to attempt to revive Villa's fortunes if his consortium's bid gets the nod from Ellis, the leading shareholder. But it remains to be seen whether he can attract the funds required beyond the initial buyout, with Villa needing to bring in players before the new season starts.

Neville has hinted strongly that he would like Martin O'Neill, the former Celtic manager, to become the new man in charge of team affairs and ideally the club would like an appointment in place before their pre-season tour of Germany and the Netherlands next week.

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