US billionaire in talks with Ellis about Villa takeover

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, has held initial discussions with the American billionaire Randy Lerner over a possible takeover of the club.

Ellis is flying back to Birmingham after his holiday in Spain to continue negotiations with Lerner, who is the owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL American Football franchise. Lerner is understood to have already run the rule over Villa Park and the club's training ground complex at Bodymoor Heath. The 44-year-old is believed to be ready to meet the selling price of Ellis, the major shareholder: around £57m.

A second consortium, led by a long-timeVilla supporter Michael Neville, is also vying to take control and also remain confident of matching the asking price. Neville, a Solihull businessman, is optimistic that new backers will be in place soon.

Villa, however, remain reticent, commenting: "We have nothing to say about renewed speculation over the future of Aston Villa."

Martin O'Neill has been tipped to restore Aston Villa to former glories if he replaces David O'Leary as manager by the former Leicester midfielder Muzzy Izzet. Izzet was one of O'Neill's first signings when he took charge of the Foxes in the mid-1990s and led them to the most successful period in their history.

Leicester enjoyed four successive top 10 Premiership finishes and won the League Cup twice before O'Neill headed north of the border and experienced even greater success with Celtic. Izzet is convinced that O'Neill, the fans' number one choice to take over from O'Leary, would be able to bring the good times back to Villa Park after years of underachievement.

Izzet said: "If Villa can get Martin, they will have got a manager who has won so much and achieved so much. If anyone can restore Villa to where they want to be, then it is Martin. Within a couple of years he will have achieved something."

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