Things have been... different at Villa Park as of late. Aly Cissokho and Carlos Sánchez signed long-term deals. Then Paul Lambert and Roy Keane looked ready to kill the linesman as Aston Villa went to Stoke and got three points. Rumours have swirled that Paul Lambert might be after a couple more signings. And now Randy Lerner's finally appointed a CEO after poaching the man that got Arsenal their massive shirt sponsorship deal for the post.
So, given all of that, what exactly does it mean after a summer of the club supposedly being "in limbo" and "waiting to be sold?" Well, the easy answer is that we don't know. But the hard answer is that, yeah, there's probably two distinct answers to what's happening at Villa right now.
The first of those is that a sale is imminent. But despite the fact that Twitter has Micky Arison back ready to buy Villa, I'm a bit skeptical to believe this view. Just a month ago, Randy Lerner came out and told us there wasn't a sale in the works and that he was recommitting himself to the on-field activities as the season was starting. What's the point in releasing that—something that wasn't a PR boost by any stretch of the relation—if there actually was a sale lined up? (Then again, Villa's PR department isn't the greatest in the world.)
So then we're brought to the polar opposite—that a sale isn't lined up and likely isn't together for what might end up being a substantial amount of time. It's very understandable why nobody would want to buy a side that's bordering up against relegation, sure, but even a mid-table side might not be attractive to investors. Fulham were coming off of a 12th-placed finish where they never seriously threatened relegation when Shahid Khan bought the side for $300 million last summer—and as we know, the Cottagers were soundly relegated this year. And after seeing what happened in West London this past term (and with clubs like QPR in the past), I'm not sure that investors would really be rushing to buy any Premier League side that's outside of the top seven for £150 million, regardless of whether we're discussing Villa or Leicester City.
In that case, what if Lerner's statement came from a realization that he needs to get Villa out of the bottom 13 and into a new top eight if he's going to be able to rid himself of the club to someone he considers a good "steward" for his asking price? Being in the States, we hear a lot about how promotion and relegation "wouldn't work" here because cities aren't willing to invest money in a side that might suddenly be playing out of the top flight in a year, so what's to say that potential investors don't think the same way? (PS, please don't discuss pro/rel in the US or public funding of stadia here.)
So then if Lerner has realized he needs to get Villa back to the cusp of Europe to be appealing to a potential buyer, things could get a lot different at Villa Park. And in some ways, the last few years have actually make some level of sense. We've learned that Fabian Delph and Andi Weimann can be a part of a successful team but that Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark would hold the side back. Of the Lambert signings, we've found Christian Benteke is worthwhile and Yacouba Sylla isn't. We now know a lot more about the "unknowns" of the club than we did two years ago and now, it's apparent where veterans are needed to be brought in to supplement the youth.
It would also fairly easily make the Fox CEO appointment make a lot more sense. While, yes, obviously moving from CCO to CEO is a big promotion, I just can't see him having taken the switch if the future of the club was as "in limbo" and "uncertain" as most people will have you believe. If Lerner's pitch amounted to "I'm giving you no money to bring in your guys, I might sell the club any time and that guy's probably going to fire you, still want the job?," I don't see Fox having taken it.
Pair that with the new signings and newfound confidence running around Bodymoor Heath and, well, Villa might actually have a long-term plan to get back towards the top. And that's kind of fun to think about. So now it probably won't happen. Because after all, this is Aston Villa we're talking about.