You're not going to find many, if any, Aston Villa supporters who are happy with the job Randy Lerner has done as the owner of Aston Villa. But what exactly has gone wrong? And if you were in his position, what would you do to change it? I posed that question to the 7500 to Holte staff and found out what they would do if they were in charge.
Q: If you woke up tomorrow as the new owner of Aston Villa Football Club, what changes to the club would you make?
As the new owner, the first thing I would do is address the fans honestly. I'd probably have a season ticket holder event and town hall type function. I'd let people air their concerns and they probably have a lot. A new owner would be a cathartic event for many at the club but the fans are what make the club what it is and what it can be. I would let them know that first and foremost.
Since I'm the new owner and this is fiction, I have metric buttload of money and I'm going to spend it. I'm going to commit to a process of finding the best football operations set up that is available. I would also heavily invest in the academy and start building the youth setup back into what it was. Future Daniel Sturridges would stay at Villa.
My goal would be simple: sustainable European competition year in and year out and a return to relevance and prominence for Aston Villa Football Club. Also, I would float Birmingham City and Wolves some under the table money so they could get promoted only to get destroyed again by Villa. As much as we hate our rivals, the sport is more fun when they can all play each other. A strong Villa = a strong West Midlands.
Also I'd probably have a podium that I'd pound on a lot to scare people.
I get in front of the camera immediately. I make it clear that I am committed to making Villa a force in the long term, that relegation would be a setback but not insurmountable. Then I make every effort to get fans in the stadium for the crucial remaining games with some huge ticket incentives.
If we go down I'm forced to sell dozens of players and scale back spending in other areas. There is no other way I can avoid crippling losses and an enormous FFP fine. But if we stay up, I give the green light to pursue a higher quality of player. Though there is a clear limit to our budget I recognise the absolute desperate need to move up the table and away from the persistent relegation battles that are draining the life from the club.
Tom Fox (CEO), Charlie Wijeratna (CCO) and Robin Russell (CFO) stay for now. Their main task is still to find new sponsors, increase commercial revenue, globalise and monetise the club brand. Over the summer I recruit a new head of football operations. The role that Randy ignored for 5 years then stalled on for another 5. I give the green light to press ahead with the academy and scouting overhauls that Fox began in 2014.
I give Tim Sherwood a pretty short amount of time to prove himself. If he's not up to the job by Christmas, I replace him. I've got my own ideas. I have an ambitious shortlist that includes the best managerial prospects from Europe and the UK. I make them a great financial offer. I'm not mucking around, if we're going places we need a top manager. I allocate significant funds to let the manager and new football operations man bring in top quality coaching staff for the first team and U21s.
Once we have stabilised the club in mid-table Premier League I begin to explore re-development of the North Stand. In the years to come I try to establish Villa as a European contender.
I'd modernise the club from the floorboards to rafters.
The club needs to seriously invest in sports science and a footballing director must be appointed to secure stability and a long term future for the club. Maybe a sponsored lab to offset the cost?
Villa had a phase where they started paying tribute to their past and this started to steer out. Why can't we build loads of statues and kit out the concourse again? Why not model the kits through the ages or something?
AVTV and Villa's media needs a massive overhaul to get the best of it's international audience. The NFL and MLB have a habit of making people stars by letting the cameras in. Let the club control what can be shown and go nuts! Why can't we film Gabby and Weimann playing monopoly? Arsenal are really good at producing light-hearted stuff like this and it works wonders! Let's put Villa on the map!
On the pitch? Randy Lerner has done the right thing by not being too intrusive and I'd copy this. I would however question certain transfer plans and make sure the club doesn't go crazy with pointless buying. Every buy should fill a need, not a want.
I'd do whatever it took to win the fans back. I think you could make a huge impact on the attitude around Villa Park simply by slashing ticket prices by 20% or so. Sure, we lose a little revenue there, but we make up for it in higher attendances and happier fans. And it would go into immediate effect. If you already have tickets you get a refund or club credit. Your choice.
I'm not sure if anything else I could do would have an immediate impact on this club. They obviously need to fight off relegation, but my hands are tied until the offseason really. So that's how I get the fans back behind me. And, as everyone else has said, I add into that a frank and open conversation with the fans (maybe though the Aston Villa Supporters' Trust) about my long-term goals for the club: regular finishes in the top six. I admit that there may be bumps along the way, but I won't be giving up.
I also take full advantage of Randy's house and actually go to matches, both home and away. And for at least some of the away matches, I travel with the fans. The goal in all of this is to assure fans that I care as much as they do and to hopefully give them a compelling reason to stick around what seems like a moribund club.
Release Kieran Richardson. Make amends with Carles Gil. Then do the things everyone else said.
That's my answer.
Invest in youth. Realistically speaking, in the Financial Fair Play era, it's the only way Villa can ever get back to fighting at the top. As funny as this sounds, Villa need to do some emulation of Southampton right now; once we get the club back to competing for Europe each year, then perhaps the club's revenues can get back in line to make a run at the top of the table again.
For other things? Show up to games and sit in the Holte End. Have constant supporter forums. Change the kits. Duck for cover.
Personally, I think a director of football is the right way to go. We've seen the club go from manager to manager, changing styles with no real plan. Martin O'Neill's plan was very different to Gerard Houiller's, whose plan was different to Alex McLeish's, whose was very different to Paul Lambert's (in theory), whose is very different to Tim Sherwood's. If you put a director of football in charge of that, then if you do have to change manager, you can (hopefully) have a smart person in charge of finding one who can work with the squad he's got and not want to sign seven new players who are better suited to a different set of tactics.
Apart from that, strap the 82 European Cup to the top of my car and parade past the Hawthorns and St. Andrew's with "Pony" by Genuwine blasting from the speakers.
Those are our ideas and now we want to hear from you. What changes would you make if you were the owner of Aston Villa?