Randy Lerner was not a good owner. Whether it was in Cleveland with the Browns or Birmingham with the Villa, his years of mismanagement stick out like a sore thumb when compared to those that have done significantly more with similar resources.
Yet despite the fact that Lerner ran two things I dearly love — the Browns and the Villa — into the ground, I can’t help but think about one thing: That Randy Lerner was a good man with good intentions… who was just a complete and total idiot. And as I look around England at some of the worst owners in the game, I’m at least reminded that Lerner wasn’t those guys, and for that at least, I smile a little.
Here’s the thing about Randy Lerner: When he took over at B6 ten seasons ago, he made a genuine effort to put Aston Villa back among Europe’s elite — and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Had he come on the scene a couple years earlier, perhaps the Claret and Blues would have moved into a top-four spot, and of course, had he put his investment in different hands, it probably would’ve happened, too. Those intentions are important, and should secure his legacy as something other than a miserably terrible owner.
That it didn’t was, of course, the key point — because Lerner’s always been that guy for who, well, it hasn’t always worked out.
Look at what happened after Martin O’Neill left the club, as Lerner made (by far and away) his best managerial appointment of all: Gérard Houllier. Houllier is arguably one of the best managers to ever lead this beloved club, and if his health issues didn’t force him to step down from the manager post, it’s hard to argue that Villa would have entered their nosedive to the bottom of the table the following season.
But that was really his lone good move. The decision-makers behind the £10 million Charles N’Zogbia move got it all wrong, and while Paul Lambert was a good hire, the idea of completely rebuilding a Premier League club ultimately doomed Villa to their failure, just three years after it should have happened.
I don’t think we talk about that enough: That the Villa squad in 2012-13 had absolutely no business staying up. Villa tried an entirely stupid thing — starting a bunch of, like, 22-year olds in the highest-level football league in the world. And it worked! Kind of.
All it really did was delay the inevitable because, well, the next year, the money wasn’t spent particularly well. Instead of thriving with more known quantities like Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood, both signed from England’s lower leagues, Villa tried to get cute with Aleksandar Tonev and Nicklas Helenius.
The expectation — which ultimately was foolish — was that Villa would progress that season. But it should’ve been known that the 2012-13 season was a grand accomplishment and that the club would struggle again. Instead, we got overreaction, Alan Hutton, Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson. God, that was miserable.
At the end of the day though, here’s what I’ll remember about Randy Lerner at Aston Villa: At the core, he’s a good man. I genuinely believe he always had Villa’s best interests in mind, even though he’s really not very good at this whole sports ownership thing.
But when I look around at some of the owners in the English game, I’m reminded that unlike Mike Ashley, Randy Lerner didn’t put corporate sponsorship Villa Park, one of the grandest stadia in England. As I look at the way Roland Duchâtelet and Karl Oyston have maliciously ran Charlton Athletic and Blackpool into bigger hellholes than Villa sit in — and still have no intention of selling up — I smile a little about Lerner. And as I look at the way Vincent Tan and Assem Allam have constantly messed with century-long traditions at Cardiff City and Hull City, I appreciate that Aston Villa are still, well, Aston Villa. Wearing the same famous claret and blue kits we have for nearly 130 years.
Randy Lerner was a pretty bad owner as far as owners go, and there’s no denying that. But maybe when we criticise him, let’s remember him for the good things he did for this great club. Or maybe more importantly, those revered things he didn’t screw up.