Randy Lerner has revealed plans to sell his ownership of Aston Villa. In statement today he had this to say: "I owe it to Villa to move on, and look for fresh, invigorated leadership, if in my heart I feel I can no longer do the job. I have come to know well that fates are fickle in the business of English football. And I feel that I have pushed mine well past the limit."
The key words in the statement were: "fresh, invigorated leadership", because Villa are in dire need of change. When Lerner first took over in 2006 for an estimated figure of £62.2 million, he was the fresh leadership Aston Villa desperately sought. Under previous owner Doug Ellis, Villa had regressed from a team that looked like breaking the top 6 lock-in of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Leeds United, Newcastle United and Chelsea in the 2000s, to a team that was worryingly dropping deeper into the relegation zones by 2006.
Lerner's first season in charge saw a change in management; the much derided David O' Leary was replaced by Martin O'Neill who was fresh from dominating Scottish football with Celtic and looked to put Villa back into Champions League places.
During the first few years of the Lerner and O'Neill partnership, money was freed up to sign players that made their name with Villa like Ashley Young, Stiliyan Petrov and John Carew (2006/07 season); Nigel Reo-Coker and Andreas Weimann (2007/08 season); Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, Curtis Davies, Luke Young, Carlos Cuellar and James Milner (2008/09); Stewart Downing, Fabian Delph, Stephen Warnock, James Collins and Richard Dunne (2009/10) brought in.
In addition to O'Neill's coaching reviving the career of Emile Heskey and getting the most out of Villa academy graduates Gareth Barry and Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa were slowly becoming one of the most feared teams in the Premier League.
From 2007-2010, Villa finished 6th 3 times and had an increase in points on each occasion. The 2008/09 season was noticeable for Villa as they sustained a title tilt until the restart of the Europa League campaign exposed their frailties in depth. A defeat to Everton in the FA Cup sparked a 12 game winless run in all competitions that all but finished their chances that year.
That should have been the year Villa went all out to secure themselves Champions League football. They didn't. Although they finished 6th again the next season and even had a Carling Cup final runners up medal, this was the season Villa's demise could be traced.
At the beginning of the 2009/10 season, Gareth Barry was allowed to leave for a small figure of 12 million to big spending Manchester City who ended up finishing above Villa in 5th. Furthermore, Tottenham who finished 4th were only 6 points ahead of Villa. With Tottenham not being a patch on the Liverpool team that dropped from 2nd to 7th, it is clear further investment in Villa would have seen them claim the 4th spot in Liverpool's absence.
When James Milner was sold at the beginning of the 2010/11 season (again to rivals Man City), it was clear Villa had settled for the mantra of being a selling club. Martin O'Neill saw this and escaped before the season even began. Milner was replaced by Stephen Ireland who has had issues throughout his career with discipline.
Whilst more skilled than Milner, he could not provide the consistency needed. Ireland was the only summer signing that year and it showed as Villa were fighting a relegation battle for the first time in years. A panic stricken winter window ensued and in the winter window, a past-it Robert Pires was brought followed by Jean Makoun and a record signing in Darren Bent - both of whom have proved a massive burden on Villa.
They did help Villa recover and finish 9th but the damage had been done in Lerner's eyes. Downing, Young, Nigel Reo-Coker, Brad Friedel, Luke Young and John Carew were allowed to go and an age of austerity loomed over Villa.
Favouring youth players, Villa have since the 2011/12 season finished 16th and 15th (twice) and have created the unwanted record for their lowest points total in the Premier League (38) and equalled it again this season. Furthermore, talented managers such as Roberto Martinez rejected Villa because they saw themselves managing clubs with greater ambition.
Had Lerner planned on staying at Villa, they would have had undignified exit from the Premier League in the nearby future. After all, there are only ever two types of teams that go down: horribly managed teams and unambitious teams who's only purpose in the Premier League is to survive another day.
Lerner appropriately hinted at how the last few seasons of his ownership at Villa has gone: "The last several seasons have been week in, week out battles and having now come through this last season unfortunately limping amidst very meaningful injuries and constant sale rumours, I feel further that now is the time for me to look for new ownership and thus new leadership."
"I am appreciative of the support I have received, even in these last years of comparative struggle when criticism was due, and will look on with others - with fingers crossed - for stronger future performance appropriate to our size and heritage."