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American Lerner keen to improve Aston Villa
by Joe Addison, August 6th, 2008 7AM

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[TRANSFER TALK] Aston Villa's American owner Randy Lerner is set to hand Manager Martin O'Neill $60 million for summer transfers in hopes of improving on Villa's sixth-place finish last season and challenge the Premiership big four for a place in next year's Champions League.

Lerner's plans will be more music to the ears of Villa fans who have embraced the American since his takeover of the club in 2006. The 46-year-old Lerner has been praised for his approach to running the club, staying away from the spotlight and deferring to O'Neill on player signings.

Further endearing himself to the city of Birmingham, Lerner decided earlier this summer to forfeit $4 million worth of commercial endorsement that Premier League teams typically receive from shirt sponsorship. Instead, Villa will hand over that money to Acorns Children's Hospital and play with the word "Acorns" displayed across the team jersey.

This American experience at Villa is a far cry from what's happened at other Premier League clubs where American owners have proved to be a distraction.

When the Glazer family took over at Manchester United, fans were so incredulous that they formed a new team, FC United, which is currently rising through the lower leagues in England. Meanwhile, the Tom Hicks and George Gillett partnership at Liverpool has been largely ridiculed as a purely fiscal endeavor.

Lerner's right-hand man, former U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak, has made it clear that Lerner is financially and emotionally invested in the club

"This is more than business to him. Villa is a passion," he said.

Krulak also outlined Lerner's plans for the summer spending.

"If Martin O'Neill came to Randy and said 'I need £30 million for player X' and the player would fit into what we are trying to do, Randy would have his checkbook out before Martin could get past the player's name," he said. "Additionally he will be equally ready to fund the other players that Martin says he needs. Randy has never said 'no' to Martin. Randy is in it for the long term. He wants Europe, he wants winning football. He wants entertainment for the fans."

O'Neill, who has already signed American keepers Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan this summer, is weighing a number of options. Reading left back Nicky Shorey has been linked to the club, as has Middlesbrough defender Luke Young.

Steve Sidwell joined the club from Chelsea for $10 million earlier this summer, while Curtis Davies has made turned his season long loan to the club into a full time deal worth $16 million.

O'Neill cornered the market for American goalkeepers by paying Blackburn $4 million for Friedel, while Guzan signed for Villa in a $1.2 million transfer from MLS side Chivas USA.

Lerner was a huge factor in both players' decision to join the Birmingham club. Friedel was previously unsure whether he wanted to leave Blackburn, where he had started every league game for four consecutive years, but a meeting with the American owner quickly changed his mind.

"Once I had sat in the same room as Martin O'Neill and the Villa owner Randy Lerner it was an easy decision," he said.

Guzan was similarly impressed.

"Just from seeing the facilities and the vision that the club has with Randy Lerner, I figure the future is so bright," he said. "I think it's going to continue to get better. Lerner has set the bar and he knows what it takes and I'm excited to be a part of the club.

Meanwhile, the Gareth Barry saga continues. Liverpool missed Aston Villa's imposed deadline to sign the player but O'Neill has signaled that he may still let the 27-year-old England international leave in a deal worth $36 million.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has indicated that he would like Barry to join the squad in time for a preseason friendly against Lazio on Friday.



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