“When I was young I had a dream, to watch the greatest football team, and here I am the dream is real, with Randy Lerner and Martin O’Neill …”
But that dream soon descended into a nightmare!
2006 saw Deadly Doug Ellis finally release his vice-like grip on Aston Villa, and the fans celebrated a new era under Randy Lerner. Doug’s parting gift to Villa was one Mr O’Neill, who was entrusted with the task of putting the club back at the top of world football.
To achieve this a club needs two things to happen: first, a good supply of money and second, a good infrastructure. The first was Lerner’s strong point in the early years, providing O’Neill with £120m during his time at the club, which was big money before billion-pound TV deals. Lerner also funded one of the fourth highest wage bills in English Football.
Though it was his inability to spot genuine football knowledge that led to a succession of poor appointments at board level, and allowed O’Neill to hand out big money contracts to the likes of Zat Knight and Habib Beye.
Don’t get me wrong, they were good times and Villa amassed several great players such as Milner, Young and Barry, but behind the scenes, the club was a mess. Villa was haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate and there was no one to question the amount given in wages to average players. Recruitment became a ‘pin in the dark’ job and academy players such as Cahill were lost.
After three top 6 finishes – featuring a spectacular post-Christmas collapse – the money dried up. Lerner no longer had the means or desire to sustain the level of investment required without a champions league place to show for it.
Compare that to today, NSWE has once again poured money into the club, achieving promotion a year earlier than they would have expected given the state of the club at the time they took over. The mass rebuild of last summer was a gamble, but one born out of necessity and one the club made work, just. But the excitement of pulling off the greatest of great escapes didn’t cloud their judgement.
They have acted quickly to remove Suso, replacing him with an experienced man in the dugout, a proven talent spotter, and someone who knows all about the day to day management of a team in Johan Lange. The other big arrival is that of Craig Shakespeare, a coach with premier league pedigree to add much-needed experience to Smith, Terry and O’Kelly.
We have seen huge improvements in the academy with highly regarded coaches and talent spotters joining as well as some very exciting young players.
NSWE is succeeding where Lerner failed in getting the infrastructure right to build sustainable success. And so, for the first time since 2010, it’s safe to dig out and dust off your free scarf because we can once again celebrate a proud history and look forward to a bright future.