Aston Villa - Behind Closed Doors
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Behind Closed Doors

It would be fair to say that Villa's transfer spending, prior to the Lerner\Martin O'Neil era was paltry. Deadly Doug's tenure was a tincture in comparison; a penny pinching, copper counting affair that had many of us pulling teeth. In the last seven seasons (99/00 -05/6) of Doug's lording, Villa spent a combined estimated £74 million in the transfer market, with player sales for the same period generated £40 Million of returns. All in, Villa put out for £34million over seven seasons.

Our biggest transfer outlays for those years included River Plate's hitman Juan Pablo Angel at £9.5 million (a signing partly procured by protests in and around the ground,) badge kisser Alpay at £5.6 million, Baros at £6.5 million and satellite launcher Balaban at £5.8 million. Oh, and we took on a fella from Milan with a crock knee for £3 million (though Martin Laursen, once fit, wasn't half bad.) Thrifty times indeed.

When entrepreneur Randy Lerner took sole control of the club in August 2006 all that appeared to have changed. From season 06/07 to season 11/12 the club have sanctioned around £168 million in the transfer market, recouping an estimated £104 million from player sales. Thus, in the six seasons since Lerner bought the club our transfer budget has doubled to over £60 Million and wages went through the roof with it. Randy Lerner has also, I believe, personally invested around 200 million in the club as he carried out the revitalising, restructuring and re-branding of Aston Villa. No small change then.

So what can we take from these contrasting figures and periods. Two things stand out and they're undoubtedly linked. (1) Our best players all end up wanting to leave- Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry, Milner, Young, Downing, Cahill- all of them gone. In the Premier League era our best players go, with us failing to replace them or reinvesting the money in those who offer similar quality (2) We have also failed, I believe, to marry a good proportion of our transfer spending to player talent. The ratio of expenditure to performance is often poor or the expenditure is simply unsustainable

I do acknowledge that finding top players or players with realistic potential for limited outlay is a difficult task -one we have not histrionically fared well in. In between the odd marquee signings we have often spent good money and high wages on under-performers or players who never really made the grade or gave us what we thought we were buying. You think you're signing the next Rio Ferdinand and in reality all you had was Curtis Davis all along. A costly venture at £9 million.

Of course no manager can see the future but can we reverses this trend? I think we can and we must. In the age of Pro-zone, strategic performance analysis and spreadsheet sports, we must be more cost effective as we go forward. Yes, two or three top signings can add a huge dimension to Villa. However, in the majority of cases we are going to need to find players in £3-£6 million bracket for affordable wages who will eventually have the same sporting impact as a £15 million acquisition on 80k a week; players who will be prepared to commit their futures to us on paper when the big guns come calling two to three years down the line. Easier said than done is it, though that is the scale of the task. So when Matt Lowton becomes one of the best right backs in the country what convinces him to stay?

To begin with our recruitment and development strategy has to match our renowned infrastructure and facilities. I believe we now have the management team capable of taking the players on -we just need to identify the right players at the right price and develop them together. In short: what happens off the pitch is now as vitally important as what happens on it. The days of imbalanced and hasty transfer dealings to solve short term problems have to go. Also, players must be hungry and motivated by the desire for sporting excellence and achievement. They must want to win and not just earn. They must become part of the working fabric of the club.

Luckily, I think we are off to a good start in all of this. Paul Lambert not only understands the problem but he and his team have solutions. We can see the evidence of this because he has purchased some very good footballers already, and all for the sort of prices that Deadly Doug would have enjoyed, no doubt aided by current market conditions. We have also hired Michael Henke as our head of European scouting with Lambert not being rushed on future buys.

I would argue that we are not the only club who have learned these lessons either. Fenway Sports are trying to turn Liverpool around. The prospect of turning a club with a European wide brand - a club who could potentially command large Champions League revenues, mass merchandising returns, guaranteed ticket sales as well as future TV rights deals both at home and abroad- into League winners and European contenders is a financial and sporting lure that Fenway Sports could not ignore. They returned the Boston Red Sox to glory so why not Liverpool FC. Why not indeed.

However, we could speculate that after spending near to £137 million in the last two seasons ( 10/11- 11/12) recouping around £106 million of that in player sales, Fenway Sports felt that better value could and should be had for their dollar. Despite the £50 million for Torres, the £17 million for Macherano and the rumoured £12 million for Meireles, helping to balance the books, reported figures of £35 million for Andy Carroll, £20 million for Downing, £16 million for Henderson and £7 million for Adam, plus all their wages, must have stopped the Fenway Heart. Especially when they started to understand what that was going to mean in sporting terms. It wasn't going to add up to a Premier League title or even a challenge. Neither would it leave them with the prospect of a return to the Champions League. All it was going to mean was an 8th place finish.

Fenway, on considering how to address this, might have found themselves examining what was being done at Everton. The miraculous David Moyes spent somewhere in the region of £9.5 million in the same two seasons, recouping around £14 million in player sales -for two consecutive 7th place finishes! Currently, Carroll and Suarez -a combined £57 million of talent- look like they couldn't hit the side of a battleship with a paint gun. I'm sure I'm not the only football fan in the country wondering what David Moyes could achieve with that kind of money. Indeed, in terms of expenditure Moyes' managerial feats that have turned him into gold and have led to Premier League merit payments of around £ 10.5 million for the last two seasons.

In comparison, Aston Villa have spent far in excess of what has been spent at Everton yet the correlation between financial expenditure to sporting performance remains our fundamental problem. This works both ways though. Under Martin O' Neil we earned three successive 6th place finishes. In this case, although the correlation between expenditure and sporting performance was good we could no longer justify that level of expenditure because it was not sustainable, particularly in terms of wages where many of the clubs problems lay. The model was wrong. However, it is ridiculous to blame the manager for this. He does not do the deals or hammer out the terms of the players contract. He is not an economist or a sporting finance expert: he is a football manager and a very good one at that. It is the clubs, the players and the agents that thrash out the deals. What it does highlight perhaps is that in trying to construct a workable model where sustainable expenditure matches performance, the relationship between the management staff and the board must be one of good communication, where this an agreed strategy and vision.

I'm sure Fenway Sports must have wondered where they could get some of whatever Moyes was doing. Up step Brendan Rodgers then. In the Swan's first season in the Premier League Rodgers managed an 11th place finish with a team predicted to be the whipping boys of what is a very physical and unforgiving league. Swansea didn't have the depth or strength across the park, we were told. They would collapse, we were told. Well for a transfer budget of £9 million, players like Routledge, Graham and Vorn joined the likes of Britton, Dyer, Taylor, Williams and Rangel in showing us all how football could be played. In fact, they played us off the park in January, Dyer picking us to pieces to the tune of Land of My Fathers.

None of those names would have had the Villa pulses racing at the start of last season though perhaps the signing of £10 million N'Zogbia did. What does this tell us? One thing- Swansea's sustainable finance to performance model worked.

More importantly, Swansea have not appeared to have gone backwards. They wasted no time in appointing the great Michael Laudrup on Rodger's departure for Anfield. Player additions have already come in to the squad as well, including the promising Michu for a measly £2million! Quality has been replaced by quality and the football philosophy continues, as witnessed last week.

In conclusion, Aston Villa must be as exacting in their pursuit of perfection off the field as we are on it. This big club of ours must finally find an equally big vision that does not involve breaking the bank -and a vision that works, marrying what happens on grass with what happens behind closed doors.

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The Journalist

Writer: Villa_Grizzly Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday August 23 2012

Time: 12:13PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
"To begin with our recruitment and development strategy has to match our renowned infrastructure and facilities.". Spot on Grizzly. SPOT ON. Our facilites are world class, truly amongst the very best. Our on the field performances have not reflected this. We are in (yet another) transition, this one has to bring more joy to the Villa faithful because to me it appears patience is wearing thin.
The Fear
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23/08/2012 12:17:00

Good read Grizzly and cant argue with any of that.......
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23/08/2012 12:31:00

Great read Grizzly, and agree fully, what you need to do now (and I risk the wrath of Fear here) is to post this on Aston Villa news and views, and see if the muppets on there get it as the majotity on there seem to think that Randy has spent diddly squat and that good old Doug has far out spent him.
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23/08/2012 12:43:00

Great read Grizzly and so true Fear. We MUST begin to compete again. I appreciate this will not happen immediately but must happen within the next three seasons because the we have been left behind by clubs with a sound business model (Spurs) and a fantastic Manager (Everton). Our fall from competing for Champions League Football has been so rapid it must be worrying for not only us fans but also Randy. I understand the need for the tightened pursestrings the last two seasons but he needs to loosen them a little because without some investment the club will continue to struggle and progress will be limited if not stagnant.
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23/08/2012 12:48:00

yep, we need lions not villans :) but hang on a doggone minute - if there has been a 200 million investment ABOVE AND BEYOND net transfer spend, where the **** has that gone ?? are we talking about spend here, or just the total sum of capital injections plus loans....? Or is there a large sum of loaned cash sitting on deposit somewhere (attracting interest) waiting to be spent on the enlargement to 50k for the Olympics that never can he have invested well over 200 mil if the reputed sales tag if he sells is 150 mil at best .........
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23/08/2012 13:08:00

great article mate agree entirely, i think Lambert can bring our performances in line with expenditure but he needs time to ship out all the dead wood (warnock, hutton etc) and bring in the hungry players he likes and get them playing in his way.
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23/08/2012 13:12:00

Malacaxeta, the olympics didnt happen for a very good reason and I fully understand why we pulled out.
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23/08/2012 13:14:00

While Im optimistic Lambert will bring us on leaps and bounds I would like to see some good signings before the end of the window... I wont be worried about relegation but I will be worried we arnt aiming for a higher finish... Call me what you want but a good striker, LB and maybe a winger or CM and we should be looking at top ten but without those I cant see anything better than 12th... Newcastle are a team you didnt mention and they have spent extremely well they signed Ben arfa, Ba and Cisse for the same price as the reported Fletcher deal thats the model I would look at however they are dealing almost exclusively with French contacts... Henke has great German contacts and if we are buying from their I will be extremely happy as the talent pool in Germany is excellent and they have great loyalty IMO...
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23/08/2012 13:30:00

A great article Grizzly! So many good points - and I think as Villa fans we all need to develop a realistic view of what our great club can achieve in the near future. We should be looking to bench mark ourselves against teams like Everton and Swansea who conduct business off the field in a logical and intelligent fashion and produce results on the field that reflect a more progressive long term approach to the game of football. Lambert and his team appear to have all the credentials to do a good job so I remain very optimistic. I think the problem is that the last few seasons have left the emotions of all Villa fans raw and wide open so the general feeling around the club is pretty unstable - wildly ranging from joyous optimism to a desperate disenchanted self loathing!! I want fans to be generally more balanced and positive and I think this was being helped along at the beginning of pre season by the addition of new faces to the squad - did it matter that no one had ever heard of them? No! Did it matter that they didn't cost the earth? No! It was interesting and showed Lambert meant business! Then everything stopped it was bound to cause confusion and worry. What I think has happened is that Lambert came to the job with a handful of targets that he had earmarked during his time at Norwich and he would of probably purchased the same names had he still been at Norwich. Any further signings I think now depend on who he manages to move on and what the new scout Henke has in mind. I think the management team are taking their time to ensure any further signings are of the right quality and at the right price/wages! All unproductive players on high wages will hopefully be cleared out and a few new faces will be incoming - I just hope it all happens in the short timeframe we now have left. There is no doubt the nerves of a lot of Villa fans would have been saved if we saw a steady stream of good value, relatively unknown signings coming through the doors this preseason - but unfortunately it hasn't worked quite as nicely as that so far. Have faith - we are all desperate for the same thing - a team we can be proud of!
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23/08/2012 13:32:00

"The model was wrong. However, it is ridiculous to blame the manager for this. He does not do the deals or hammer out the terms of the players contract. He is not an economist or a sporting finance expert: he is a football manager and a very good one at that." Absolutely spot on... I'm surprised there haven't been more haters!
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23/08/2012 16:24:00

Oh but I do disagree slightly, you seem to suggest that Swansea's success was down to Brendan Rogers. I think the entire team behind Swansea is the key to their success. They have gone from Division 2 to Premier League under 4 managers but the model remained the same. That is why I reckon Liverpool will struggle; Rogers success was parasitic on the work done mostly by Martinez!
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23/08/2012 16:27:00

Good analysis. It does suggest that Randy does sweet FA also. He was happy to invest in the "world class" training facilities but not into the rest of the equation that produces the talent. As you say MON was expected to do everything from scouting to touchline whilst I'm not entirley sure what Randy does if anything other than wallowing in his multi millions. I appreciate he's entitled to do this BUT if he wanted to be succesfull then he should've employed better people to carry out all the many duties required. He has hopefully lerned his lesson but if he thinks that passing over managerial duties to Lambert and telling Faulkner how much he can spend to act as a go between then he's being lazy again. The extra behind the scenes personnel does seem to be arriving so, again, hopefully he's lernt his lesson.
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23/08/2012 17:31:00

Also RE: prozone and picking up players before they're good etc. Loads of teams are way ahead of us in doing so already unfortunately. It's never too late to start but it won't happen overnight. Newcastle were silent assassins in their recent purchases and we're trying to emulate them. We aren't the only ones though...
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23/08/2012 17:34:00

villan444. we get it. You are anti Lerner and evey post that mentions him leads you to try and belittle his efforts and massive outlay. You say he was happy to invest in 'world class' facilities but not into the equation that produces the talent??? He has massively invested more into this. You have the politics of envy my friend. You appear to hate somebody being affluent, as all they do is 'wallow' in their millions. This unknown American has invested tens of millions more in Villa playing staff than has been recouped. He has invested tens of millions in training facilities, ground improvments and infrastructure. He has maintained us a one of the most affordable clubs to watch. He has at times provided free transport to games. He invested in managers that gave us 3 6th and one 9th place finish. He ballsed up over the manager who can't be named and has hopefully rectified the situation. Had we as fans filled the ground each week and played a little part in helping our club, then we would now be home to a 52,000 seater stadium. It was the fans who didn't fill the ground, not Randolph. all of this doesn't just happen. It happens because good people are put into the right roles. But leave all that aside who do you think you are to to have a pop at a bloke who has done that for our club. lets lay it all out. How much have you invested in the club. You are a supporter so it must be a huge outlay. You had the same opportunity to buy the Villa as Randolph, so why didn't you? Maybe he just wallows in his millions and the club just happened to land in his lap. Maybe he woke up one morning and said 'bloody hell, whats that in my lap? A football club? Great, I can now wallow'!!!! There are people that do and there are people who try to belittle those that have succeeded. Pick which camp you fall into.
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23/08/2012 18:05:00

Lol, Voth we get it, you change your bandwagon and then just jump on and go for it 100%. At least I'm consistent. Lerner has made some serious schoolboy errors in his tenure. He took his eye off the ball at first then got taken in or took some seriously bad advice. Randy has invested in us to make more money FFS. This is monies that he will get back in any sale/ over time. The monies from sky is increasing 70% man. He hasn't got a clue what he's doing and just gets advice from others. Some give good advice. Some like Fergie clearly don't. I am more than willing to praise him as our saviour when he builds us into a sustainable squad with the youth setup that this entails. There are signs but you can't bend over for him again after he shafted all of us before. The bloke never speaks. He has done several times to the browns in the past. I'm don't hate the bloke but he's not out of the woods for his multi cockups yet. I suppose you blame MON for wasting his money?? If he sells bent, given or Ireland you'd jump on your next bandwagon like last year. You were all " give Eck time" until you saw the light. None of us are right all the time but randy has been wrong more times than right while lending us money which he has or has allowed to be wasted. I eagerly await the next chapter of your changing of tune and latest subject to crow about ;-)
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23/08/2012 20:34:00

FYI Voth, I have invested monies and emotions over the years and in comparison to the percentage of my fortune ( fortune lol,) to Randy's, mine is a bigger expenditure. Why didn't you buy the club lol??
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23/08/2012 20:45:00

Now now, fellas. Lets all be adult. I am not suggesting that Randy has done sweet FA at all. That is perhaps your 'reading'. I feel he has done incredible things for Aston Villa. It is the system as a whole that needs to be addressed. I'm not sure laying blame is that helpful.
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23/08/2012 22:30:00

All I'm going to say is that as a Lion/Villan/Whatever I want AVFC to win something/anything. If Randy Lerner hasn't delivered then it is also our fault for allowing him not to deliver. I.e Staying quiet during the wasteful MON years. To paraquote Full Metal Jacket -- I think -- Villans die but AVFC will never die. Nobody is above the club. The fans -- some/many of us -- have failed to make our voices heard.
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23/08/2012 22:31:00

Great article. Everyone team wants to win something but the vast majority of premier league clubs only have the potential of winning 2 cups a season, that's a lot of competition and is inevitably won by a team who has won something else. I'm not saying we can't dream but we need to be realistic. Staying in the division, winning more home games than not and picking up the odd win against a big boy.
Aussie Villain
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23/08/2012 23:28:00

One of the things I like about this Web Site is the often well thought out article and this one is at the top. Without wanting to arouse the ire of Villan444 I would ask who would you rather have had at the helm when Randy stepped in and who would you replace him with ? So often these days we forget the hidden costs behind running a PL Club, not just the Transfer fee. Players at all levels seem to live on a different Planet to the rest of us when it comes to realistic wages but maybe that's starting to come to an end with many Spanish sides nearing Bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is looming large for more and more Clubs in England so we need to stop spending tens of millions only to get as this article points out the same effort for some one costing a quarter of that sum. Personally I see (looking back) that last season brought us to our senses, showing up those players who were content at just kicking the ball around on a Saturday so they could play golf during the week and those who were at least trying to earn their wages. Unfortunately trying to sell them on as their reputation proceeds them is hard and most likely we will have to let their contracts run down. We will have a Season of perhaps mid table highs and not too many lows. The transfer market is no different this year to the last several, all done in the last few days with loan players and a few last minute deals, so don't expect too many additions. Once again a great article. UTV
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24/08/2012 02:05:00

VOTH: I only ever recall you talking about support through attendance as your main theme and I agree. V444: I do remember (every article ;-)) you talking about Bent and in the large about how poor/lazy/wasteful Lerner is/was. You know I disagree about Bent but more than agree about getting shot of Ireland and Nzo if they continue to underperform....but I really don't know the origin of the lazy lerner stuff - it may come from the fact he let MoN overspend and failed to recognise early enough that having more squad members than Noah had animals on his Ark was a bad thing but that aside, Houllier was a good attempt at trying to change us from the 'kick and charge' counter attack style of MoN - whic we properly got found out on. He heeeeooowgely got owned by Sir AF over McRelegator but may actually now have learnt most of the lessons needed. Lambert and the scouting system are signs of tactical nouse creeping in rather than spend spend spend under MoN. He has done miles more than HDE and has not even tried to walk away like Portsmouths many money makers and I'm not sure any football CEO breaks even - even with Sky revenue creeping up by 70 percent. Either way, I know one thing we all agree on is Lambert is a breath of fresh air, we need more players, Bent needs to learn some link play, we need more players, RL isn't perfect, Faulkner is oddly sucessful within the FA even though he seems unable to advise on appointing managers, we need more players, oh, and nobody is perfect. 19th minute.
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24/08/2012 02:12:00

Randy never speaks, seldom attends matches and has made some big cockups. After all the good work done when he arrived, I was a great fan of his, BUT after the last 2 years, I'm reluctant to forget about all that overnight. His rebuilding a good relationship with ALL the Villa fans will take time (as will the rebuilding of the squad.) I did say twice in the first post that he seems to have Lernt from his mistakes and I hope he has but he's brought this caution from some fans upon himself. The club was never in debt under Ellis. Now we owe Randy 10s if not 100s of millions and we're no better off. I know MON spent the monies but Randy gave him the cheque book (which was one of the main points of the article.) Once again, I'm not saying Randy out, but he shouldn't have been so naive to try to run a football club with minimal input from himself and without knowing enough about it and then putting people who know equally little about it in charge as we all know. Hopefully he's lernt (for the 4th time)......... It wasn't supposed to be an all out attack on RL from me, that's what I took from the article's points even if not intended Grizzly. I'd rather slag off DB9 any day of the week.
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24/08/2012 11:04:00

The history of a football club is written on the pitch by the players at the time. Its not rocket science spend the money on the team first make that successfull and super facilities will follow think we have cart before the horse at Villa. Yes its nice to have state of the art training ground comparable with the best in the premiership but not much use if our results are comparable with Wigan. In other words stuff the infrastructure build a team we have a decent manager give him something to work with. I know I may take flak for this and would love to be proven wrong but I feel Warnock Hutton Dunne Delph Bannan Delfonso Ireland Nzobia could all go for me they have had their chance and produced nothing as far as I am concerned they will never make it at Villa if we cant sell them then loan them out at least taking their wages off the bill and give PL some money to buy a few decent players which I am sure he would love to do.
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24/08/2012 11:10:00

Yes on most of those, but the youngsters should all be given another chance (Fonz, Deplph, Bannan). Bannan might fail - but he might yet be a top player too - lets see under new management. All may not agree, but hopefully all can wait and see!
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24/08/2012 12:29:00

I think Merlin makes a cracking point here, why havestate of the art traning facilities and yet still have players like he mentioned who have not done anything of note, we are not producing Beckhams Scholes Giggs if we were we would not e where we are today and the last few seasons when we have had to play the kids, This squad of players is one of the weakest and poore of quality ive seen as a villanits up there anyway with the days of Oyvind Leonhardson, type players, Lambert needs funding if he does not get it i feel sorry for him he came here to manage not perform miracles for christ sake (get it ;) but anyway lets hope Randy gives Lambo some much needed funds as all this wage udget talk has drained me of life again this summer im sick to the teeth of hearing we need to sell or release more players before we can buy, we have not many experianced hgh earners left, i hope Randy realises players who are better than average want paying better than average wages???
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24/08/2012 13:15:00

Shhh Clive and Merlin, you're not allowed to criticise the emperor's new clothes. Turn up and support like lemmings.
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24/08/2012 13:42:00

lol 444 Yes I will turn up and support everyone of those players I have named as long as they wear the Villa kit. RL could turn out to be the best Chairman we have ever had if he can just see whats needed he has sorted out the manager fiasco with a good appointment. Now if we can just target the team with all our resources get us out of the threadbare cupboard we are in at the moment it would be brilliant.
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24/08/2012 14:22:00

That's where you let yourself down V444...your response to mine was excellent and I know you are as frustated as myself with the poor turns in the management merry go round combined with cost cutting because of naive overspending via MoN and Randy authorising but please don't take two steps back by making out people aren't allowed to criticise as it just makes it personal - I know it wasn't against me by the way. Bent for King.
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24/08/2012 15:27:00

I think its important to remember that Lerner is not competing in a vacuum. Every other PL owner is trying to win silverware and get in the Champions league. There's even a few Championship owners that are trying! This is not a video game; teams don't just go sign the player they want. The player has to want to come, the other team has to want/need to sell. There are other clubs that want to buy as well. Sometimes players are talented, but don't get along or play well together. There is a lot of luck/chance involved. Some might argue, there is more luck than skill in building a team. Buying players is like buying stocks. It doesn't always work out. Heck, how many have played in a fantasy league and lost to your friend's 12 year old daughter who picked her team based on how cute their name was? Maybe we need to rethink how much skill is really involved in football.
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24/08/2012 16:44:00

Yeah sorry, that was childish. Merlin said what I was thinking but in a more eloquent way. It's the way I tell 'em, as Frank Carson used to say.... Ahem.
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24/08/2012 19:38:00


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