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Jason Dasey
Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

Sports

Lerner hoping someone will bet the house on Villa

The Straits Times | Jason Dasey | Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

Malaysia-based former Aston Villa midfielder George Boateng

Aston Villa's best start to an English Premier League season in 16 years has temptingly placed the Birmingham club in the global shop window as owner Randy Lerner looks for a buyer.

Paul Lambert's side have defied predictions to sit second in the table behind big-spending Chelsea after four games without defeat, including last weekend's 1-0 upset of Liverpool at Anfield.

While their unbeaten run is likely to come to an end soon with consecutive games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, Villa's relative resurgence is a timely reminder of one of the so-called sleeping giants of British football.

And Asian investors could lead the list of potential suitors for the 1982 European champions.

Malaysia-based former Aston Villa midfielder George Boateng believes that the Villans represent an attractive proposition for multi-millionaires looking to enter the football business.

Boateng, head coach of Malaysian Super League club Kelantan FA, was contacted earlier this year by potential Chinese investors who were interested in Villa before a charge of heart.

"People talk about Leeds United as a hot property, but in my opinion, Aston Villa are a much better proposition for Asian buyers because they are already in the Premier League and have everything in place to become a huge club globally," Boateng said.

"They have the stadium, the fan-base as the biggest club in the Midlands, a decent history with some great ex-players and they have just moved to a state-of-the-art training ground at Bodymoor Heath."

American sports tycoon Lerner announced his intention to sell in May, signalling an imminent end to his eight-year ownership after buying the club from long-term benefactor Doug Ellis.

Despite rumours of billionaires circling with intent, there has been no news of any deal going through. And the recent appointment of Arsenal's former chief commercial officer Tom Fox as the new CEO has Villa watchers suggesting Lerner is trying to put his house in order to make the club a more attractive proposition.

They spent prudently rather than lavishly in the summer transfer window as they picked up Philippe Senderos, Joe Cole, Kieran Richardson, Aly Cissokho and Tom Cleverley.

Although glamorous is rarely a word that you'd associate with Villa, their squad now has enough star power to ease the pain of their long-suffering fans.

Former Netherlands international Boateng played three seasons with Villa between 1999 and 2002. During his tenure, Boateng had David Ginola, Juan Pablo Angel and Dion Dublin as team-mates. They never finished lower than eighth on the table, made the 2000 FA Cup final and were one of the winners of the 2001 Intertoto Cup.

"We were always fighting to get into the Champions League but we never made it because of not having the necessary finances," Boateng said.

For two seasons between 2011 and 2013, Malaysian-owned Genting Casinos were Villa's shirt sponsors at a reported cost of £16 million (S$33 million) as they looked to build a gambling and leisure complex at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

It may seem a stretch to say that these chronic underperformers will one day take off in Asia. But let's not forget that Manchester City were in England's third tier just a decade and a half ago and now claim to be the region's fastest-growing sports brand.

Get things right and some Asian fans might go from hero worshipping to singing the virtues of the Villans.


This article was first published on Sep 19, 2014.
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