The Blog

A 'Lerner's' Guide to Bridging the Gap

The role of an owner is not an easy one - far from it - but as I saw back in 2011, there is no better reward than watching your club break records and secure silverware, in the knowledge that your backing made it all possible.

Six Premier League titles. two FA Cups. One La Liga trophy, a host of silverware in the USA, and a Ligue Un championship. Oh - and the UEFA Champions League.

David Beckham has had his hands on pretty much every club level trophy worth winning during his illustrious career - and I read with interest his plans to add another significant addition to his CV, as he ponders a move into football club ownership.

Although his appeal has often been compared to a film star rather than a footballer, Beckham has never really been one to stick to the script, and he now fancies directing a feature of his own.

Less than a year since the curtain fell on his starring performance as the Hollywood hero at LA Galaxy, Beckham is now ready for his encore - and plans to start up an MLS franchise in Miami.

Having taken the stage in five different countries, including brief cameos in Italy and France, Beckham is a passionate football man of great experience - and that can only be of benefit if he does assume a role at the top.

As the owner of Charlton Athletic since 2010, I can say that it is without doubt a fantastic and unique role to undertake, but not without its difficulties.

Our stadium, The Valley, is less than 10 miles from where I was born - and my strong roots to the area, and understanding of the club's identity, certainly proved beneficial when I took control.

Having spent two decades working closely with a host of top clubs across the continent, I have seen first hand the subtle differences in how they are run, their histories and traditions - and all of those nuances can pose problems for new owners.

In setting up a new franchise rather than taking the reins of an existing club, at least Beckham won't be burdened with, or in danger of, breaching years of existing identity. That is a problem faced more and more by - particularly foreign - owners, as they become increasingly involved in the British game, where some of our oldest clubs have over 100 years of history.

Despite Beckham's influence on Major League Soccer over the last few years, there is still a gulf between 'soccer' Stateside, and 'football' on this side of the Atlantic - but one American owner who has already made a successful move in this direction is Aston Villa's Randy Lerner.

In my opinion, the Cleveland Browns owner has hardly put a foot wrong since arriving at the Premier League club in 2006.

Villa currently sit mid-table in the top tier after a solid start to the new campaign - and a young squad, overflowing with quality and potential, sees them perfectly poised to build on that position.

But rewind just 12 months, and times were much tougher down at Villa Park.

A miserable start to his tenure left Paul Lambert's side languishing just a single point outside of the drop zone going into the festive period - and facing the very real possibility of relegation.

With five goals conceded at Manchester City and an 8-0 thrashing by Chelsea within weeks of each other, it would've been easy for Lerner to bow to pressure, and dismiss Lambert - but he stood firm, and that patience soon began to produce dividends.

Making those big calls are all part and parcel of an owner's job - and back in 2011, I found myself in a similar position at Charlton.

An 11 game winless run saw us drop out of the running for promotion, and plenty of people called for us to part ways with our gaffer Chris Powell - but we recognised his ability, and backed him.

The next season, Chris led Charlton to the League One title in style - accumulating a record-breaking 101 points, the highest in any European league that campaign.

Eighteen months on from securing that silverware, Chris is the longest serving manager in the Championship, which I believe is testament to the relationship he enjoys with the board, and the fans.

It is a shame that those success stories seem to be increasingly rare these days. We live in a culture which desires instant gratification, and immediate reward.

But there is little money to be made in the game nowadays, particularly at the lower end of the football pyramid - and the recent introduction of Financial Fair Play regulations has seen the gulf between the rich and poor widen even further.

Over the last decade or so, unrealistic expectations and a lack of patience have turned football into a negative environment where failure, and improvement, is rarely allowed.

The truth is that the job of a modern football club owner is an extremely tricky, and often - largely thankless - task.

Long gone are the days Sir Jack Walker, the local boy done good who transformed Blackburn Rovers from Second Division relegation fodder to Premier League champions in just five years.

A statue of Sir Jack still adorns Ewood Park - but the current residents of the Blackburn boardroom, the Indian company Venky's, have endured a tough time since taking control of the club back in 2010.

The Lancashire side finally appear to have found some much needed stability following four managers in quick succession - but the impatience and interference of the owners has only served to irk the Rovers faithful.

Despite bankrolling several costly signings, their frivolous chopping and changing at a club which, for years, was notoriously stable, has caused major problems for them during their short tenure.

Nevertheless, my advice to David would be: don't hesitate. Take the plunge.

The role of an owner is not an easy one - far from it - but as I saw back in 2011, there is no better reward than watching your club break records and secure silverware, in the knowledge that your backing made it all possible.

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